Articles de blog de Percival Smith
A Greek insight into memory can be dated to Aristotle (382–322 B.C.) in De Anima. In a profound insight, Aristotle asserted that perceptions are transferred to the mind (we would now say the brain) where they are elaborated into mental images. To Aristotle, the formation of mental images was similar to a tracing made on wax by a signet ring; whether a memory results depends on the conditions of the wax (the brain) and the signet ring (the stimulation). In this analogy the experiences conformed to the signet ring, and the wax to the brain.“Some men in the presence of considerable stimulus have no memory owing to disease or age, just as if a seal were impressed on flowing water. With them the design makes no impression because they are worn down like old walls in buildings or because of a hardness of that which is to receive the impression. For this reason the very young and old will have poor memories; they are in a state of flux, the young because of their growth, the old because of their decay.”To Aristotle, images formed by imagination became the basis not only for memory, but for all thinking. Indeed, Aristotle believed that thinking cannot take place without pictures. “The thinking faculty thinks of its forms in mental pictures.” Each memory becomes part of one or more networks associated with a particular past experience and each person possesses unique networks. For instance, while one person raised in a northern climate may associate the word “white” with snow, another person not accustomed to wintry weather would be more likely to associate it with “milk.”Over the next two thousand years, Aristotle’s linking of thought with the formation of mental pictures gave rise to the development of various memory techniques, which we will discuss in chapter III. These are all based on the deliberate construction and manipulation of images. Most of these systems involve linking familiar places (loci, as they are referred to) with images of the things that the person is trying to commit to memory.The underlying principle behind the use of mental imagery is a fundamental one. Pictures are easier to commit to memory than words. This is based on the fact that the brain wasn’t designed for reading words; reading doesn’t come naturally. We have to be taught how to read, while we require no instruction to form mental images of the objects and people around us. Historically, reading only gradually evolved in line with the emergence of Egyptian Hieroglyphics, The Phoenician Alphabet, and much later the Gutenberg Press.As a result of the preeminence of images over words, the easiest way to remember anything, especially names, is to convert the name into a picture. But in order for this method to be effective, the images must be visualized with absolute clarity.According to Cicero, “One must employ a large number of places which must be well lighted, clearly set out in order and at moderate intervals apart.” The images associated with these places must be “active, sharply defined, unusual, and have the power of speedily encountering and penetrating the mind.”Over the centuries, various experts listed steps that could be taken to strengthen memory. In the thirteenth century one of the first, Boncompagno da Signa, an eloquent writer and expert on rhetoric (prose composition), provided probably the most eloquent definition of memory while he was teaching at the University of Bologna from the mid-1190s to the 1230s: “Memory is the glorious and wonderful gift of nature, by which we recall the past, comprehend the present, and contemplate the future through its similarities with the past.” Even eight hundred years later, no one has defined memory with such elegance and concision.Boncompagno da Signa’s twelve characteristics through which memory is strengthened are: contemplation, study, debate, discussion, conversation, novelty, change, habit, rivalry, fear of criticism, desire for praise, and ambition for excellence.Boncompagno da Signa even suggested five mental states that oppose the creation of a strong memory: useless worries, greedy ambitions, anxiety about those dear to us, drink other than in moderation, and excess eating.After the twelfth century, the art of memory entered an eclipse, thanks to development of handwritten books produced by monks which largely displaced old memory systems. Why try to remember something when you can look it up in a book? But during the sixteenth century, the art of memory experienced a revival, thanks to Marsilio Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. Both were members of a brilliant circle surrounding the Medici Court in Florence. They were also cofounders of the movement known as Neoplatonism.Neoplatonism was based on the writings known as the Corpus Hermeticum, attributed to the ancient Egyptian seer, Hermes Trismegistus. According to Marsilio Ficino, another Neoplatonist, Hermes Trismegistus was a charismatic figure thanks to his suggestion that the images formed by the imagination could transform the mind in the manner of a sculptor shaping stone. Thus, lofty and uplifting images could serve as a means of spiritualizing the mind and attaining “true wisdom.” Based on this belief, the templates chosen by Ficinio and Mirandalo for restoring memorized material consisted of religious and mystical concepts.