A new book – Memory Craft

Great excitement! I have just signed a contract with my publisher, Allen & Unwin, to do a new book. The working title (may not end up being the real title) is Unlocking the Memory Code. Publication date is probably early 2019. There is a lot of work to do first! Edit: it became Memory Craft.

This book is all about using the most effective memory methods from across cultures and throughout time. It is all about how we can use these methods to enhance our lives every day.

One of my great pleasures is encoding layer upon layer in my new lukasa, designed to record the history or writing. Ironic, isn’t it? This beautiful object was made for me by Tom Chippindall.

The vast majority of the emails and messages I receive are about the indigenous memory methods and how we might apply them in contemporary life. The extraordinary memory skills of our ancestors have been gradually lost with the invent of writing and even more so with the prevalence of information technology. Many readers are concerned about this and want to redress the trend by using their memories much more effectively.

I am simply astounded every day by what I can memorise and the way I can then build on the knowledge which is so firmly grounded in the memory devices. I am able to see patterns and the big picture in ways which are just not possible without this basic knowledge at my fingertips. It is also wonderful fun!

Throughout the book I will look at the changes in memory techniques over the millennia and discuss the possible impact on education and on memory loss with ageing. Recent research in neuroscience explains exactly why the memory methods of indigenous culture are so effective. I will report on the science and celebrate indigenous intellect. I will also emphasis how much everything is to remember when it is brought to like through stories and vivid characters.

As indigenous and early literate cultures were masters of memory, so it is from them that we can learn the most. I am adding to the lessons from oral cultures discussed in The Memory Code to include medieval memory systems, ideas from the Renaissance and from ancient Chinese and Japanese handscrolls. I will also look at mnemonic tricks from contemporary times.

The topics to be covered in Unlocking will include the most successful examples from My 40 Memory Experiments which have now been adjusted to reflect the questions I am most often asked.

I am learning a foreign language (French) despite having failed dismally to do so at school.  I am using a range of methods to memorise vocabulary and grammar and going really well. And even taking on Chinese (Mandarin).

I have devised a system for memorising names and faces by adapting the concept of a medieval bestiary.

I memorise temporary lists when we are out birding, going shopping or given verbally using a visual alphabet, adapted from those used during the Renaissance.

I am continuing to memorise more details about all the countries in the world and constantly adding to my walks through pre-history and history. I use the field guide to the 412 Victorian birds from memory constantly as husband Damian and I go birding often.

I am attending art classes every week to create the most beautiful contemporary adaptions I can manage of the bestiary, visual alphabet and Chinese hand scrolls. I am becoming addicted to everything about art, especially watercolour. I am using a version of the Inca knotted string khipu (quipu) to record the history of art. As many researchers suggest, the khipu is really nearer to writing than a pure mnemonic device.

I am also creating a personal ‘winter count’ based on the stunning mnemonic skins of the Plains Indians of North America. The one pictured below if the famous Lone Dog’s winter count. I am astonished how little of my life I could remember chronologically until I started this project. How much will this object help me hold onto my identity into very old age?

And every day I train for the Australian Memory Championships. Being old (I’m 65) does not mean a fading memory. I can now memorise a shuffled deck of cards in 12 minutes – way down from the 35 minutes just a month ago. I can memorise long strings of random numbers in decimal and binary and many other useless but surprisingly enjoyable feats.

Life is very good and I have all the readers of The Memory Code to thank!

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Playing with a visual alphabet

vis-alpha-a-b-c-d
I am struggling to know which of the (currently) 36 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.
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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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