Memory Sports – I am hooked!

Anastasia Woolmer, Australian Memory Champion 2016

The Australian Memory Championship was won by woman for the first time in November 2016. Anastasia Woolmer self-trained intensely for only five months yet set two new Australian records out of ten events. She credits her background as a ballet dancer as invaluable preparation for the intensity of competition.

Anastasia secured her lead over Daniel Kilov when two of Daniel’s cards stuck together during the memorisation phase of the shuffled deck event. They’d already memorised lists of random numbers (on paper, spoken and in binary), random words, dates and events, faces and names (which had to be spelt correctly), and pages of abstract shapes.

Anastasia received her award from Senior Arbiter for the World Memory Championships and Convener for the Australian competition, Jennifer Goddard. Congratulating Anastasia is four times Australian Memory Champion, Tansel Ali.

I was trained as an Arbiter which was good fun and gave a great insight into the events and the demands of competition.

Zeshaan Khokhar shows his sub-2-minute time amid the enthusiastic admiration of all present.

Zeshaan Khokhar, another strong competitor for the title, became only the the third ever Australian to memorize a shuffled deck in under two minutes, the first of three requirements for the title of International Master of Memory. He didn’t smile even amid the tumultuous applause from all present. This is a serious sport.

Fadi Alzubaii, Iraqi Memory Champion and Australian resident.

Chris Griffin set five records for his native New Zealand at his first time competing while Iraqi National and Australian resident Fadi Alzubaldi set eight new Iraqi records. Fadi wrote:

What attracted me to memory sports is training my brain to retain vast amount of information and improve my creativity. Knowledge and what brings with it from respect, prestige, authority and confidence is my main driver. Greatest influencers on humanity are thinkers. If I want to add something to this world, if I want to contribute, if I want to make the life of others better, if I want to discover, if I want to invent then knowledge and creativity is the solution. If I want to be remembered, then knowledge is the right path.

Greg Wills, Australian Senior Champion

Greg Wills was the first ever senior competitor and so set ten new Australian records.

There was quite a lot of pressure for me to take him on next year. If nothing else, I will take out all the Australian Senior Female titles just by qualifying in each round – unless another senior woman comes on the scene. I assured everyone there that I had no intention of competing. I can’t handle pressure nor speed. No, I won’t compete. Not even considering it.

I’ve started training.

Daniel Kilov, Silver Medalist in the Australian Memory Championships 2016

 

 

 

More about the Australian Memory Championships can be found here.

Information about the World Memory Championships can be found on their official page here.

 

 

 

 

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Grounded: Indigenous Knowing in a Concrete Reality

My new essay is now available free from open access academic publisher, Rounded Globe.

Download here: Grounded: Indigenous Knowing in a Concrete Reality

The description from the Rounded Globe website:

“Non-literate cultures depend on their memories to store all the information on which their survival depends, both physically and culturally. They effectively memorise entire field guides to the thousands of species of flora and fauna along with navigational charts, genealogies, astronomy, history, geology and the ethics and laws by which they live. How do they manage to remember so much information when they are dependent on the same fallible memory as you and me?

This essay will explain the mechanisms by which indigenous cultures know their world and how specific information can be remembered accurately over millennia.

The memory methods in question declined in use as literacy made them seem redundant in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, but this essay will argue that we have lost a valuable skill, just as Socrates predicted we would. In the last part of the essay, ways are suggested of reinstating oral technologies alongside literacy, thereby providing a powerful platform for lifelong learning.”

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Posted in indigenous memory systems, memory, memory devices, memory palace, memory places, Memory Spaces, method of loci, mnemonics, mythology, orality, primary orality, Rounded globe, songlines | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Announcing The Orality Centre

I am absolutely delighted to announce the formation of the Orality Centre which will be based in Etty Street, Castlemaine, on the site which was previously the senior campus for Castlemaine Secondary College (CSC) before the whole school was combined in their new buildings.

The location of the Orality Centre in Etty St, Castlemaine

Judith McLean will be Deputy Principal of CSC in 2017. More commonly known as Rex, she has 10 years experience teaching in remote Aboriginal communities and will take a leading role in the Orality Centre. Rex comes from a secondary mathematics and  science teaching background but has a wealth of experience learned from the Elders she worked with.

Paul Allen is an artist and art teacher who has secured an Arts Victoria Grant for me to work as and artist-in-residence implementing the ideas from The Memory Code at Malmesbury Primary School, only 25 kilometres away. He will also have a leading role at the Orality Centre.

I could not ask for two more impressive teachers to establish this project. There has been and overwhelmingly enthusiastic response to my research from educators from early childhood right through university and continuing education for adults.

The concepts we have talked about in the rather excited meetings to date have centred on ideas like how we can use art, music, vivid characters, storytelling, songlines and an array of mnemonic devices to enhance the regular curriculum: Mathematics, Science, Humanities, Languages and bringing Art and Music right into the middle. We have no intention of adding new subject, just making learning in the existing classes even better.

There has been a great deal of interest from people working with with indigenous students and students with dyslexia, ADHD and higher academic ability among many themes. There’s also been interest from those who feel that these traditional memory technologies may have significant implications in improving memory retention in the elderly.

I have had so many requests for workshops about all these topics, that I am absolutely thrilled that now we have the staff and home to establish the Orality Centre. I am really looking forward to working with the educators, artists and musicians who have already spoken to me about getting involved.

Thank you to Rex and Paul for making this happen!

 

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Playing with a visual alphabet

vis-alpha-a-b-c-d
I am struggling to know which of the (currently) 33 memory experiments to work on at any given time. At the moment, I am playing around with designing a visual alphabet along the lines of those used in the Renaissance. I’m not going to attempt anything like the Renaissance masterpiece in the top image!

Below are some versions from  the German Dominican Johann Host von Romberch who wrote about memory methods (among other things) around 1530.

rhomberg-grammatica
Here’s one of my first rough sketch for M:

m-marmoset-mine
I will be doing mine as a continuous strip in a ‘concertina’ booklet that folds out. I want the characters / animals in my visual alphabet to interact with the next or previous animal to give an easier link for memory (which the marmoset doesn’t at the moment).  I hope it will get to the stage I don’t need the letters, just the sequence of images. I want to use this as a memory aid for temporary lists, talks and so on.

I am using any animals or mythological characters I can come up with and playing with the way it will look with the illuminated letters. I am not totally happy with my list of animals / characters. I want more dynamic interaction between the character and the next in line. My artistic skills are limited but I shall just have to work at it!

A: Arachne
B: Bird of Paradise
C: Cat
D: Dragon
E: Emu (not really suitable)
F: Frog
G: Griffin (that’ll test my art!)
H: Hydra (lots of curvy snakes – that’s staying!)
I: Imp
J: Jester
K: Kingfisher (mmmm? maybe too sedate?)
L: Lion
M: Marmoset (I have that one working, so cute!)
N: Neptune
O: Owl (of course!)
P: Phoenix
Q: Quetzalcoatl (too obscure? Too like Phoenix?)
R: Raven
S: Spider (MUST be a spider, given my addiction)
T: Toucan
U: Unicorn
V: Vulture
W: Wyvern (or is that obscure?)
X: Xanthorrhea (plant, dull – HELP!!!)
Y: Yorkshire terrier (HELP, that was nearly as desperate as X)
Z: Zeus

Some of these have a mythological feel while others don’t. Does that matter? ANY suggestions and ideas very welcome.
________________________________________
UPDATE – 12 December 2016:

Thank you for all the comments, messages and emails. I am updating some of the choices above:
E is staying as the emu because it has stuck so hard when I use the list.
G is now a Ghost, a woman in a long white dress (as is mandatory for ghostly women)
K is a Kiwi. I use the visual alphabet for memorising bird lists when we are out birding. So much easier than taking a notebook out constantly. It is very confusing when we see a kingfisher and it isn’t in the K-place. My drawings of kangaroos or koalas would simply make you all laugh – they are really hard to draw.
W – the argument below for a wombat is too convincing to ignore. Wombat it is.
X is Xerxes of Persia with his long curly beard. Not well known but far better than a Xanthorrhea plant which no-one has heard of anyway.
Y is now a yak. Of course. How silly of me (as was pointed out by a number of correspondents).

I start art classes this week to work on the visual alphabet, and the other memory experiments which need art, such as the medieval manuscript (I love being ludicrously ambitious) and the bestiary. My new teacher did advertise that he will help with individual projects. I suspect he didn’t mean medieval memory experiments.

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Guest blog: experiments with memory

I am getting a lot of emails from readers which is so rewarding. Some are trying out the memory methods and are as astounded as I was about how effective they are.

A memory palace - From Emma Willard, The Temple of Time, 1846.

From Emma Willard, The Temple of Time, 1846.

Barry described his experiences. I will hand over the blog to him as he writes so well I don’t want to change a thing:
________________

I thought you might get a kick out of hearing how your work has impacted someone. It’s certainly had a powerful effect on me!

I’ve always been interested in the mystery of prehistoric civilisations, and of Australian indigenous culture before its catastrophic disruption by the Europeans. Your book has changed the way I see all of that. Myths and legends are not childish fantasies, but are multilayered storehouses of information! Astonishing, and yet, in retrospect, so obvious!

Anyway I could rave for ages about the insights into human history you’ve given me, but I will resist. I’ve been happily raving to practically everyone I know.

Of course, your book is a double-whammy — not only casting a new perspective on non-literate culture, but also painting an intriguing picture of the potential of using these long-neglected memory systems. I’d encountered memory palaces before, but they always seemed like too much hard work, and perhaps of dubious worth beyond remembering long shopping lists and playing cards.

Charged with new enthusiasm, I decided to make some memory journeys of my own. I too normally have a rather vague and temporary kind of memory. Here’s what I’ve tried:

First memory path

I live in a small town in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, and often walk to my office in town — about a 10 minute journey. I took note of potential sites and took photos of them all. Then I added them to a spreadsheet and gave them all unique names. I then worked to be able to remember each in order.

Following your principle of marking 5s and 10s, I added special markers to every 10th item. Every 5 spots I make special by imagining them as extremely cold. This worked well, as any story I add is enhanced by the dramatic cold. I can easily remember where the “cold” sites are.

This path is now 118 stations long. I’ll make it longer but it will involve a lengthy hike into the outskirts of town where landmarks are further apart.

Periodic Table of Elements

As a test, I decided to memorise the elements. It’s not something that I particularly need, so I figured if I messed it up it wouldn’t matter. It took about three weeks, but I got there. The marker system makes it easy to jump to any point by atomic number. It piqued my interest and I bought a little pocket book about the elements, which I’m now using to add interesting facts to the stories.

Countries of the World

I liked this idea and decided to emulate it, using my existing memory track. I was worried that the Elements would interfere but to my surprise they made it even easier! Each station is now ready-made with extra meaning and personality that makes them distinct; so the countries and the elements just seem to reinforce each other without getting confused.

I’m still working on this one. I’m up to Bolivia (the Monkees singing “Daydream Believer” in a South American accent, compressed into a Ball of Ears and rolling around. It’s also the station for Lead, and fishing lines with lead sinkers are casting their hooks into the ears and pulling them around painfully).

I do like this journey, because the countries of the world are mentioned all the time, and now when I hear their names I think of their special place and I have a chance to add to it.

Ukulele Chords

I’m sick of not being able to remember the chords when I jam with people. I normally have to look them up on my phone. Now I just have to think for a moment and I have the chord I need.

I made a small circuit in my garden, with 12 stations, each representing a musical note. Each station has a totem animal to remind me of the note, eg “B flat” is Beetle. Each station has two stories, one for the minor chord and one for the major. The major story is high up, the minor story is low down or underground. I turned the finger positions for each chord into 4 numbers and converted them into words using a version of the “major system”. This gives me the basis for each story.

I guess I eventually I won’t need this system as I’ll have learnt it by rote.

(BTW did you know that the etymology of “rote” is unknown, and may have the same origin as “route”? Interesting…)

Future Plans

Next I would like to learn something about the natural world. such as all the known edible native plants of Australia. I don’t really want to make another great big memory trail, so I thought a portable memory device might be the way to go. If you can provide any guidance in the construction and use of lukasa-style devices I’d be very grateful.

Other ideas:
major stars by constellation
bones of the human body
muscles of the human body
planets and moons
geological time
history
trees of Australia
birds
fish
Spanish vocabulary
software design patterns (I’m a software developer)
That’ll do. I hope you found my account of adventures in memory land of value!

Thanks again for your magnificent work.
Regards
Barry

______________

Thank you for your magnificent email, Barry!

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Posted in history walk, indigenous memory systems, memory, memory devices, memory palace, memory places, Memory Spaces, method of loci, mnemonics, The Memory Code, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Aboriginal affirmation at Coolum Beach

I was a guest at the inaugural Sunshine Coast International Readers and Writers Festival to talk about The Memory Code. I had no idea it would prove to be such an emotional time. The affirmation of my work by the Traditional Owners proved to be far more powerful than I could have expected.

coolum-welcome1We were welcomed to Gubbi Gubbi Country by Lyndon Davis and the Gubbi Gubbi Dancers. Festivals don’t start any better than this.

My time with Traditional Owner, Bridgette Chilly Davis (Dhdugga Kabi Kabi), was an emotional one for both of us and for the audience.

Bridgette talked about the songlines from the perspective of a Traditional Owner, what it was like to walk Country, to be in Country and to interact with the animals and plants in Country. She talked about the knowledge of the Old Ones and how it came to her so strongly when alone with them in the bush. She talked about the spiritual link, something I would not even pretend to be able to emulate.

I talked about the way that the songs, dances, stories and links to sacred places in Country act as an extraordinary memory aid to all the complex knowledge of the culture: animals, plants, genealogies, navigation, geology, seasonality and something I think I have greatly underestimated – the way it all links together. No animal is known without understanding its relationship to all the other animals and plants which inhabit that ecological niche and the seasonal cycle.

coolum-bridgette1 coolum-bridgette2

We answered a lot of questions from the audience, but throughout it was the connection to Bridgette and the Kabi Kabi knowledge which at times overpowered me. This is not the usual sensation of a science writer talking about a science book!

The most moving moment for me was when Bridgette told the audience “She really gets it! She really gets it!”. Members of the audience afterwards said they had listened to the Aboriginal stories and talk about Country many times but realised that they had not really understood that the connectives to Country was far more than just loving where they lived. My work acts as a segue to hearing what Bridgette was actually saying. How rewarding is that?

coolum-lyndon-davisLyndon Davis ran a session on Dreamtime story-telling talking about the Gubbi Gubbi stories and songs, all of them about Country, animals, plants, seasons and responsibilities for Country. One story tells of the way the pilot fish of the mullet leads the migration and must never be killed. The largest fish are left and the Maroochy River ran think with mullet. Of course, these laws are not respected by fishermen today and there are few mullet left. The timing of the fishing was linked to the behaviour of the sea eagles. The stories Lyndon told and performed all reflected the integrated pragmatic knowledge of our Aboriginal cultures. A second session with Lyndon was about the language and the way words reflect the behaviour of the animals, nature of the plants, calls of the birds and so on. And all is linked to place, song, story and mythology. Lyndon’s paintings also reflect the Gubbi Gubbi stories, in particular his use of the sea eagle and details in the designs.

coolum-daim-axe-helen-herbMy husband, Damian, is an archaeologist, and spent time examining an axe head with archaeologist Helen Coooke and Uncle Herb Wharton (for non-Australian, Uncle is a term of respect for Aboriginal Elders).

 

coolum-linda-kateThank you to the organisers for the invitation, in particular to Wendy O’Hanlon and Eileen Walder. Thank you also to the volunteers, especially Linda Morse and Kate Eagles.

 

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Memory Code workshop

memory workshop

There has been a great enthusiasm from readers of The Memory Code to learn to create memory devices and implement them in their own lives. Twenty people gathered for the first workshop at Castlemaine Library on a Saturday morning. The goal was to learn two different methods inspired by indigenous knowledge experts.

The first technology was to imitate the memory board known as a lukasa from the Luba people of West Africa. Variations of memory boards are found all over the non-literate world. The first stage was to select pieces of wood which had interesting grain which could be used to enhance the visual location of each bead. Then about 120 beads were selected from a large selection, for looks and for touch. Each person chose the beads which most appealed to them. These were then glued onto the boards and left to dry.

library-lukasa-2 library-lukasa-3  library-lukasa-1

We then spent about half an hour creating a memory palace in the participants’ homes. They started encoding the countries of the world in population order to locations within their houses. One has reported back that she got the first 80 in within a week! The information about the countries in each location is infinitely expandable. See Memorising the Periodic Table for the method.

library-lukasa-6We then returned to the lukasas. Each participant had their own ideas about what information they were going to encode to their memory boards. These varied from birds, plants, Australian Prime Ministers and chemical elements to human anatomy. Each worked out the structure of the data they were using – some from sheets I had already prepared, some from lists or books they had brought. We have no elders to teach these things so have to rely on written records as the starting point. This followed the method I talked about in Memorising Birds.

The feedback has been fantastic. People have really engaged with the methods and discovered, as I have, that having information in memory enables you to see bigger patterns, to have the information readily available and ask new questions. And it’s so much fun!

See also:
My 25 Memory Experiments
Starting a Contemporary Songline
Memorising and Understanding History
Memorising Birds
Memorising the Periodic Table

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Posted in art of memory, history walk, indigenous memory systems, lukasa, memory, memory devices, memory palace, memory places, Memory Spaces, method of loci, mnemonics, songlines, The Memory Code | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

The Memory Code – Pegasus Books

cover-tmcI am delighted that the Pegasus Books edition of The Memory Code is now available for pre-order from Amazon.com. Pegasus is publishing for North America (US and Canada) while Atlantic Books are publishing for the UK and Europe. Both are using the same cover and publishing initially in hardback. This is so exciting!

These editions follow the Australian edition from Allen & Unwin.

The blurb from the book says:

The discovery of a powerful memory technique used by our Neolithic ancestors in their monumental memory places―and how we can use their secrets to train our own minds

In ancient, pre-literate cultures across the globe, tribal elders had encyclopedic memories. They could name all the animals and plants across a landscape, identify the stars in the sky, and recite the history of their people. Yet today, most of us struggle to memorize more than a short poem.

Using traditional Aboriginal Australian songlines as a starting point, Dr. Lynne Kelly has since identified the powerful memory technique used by our ancestors and indigenous people around the world. In turn, she has then discovered that this ancient memory technique is the secret purpose behind the great prehistoric monuments like Stonehenge, which have puzzled archaeologists for so long.

The henges across northern Europe, the elaborate stone houses of New Mexico, huge animal shapes in Peru, the statues of Easter Island―these all serve as the most effective memory system ever invented by humans. They allowed people in non-literate cultures to memorize the vast amounts of information they needed to survive. But how?

For the first time, Dr. Kelly unlocks the secret of these monuments and their uses as “memory places” in her fascinating book. Additionally, The Memory Code also explains how we can use this ancient mnemonic technique to train our minds in the tradition of our forbearers.

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Posted in archaeology, Easter Island, indigenous memory systems, memory, memory devices, memory places, Memory Spaces, mnemonics, Nasca lines, Neolithic, prehistory, primary orality, songlines, stone circles, Stonehenge, The Memory Code | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Writing – the complication of definitions

page-writing

What is writing?

Specifically, when does what I call a mnemonic object really constitute a written device?

It all depends on definitions.

Let’s start with the most controversial question it the area – is the Inca khipu a written or mnemonic device?

quipu khipu

Khipu as displayed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. (Lynn Dombrowski, under Creative Commons Attribution, Share Alike.)

This knotted cord device is the most adaptable portable memory device that I have found so far. In combination with their landscape pathways known as ceques, the khipu was the reason the Inca could maintain a vast empire in South America without writing. That is, if you define, as I do, the khipu as a mnemonic device.

But it isn’t simple. I have also found it less memorable in my experimentation than the landscape locations forming songlines or the portable devices such as the African lukasa. Was it ever intended to be fully memorized? Was it much closer to a written script? 

In The Memory Code, I use the narrowest definition of writing, that of a script which represents the sounds to a degree that an independent reader of the same culture will reproduce the exact words inscribed by the writer. Hence, there needs to be an alphabetic script, or at least one in which syllables can be represented, for me to call the symbols on a physical media ‘writing’.

urton-khipu-bookGary Urton, in his fascinating book, Signs of the Inka Khipu, defined writing as:

the communication of specific ideas in a highly conventionalized, standardized manner by means of permanent, visible signs.

However, he goes on to define ‘true writing’, a term he acknowledges as inflammatory and ethnocentric and wants dropped. Urton wrote:

I would also like to subscribe to the qualification that the forms of writing that accomplish the most highly specific level of denotation of ideas are those in which the signs of writing denote the sounds of the language community in question.

Urton, among many others, would prefer the terms glottographic (sound based) and semasiographic (non sound based) with further qualifications.

Using Urton’s definitions, I am happy to consider the two khipus I am using in my experiments as written devices although I may find that I start to  memorise them much as I do the other devices. That isn’t the case yet, but all these experiments take years. More on that in a future blog.

But what about those who consider all indigenous inscriptions to be writing?

Again, I hand over to Gary Urton, who talks about the description of wider definitions which include dance and music, images on textiles and ceramics as writing thus:

However, I think such signing devices are best classified as icons bearing conventional but highly abstract, context-specific meanings. Referring to such productions as writing, while perhaps satisfying what I would argue are essentially politically motivated programs or agendas promoting inclusiveness and multiculturism (to which I am sympathetic), renders the concept of writing virtually meaningless and (more to the point) useless for analytical purposes.

I think we can only conclude that there is a continuum from devices which are clearly mnemonic to those, like this blog post, which are clearly writing and that a very specific division between writing and mnemonics isn’t possible. The people who created the symbolic forms were more interested in storing and communicating information than they were in my future struggles with definitions.

History is usually defined as the study of the past where there are written records. Before written records, it is prehistory. Consequently, the division between history and prehistory is similarly blurred. Such is the reality of studying the human past.

I am going to give Urton the final word here. He wrote that

the point on which differentiation between different types of signing/ recording systems would turn … is that of need, rather than intelligence. (His emphasis).

Quotes are taken from Gary Urton, Signs of the Inka Khipu, (2003), University of Texas Press, pp 26-8.

See also:

My 25 Memory Experiments

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