The importance of Symbolism in the decipherment of history Part 1

Many years ago a friend of mine told about having seen an episode of a show called “The $64,000 question”. In the show, from what I recall, contestants had to as a series of questions in an attempt to uncover some secret about another contestant. One contestant’s secret turned out to be that he had committed the entire 66 books which make up the Christian Holy Bible to memory. My friend thought it was silly that anyone would even try to do such a thing. I however wanted to know if it would be possible for me to pull off a similar feat. I wondered if this super memory was a skill orĀ  was it something people are born with. Was there some way this could be learned? I could remember phone numbers and birthdays but what would it take to remember something that impressive? Did the person in question have some kind secret method? If so, what was it? How had he learnt the method? I had so many questions. Yet I could not figure out how I would ever be able to find any answers. Thus began my quest to uncover the secrets of super memory. Of course this was all before the internet. Finding information at the time often seemed impossible. Even with the advent of the internet it’s not always as straight forward as one would hope. Searches can and often do turn up mediocre results. Eventually, though, my searching did pay off. I finally discovered that there are techniques which can be learnt. The fact that the techniques were accessible, and that they actually worked was a very big moment for me. The book which held the secrets was published in 1966. It is called “The Art Of Memory” by Frances Yates and remains, in my opinion, unsurpassed in its comprehensive coverage of memory techniques throughout history. The earliest system mentioned by the author references a technique that had been set down in writing by Cicero in 55 BCE. The work in question affirms that a person by the name of Simonides had invented this technique some time prior, meaning that it is even older than the time of Cicero. It would be rash to exclude the possibility that various techniques for improving memory have been in use since much much earlier than this written instance. We will see later that mnemonic techniques have a much older origin as they can be seen as central in the development of a number of written languages. Writing, as we know, has played a central role in the flourishing of civilisation.

Sometimes peddled as secrets or arcane mysteries only for the initiated, super memory techniques are always going to be of interest to humans. Good memories are a valued human trait. From what I have gathered so far it appears that the most effective method for remembering anything at all is to create symbolic associations. The mind, it is said, categorises and imprints not specific words but images. While one could debate whether or not certain types of personalities respond better to one set of stimuli than they do to others, on the overall, I contend, that picture association will rarely fail to do the trick. If you need to remember that your new friend’s name is Jay Walker you can conjure up any image you want that involves objects that can be described as “Jay” and “Walker”. This is the basis of the technique, and it just works. From this starting point one can continue on to delve deeper as there are additional methods for working with words which have no homophones. Then there are techniques of linking many words together. But the method I just described is the basic technique. Just that little trick is enough to make a huge difference when trying to remember an important bit of information.

Part 2