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Posts Tagged ‘memory

“Right now I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time. I think I’ve forgotten this before”*…

 

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Mnemosyne, the Greek goddess of Memory, c. 100

 

We think of memory as something internal—we remember with our minds (or, for the materialists among us, our brains). But human history is cluttered with attempts to externalize memory by encoding it onto objects and images. We have built models and systems to help us organize, keep track of, and recall information. These techniques are part of what the ancient Greeks called artificial memory. For the Greeks, natural memory encompassed those things a person happened to remember, and artificial memory consisted of recollections a person buttressed through preparation and effort. Artificial memory was a skill that could be learned and improved upon, one that had its own art: the ars memoriae, or art of memory.

The anthropologist Drew Walker reminds us that so-called mnemonic devices are not objects that stand alone but are instead “part of action.” These memory aids cannot fully store information the way writing does; they work only if you have already memorized the related material. Yet even as mere prompts or catalysts, they serve as crucial technologies for preserving and passing on histories, cultural practices, and learned wisdom.

Scholar Lynne Kelly argues that prehistoric and nonliterate cultures relied on memory technologies to preserve their oral traditions, a practice that continues to this day. Australian Aboriginal songlines record memory in short verses that are to be sung at particular places. Knowing the song helps you find your way across the territory—its melodies and rhythms describe the landscape—while its words tell the history of both the people and the land itself, describing, for example, which creator animal built that rocky outcrop or crevasse. Some songlines tell histories that trace back forty thousand years. Many are sacred and cannot be shared with outsiders. The Southern Australian Museum’s 2014 exhibit of the Ngiṉṯaka songline caused significant controversy because some Aṉangu felt the exhibit shared parts of the songline that were meant to be secret and that its curators had not sufficiently consulted with them. While songlines transform large expanses of land into a mnemonic device, other oral cultures have turned to smaller objects—calendar stones, ropes with knots in them, sticks marked with notches—to serve as tables of contents for important stories and information…

Jules Evans reviews mnemotechnics and the visualization of memory– the ways that we remember: “Summon Up Remembrance.”

See also “It’s a memory technique, a sort of mental map”*…

* Steven Wright

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As we stroll down memory lane, we might recall that it was on this date in 1961 that President Dwight D, Eisenhower made his farewell address on a national television broadcast.  Perhaps most famously, Eisenhower, the only general to be elected president in the 20th century, used the speech to warn the nation against the corrupting influence of what he described as the “military-industrial complex.”

But he also used the occasion to urge a long view of our America and its citizen’s responsibilities:

As we peer into society’s future, we – you and I, and our government – must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.

250px-eisenhower_farewell source

 

“Time moves in one direction, memory in another”*…

 

lennon

A few years ago a student walked into the office of Cesar A. Hidalgo, director of the Collective Learning group at the MIT Media Lab. Hidalgo was listening to music and asked the student if she recognized the song. She wasn’t sure. “Is it Coldplay?” she asked. It was “Imagine” by John Lennon. Hidalgo took it in stride that his student didn’t recognize the song. As he explains in our interview below, he realized the song wasn’t from her generation. What struck Hidalgo, though, was the incident echoed a question that had long intrigued him, which was how music and movies and all the other things that once shone in popular culture faded like evening from public memory.

Hidalgo is among the premier data miners of the world’s collective history. With his MIT colleagues, he developed Pantheon, a dataset that ranks historical figures by popularity from 4000 B.C. to 2010. Aristotle and Plato snag the top spots. Jesus is third…

Last month Hidalgo and colleagues published a Nature paper that put his crafty data-mining talents to work on another question: How do people and products drift out of the cultural picture?…

Hidalgo explains the two ways that people and events drop from our collective memories at “How We’ll Forget John Lennon.”  Explore Pantheon here.

* William Gibson

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As we muse on memory, we might recall that it was on this date in 1885 that LaMarcus Adna Thompson received the first patent for a true “switchback railroad”– or , as we know it, a roller coaster.  Thompson has designed the ride in 1881, and opened it on Coney Island in 1884.  (The “hot dog” had been invented, also at Coney Island, in 1867, so was available to trouble the stomachs of the very first coaster riders.)

Thompson’s original Switchback Railway at Coney Island

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“Right now I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time. I think I’ve forgotten this before.”*…

 

Encyclopedia Grid (Acropolis), 2014, by Sara Cwynar. Courtesy Foxy Production, New York.

… Digital memory objects and digital reminiscence systems have left us in a catch–22: They are poor but convenient substitutes for the physical objects and mementos we have previously relied on as containers of memory. If we destroy the evocative electronic madeleine, we are left more and more floating in a self-replenishing sea of presentness and recency.

But if we don’t, if we leave the madeleine in safe stasis in memory storage, we may be accepting a different type of tyranny, of memories that refuse to be altered, of constant confrontation with all of you at once, everything algorithmically legible you’ve ever done, existing simultaneously, clamoring for influence and attention.

The redoubtable Molly Sauter on how we remember when apps never forget: “Instant Recall.”

Vaguely related (and in any case, fun): James Gleick’s “The physics of time travel isn’t just the stuff of science fiction.”

* Steven Wright

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As we say thanks for the memories, we might recall that one hundred years ago today, on this date in 1917, after a long, complicated battle, women won the right to vote in New York State.  While a major victory, this fight amplified rifts among equal rights constituents and advocates, primarily between African American women and white women.  Three years later the 19th Amendment was ratified, granting U.S. women suffrage nationwide.

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Written by LW

November 6, 2017 at 1:01 am

“It’s a memory technique, a sort of mental map”*…

 

The “Memory Palace,” a form of the method of loci, is a technique by which the user memorizes a physical space (often, a palace), then– when desiring to remember something– walks to a location and “deposits” that memory… which can be retrieved simply be “revisiting” that location.  It dates back to ancient Greek and Roman rhetoricians, and, as Frances Yates explains in The Art of Memory, was in broad use all the way until the Enlightenment.

But while the technique fell out of the spotlight with the advent of wide-spread printing and the emergence of the Scientific Revolution, it didn’t disappear altogether…

This “Chronographer of Ancient History,” published by American educator Emma Willard in 1851, is one in a series of prints Willard designed to teach students about the shape of historical time. Her “Temples of Time” were (she wrote) a way to tap into the power of visual comprehension, so that the historical information conveyed would “by frequent inspection, be formed within, and forever remain, wrought into the living texture of the mind.”

This Chronographer is a more specialized offshoot of Willard’s master Temple of Time, which tackled all of history. (She also produced an American version, with a map of the United States on its faraway back wall.) Willard’s Temples, writes historian Barry Joyce, were “possibly inspired by her study of ancient Greek commentaries on history and memory.” The structure’s reliance on perspective was intended to help chronology take on a physical dimension…

More at “A 19th-Century Memory Palace Containing All of Ancient History“: and see a zoomable version of the Temple here or at the Library of Congress.

* Dr. John Watson, describing a “tool” used by his friend Sherlock Holmes

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As we tidy up, we might send carefully-calculated birthday greetings to Gabrielle-Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, Marquise du Châtelet, the French mathematician and physicist who is probably better known as Voltaire’s mistress; she was born on this date in 1706.  Fascinated by the work of Newton and Leibniz, she dressed as a man to frequent the cafes where the scientific discussions of the time were held. Her major work was a translation of Newton’s Principia, for which Voltaire wrote the preface; it was published a decade after her death, and was for many years the only translation of the Principia into French.

Judge me for my own merits, or lack of them, but do not look upon me as a mere appendage to this great general or that great scholar, this star that shines at the court of France or that famed author. I am in my own right a whole person, responsible to myself alone for all that I am, all that I say, all that I do. it may be that there are metaphysicians and philosophers whose learning is greater than mine, although I have not met them. Yet, they are but frail humans, too, and have their faults; so, when I add the sum total of my graces, I confess I am inferior to no one.
– Mme du Châtelet to Frederick the Great of Prussia

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Written by LW

December 17, 2015 at 1:01 am

Cold, Cold, Cold…

 

xkcd‘s wise Randall Munroe on the tricks that memory can play… and the havoc they can wreak on rational discussion of climate change…

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As we tie strings around our fingers, we might recall that it was on this date in 1896 the the first speeding ticket was issued: to Walter Arnold in Peckham in Kent. He was caught doing 8 mph in a 2 mph zone, and was fined one shilling.

The first traffic ticket in the U.S. was issued three years later, to a New York City taxi driver caught doing 12 mph down Lexington Avenue.

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Written by LW

January 28, 2014 at 1:01 am

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