Friday, November 7, 2014

CPR for a Great Memory
The ancients memorized entire texts. In the days before the printing press, books were difficult if not impossible to duplicate. A scholar went home with a head full of knowledge, no textbooks. The Bible was among the early books  passed on by memory. But there were many other books in the sciences, history and genealogy that were passed down orally. Scholars memorized the material.
So how did ancient scholars do it?  They had three  techniques. I don't know what they were called then, but I call them CPR.


Say I have a list to memorize. Perhaps it is a to-do list or a grocery list. Perhaps my instructor expects me to know all 44 presidents of the United States in order or he wants me to memorize the periodic table.
If I  want to use chaining, I  tell myself a ridiculous story and chain the elements of what I need to memorize into the story.  
Say I have the following items on my errand  list.

Buy lettuce, Pepsi, paper towels, dog food and ketchup. 
Pay the light bill.

Here is one way I could chain them together and remember them.

I imagine myself  waking  up in the morning and it is snowing lettuce. Big heads of lettuce are falling out  of the sky. (Make the story as exaggerated and as ridiculous as possible so you will remember it.) The  lettuce is pounding on the roof of my home and piling up outside, so I can't even see out my bedroom window anymore.  I roll over in bed and there is a huge bottle of Pepsi lying in the bed beside me. I am so startled that I kick the bottle and break it. There is Pepsi all over. I get out the paper towels and start mopping it up.  The dog runs over to help.  But he starts eating the Pepsi- saturated paper towels.  “You need dog food,”  I tell him. “What kind should I get you?  Alpo?” The dog runs to get his bowl, but he brings back a bottle of ketchup instead.   Yuk, The ketchup is dripping. there is Pepsi and dog food and paper toweling in the ketchup.  And it is all in my bed. Disgusting. 
The lights start blinking on and off. I have to pay the light bill.

And there are hundreds of other stories I can make up with the items in the list.  After I make up my story I visualize the scene .  What color are my sheets and bedspread? How do they look soaked in Pepsi? What kind of a dog is it? I have a beagle, but when you tell your story, you will have your own details.  Specific details will make the story more memorable. 
Repetition helps so I  go over the story a few times.  It is raining heads of lettuce, the Pepsi is in my bed, I get paper towels. the dog food is in the ketchup bottle and the lights are blinking on and off.
Practice chaining for about a week. Make up a new grocery or errand list each day and memorize it.  Practice whenever you can. Perhaps you already know a list.  How would you chain a list of your five best friends?
The more you practice the easier it will be when you have to make up a more difficult list.

Ready for something a little more challenging? And more fun.
Make yourself a longer list to memorize.  Perhaps the names of the  thirteen original colonies.  Maybe you want to memorize state capitals or the names of the kings and queens of England. 
In my next blog, we chain the U.S. presidents.

After that we will get to pegging.

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