Memory: How to Develop, Train and Use It

Chapter IV

Memory Systems

The subject of Memory Development is not a new one by any means. For two thousand years, at least, there has been much thought devoted to the subject; many books written thereupon; and many methods or “systems” invented, the purpose of which has been the artificial training of the memory. Instead of endeavoring to develop the memory by scientific training and rational practice and exercise along natural lines, there seems to have always been an idea that one could improve on Nature’s methods, and that a plan might be devised by the use of some “trick” the memory might be taught to give up her hidden treasures. The law of Association has been used in the majority of these systems, often to a ridiculous degree. Fanciful systems have been built up, all artificial in their character and nature, the use of which to any great extent is calculated to result in a decrease of the natural powers of remembrance and recollection, just as in the case of natural “aids” to the physical system there is always found a decrease in the natural powers. Nature prefers to do her own work, unaided. She may be trained, led, directed and harnessed, but she insists upon doing the work herself, or dropping the task. The principle of Association is an important one, and forms a part of natural memory training, and should be so used. But when pressed into service in many of the artificial systems, the result is the erection of a complex and unnatural mental mechanism which is no more an improvement upon the natural methods, than a wooden leg is an improvement upon the original limb. There are many points in some of these “systems” which may be employed to advantage in natural memory training, by divorcing them from their fantastic rules and complex arrangement. We ask you to run over the list of the principal “systems” with us, that you may discard the useless material by recognizing it as such; and cull the valuable for your own use.

The ancient Greeks were fond of memory systems. Simonides, the Greek poet who lived about 500 B.C. was one of the early authorities, and his work has influenced nearly all of the many memory systems that have sprung up since that time. There is a romantic story connected with the foundation of his system. It is related that the poet was present at a large banquet attended by some of the principal men of the place. He was called out by a message from home, and left before the close of the meal. Shortly after he left, the ceiling of the banquet hall fell upon the guests, killing all present in the room, and mutilating their bodies so terribly that their friends were unable to recognize them. Simonides, having a well-developed memory for places and position, was able to recall the exact order in which each guest had been seated, and therefore was able to aid in the identification of the remains. This occurrence impressed him so forcibly that he devised a system of memory based upon the idea of position, which attained great popularity in Greece, and the leading writers of the day highly recommended it.

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