Experiments on the backburner

Some of the original experiments were tested and have now been moved to the back burner. That is, I am not continuing with them at this stage to give priority to the experiments which match reader, academic and educator interest.

36. Knotted strings – Inca khipu – History of Art – BACKBURNER


UPDATE: this experiment worked well which is no surprise given how well documented the khipu has been. But I found that I needed it with me. It is much closer to writing, as the researchers specialising in it have said. I really want to keep going with my new khipu, and will do so one day!

My old khipu’ is across the back of a sofa.  I structured the knowledge I want to encode, but I found when knotting the string that they ended up too short and tangled incredibly easily. Tom Chippindall is helping analyse the twisting techniques needed. We are studying the way the Inca created their cords and attached them and have started on a new khipu based on that knowledge.

I am sure Inca khipu were knotted according to the information they were to encode, so a great deal of time has been spent structuring that information and limiting it to a reasonable base structure. Unlike indigenous individuals, I don’t have elders teaching me the songs and stories using these devices. Although my knotted cord device is based on the Inca khipu/quipu, other cultures also used knotted strings in various forms.

I am using the khipu to record the history of Western art. I have found I wanted a sub-khipu just for Australian art as that is what I see most in the galleries here. I wonder if the Inca had sub-khipus? I am amazed how much I learned just structuring the story of art and the representational artists. This one I am starting from a knowledge base close to zero. How embarrassing!

This is the most adaptable of the portable devices and is much closer to writing than the other devices. But I am not sure how memorable it will be without the khipu in hand.  I shall find out with time. The khipu helped the Inca rule a huge Empire. Now I understand why.

37. Genealogy staves – European Royal families

UPDATE: I found this experiment worked well, but was not practical in workshop settings as a lukasa given they need to be carved. So this is on the backburner for the time being. Most of what I learnt in doing the staves has now been added to the History Walk which has become massive and so incredibly wonderful.

Genealogy staves are used in the Pacific widely, and in Africa for linear descent lines. Australian Aboriginal cultures do genealogies quite differently. It all gets very complex very fast and I really don’t understand how our Aboriginal cultures manage to memorise all the relationships so well without charts. I am playing around with this one but not got far at all. Yet.

I have chosen to do the European Royal families initially (with no idea quite how to do all the relationships between them). I have chosen this experiment rather than my own family because doing my own family offers nothing to readers of this blog or my other writings, because they can’t relate to it. Secondly, my own family history is rather short on generations and information due to the treatment of European Jews during WWII. To be honest, I really don’t want to go there.

Using European royal families also leads to lots of cross links with the Country Journey and History Journey, and so mimics indigenous systems.

 Chinese dynasties
I have another stave for Chinese dynasties which I also want to link to the art work and language/script development which has got me intrigued. So lots of devices are interacting as is the case with indigenous cultures.

38. Memory stave for Australian Prime Ministers
I’m doing a new stave for the Australian prime ministers. That needs to include political parties and dates but not relationships, so quite different from the genealogy staves.  I figure I ought to know them. I want to do the whole world. If only I had a few lifetimes left!

39. Wearable memory devices – Shakespeare’s plays

UPDATE: Again, this experiment was quite successful, but I don’t want to wear the necklaces I made. Also, they are not as memorable when you don’t have them with you. I am so addicted to narrative scrolls that I now do Shakespeare that way. See Experiment 26.

I have been inspired by the Wampum Belts, the traditional shell bead memory devices used by the Eastern Woodlands American Indian tribes. Strings woven with the shell beads were used as a memory device for stories including, but not exclusively, history. They were also used as gifts and for recording treaties.

There are other examples of beaded strings being used as memory devices and I am keen to try creating them for specific purposes using a variety of beads. I can make belts and bracelets and necklaces and … my brain is reeling.

I am encoding the plays of Shakespeare. I have a bead per play in chronological order. The comedies, tragedies and historical plays form three groups, three different style of beads. The order in which Shakespeare is thought to have written them forms the order of the beads on the necklace. Bracelets give the story of each play. I have just started on this one and am loving it. If only I had studied Shakespeare in the decades since school, I would be moving a lot faster. So many familiar phrases and references keep popping up despite me not knowing their origin before now. I am loving it!

The memory side should work as easily as the lukasa memory boards with beads on them. I could even wear my jewellery into an exam. Would that be cheating? I think that I can use the knotted cord devices (the khipu) in the same way. Fun times ahead!

40. Sixteen cowrie shells –plant classification


UPDATE: Confession time. This was too hard for me. The Yoruba knowledge keepers are geniuses.

This is another experiment with arrangements of small objects. One genre of information retained by all Indigenous cultures is a plant classification, so that is what I will memorise.  It will imitate the 16 cowries mnemonic method of the African Yoruba. The mythological being brought into play depends on the number of cowries facing up in a toss of the cowries – from 1 to 16. Then there’s the option of all face down – it gets complicated. The Yoruba method involves the 17 mythological beings in hierarchical order – the mythological beings in my case representing each of the plant groupings which will give me both domesticates and wild species, much as early farming cultures must have known.

The second toss enables each of those ‘beings’ to be matched with 16 further options giving 256 combinations.  That will allow further complexity in the groups that I need to know more about – in some cases down to species level. This gets confusing – but the Yoruba did it, so it must work

41. Playing cards – 52 ancestors

UPDATE: I still use these characters for memory training, but I have found that my ‘ancestors’ moved into the History Journey so naturally, that I interact with them there now.

The world memory champions memorise shuffled card decks by giving a character to each one and creating stories. My ancestors are in chronological order. I start with Homer and go to Oliver Cromwell, to be followed by the Tarot Ancestors below. I consider the method to being akin to the stories told by indigenous cultures of the pantheon of mythological characters. I use an old deck of cards because I also use them for my magic routines – it suits my performance style. So much fun to be had in this world!

Having given historical characters to each card in my deck, I am using them to memorise  their roles, expanding to the historical events, contemporaries and the context of their lives. This  whole experiment has gone very well and I am now extremely interested in these people. Having a hook enables me to remember more about them than before. This experiment is enmeshed with History Journey and Countries. But it is not confusing – just each mnemonic device aiding the other.

I have adapting these ‘ancestors’ as my card characters for entering memory championships.

Tarot deck – another 78 Ancestors


The 78 cards of a tarot deck are heavily illustrated, lending themselves to the creation of stories. I have encoded another 78 historical characters, from Blaise Pascal to Linus Torvalds. I’m now adding more layers of data to the structure. This deck blends with my standard card deck for my magic routines. (I don’t use my tarot deck for tarot, except when I decide to do readings using cold reading. But that’s another whole story – see The Skeptic’s Guide to the Paranormal.)

42. String games – Aesop’s fables

UPDATE: String games with stories only worked for short stories for me. Loved them, though, and hope to get back to this one.

Many cultures across the Pacific, and the Inuit, use string games to tell stories. I want to use them to tell Aesop’s fables. I am just starting this one. A long way to go but wonderful fun. At this stage, I think they will only work for short narratives, but I may find that I am wrong.

44. Using art masterpieces as memory boards – classical music

UPDATE: Although the method worked, I found it a bit forced. It was much less effective than a lukasa. But I had really started enjoying classical music and was keen to continue the learning. So there’s another lukasa being created.

As a result of a discussion on the Art of Memory Forum, I decided to try encoding information to a painting. I chose Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Children’s Games because I love it and it has lots of complexity. It took a while to find the path through and identify each of the games, although there is a lot of help on Wikipedia.  I constructed my list of classical composers with feedback online and started listening and encoding.

39. Mnemonic Maps

Many indigenous cultures use artistic maps as a mnemonic. The variety is massive – from Australian Aboriginal art to Pacific Island stick charts. Add that I find all maps fascinating, and some are stunning art works. Then there are the maps of fantasy worlds, some of which are absolutely gorgeous. So can I create art works of maps through a fantasy world which can act like a memory palace? I have plenty of ideas. Now to find more time.

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