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Ancient Technique Can Dramatically Improve Memory, Research Suggests (theguardian.com) 190

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: After spending six weeks cultivating an internal "memory palace," people more than doubled the number of words they could retain in a short time period and their performance remained impressive four months later. The technique, which involves conjuring up vivid images of objects in a familiar setting, is credited to the Greek poet Simonides of Ceos, and is a favored method among so-called memory athletes. The study also revealed that after just 40 days of training, people's brain activity shifted to more closely resemble that seen in some of the world's highest ranked memory champions, suggesting that memory training can alter the brain's wiring in subtle but powerful ways. The study, published in the journal Neuron, recruited 23 of the 50 top-scoring memory athletes in an annual contest called the World Memory Championships. The athletes were given 20 minutes to recall a list of 72 random nouns and they scored, on average, nearly 71 of the 72 words. By contrast, an untrained control group recalled an average of 26 words. This group then followed a daily 30-minute training regime where they practiced walking through a chosen familiar environment, such as their own home, and placing objects in specific locations. After 40 days of 30-minute training sessions, the participants who had average memory skills at the start more than doubled their memory capacity, recalling 62 words on average -- and four months later, without continued training, they could remember 48 words from a list of 72.
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Ancient Technique Can Dramatically Improve Memory, Research Suggests

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 09, 2017 @10:44PM (#54010747)

    1 weird ancient secret could get you a free gift card per year! Click my ass to find out how.

  • by locopuyo ( 1433631 ) on Thursday March 09, 2017 @11:08PM (#54010809) Homepage
    They're practicing remembering things for 30 minutes every day for 40 days. It isn't some sort of "weird trick" like the headline might make you think.
    • by SeaFox ( 739806 )

      It isn't some sort of "weird trick" like the headline might make you think.

      The editors don't want you to know!

    • It is a weird trick, and how "the trick" basically works is right in the summary. Facepalm.

    • They're practicing remembering things for 30 minutes every day for 40 days. It isn't some sort of "weird trick" like the headline might make you think.

      That's an interesting hypothesis. However, we don't have data one way or the other. Another study would have to be done evaluating the "Memory Place" technique, versus simple practice.

    • They're practicing remembering things for 30 minutes every day for 40 days. It isn't some sort of "weird trick" like the headline might make you think.

      Not only that, it really doesn't improve the memory that is most useful; i.e. the ability to recall information relevant to hat you are working on. If it enables you to memorize say a set of legal precedents and then recall later the exact one you need and be able to recite it verbatim or go to a specific paragraph in a document and remember it it would be useful. From TFA it wasn't even clear if the could recall what was the 4th word or just some subset of all the words. I use something similar when teachi

  • Memory Palace (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Thursday March 09, 2017 @11:13PM (#54010825) Journal

    Someone taught me Giordano Bruno's "memory palace" technique when I was a freshman at uchicago, and it made everything about my academic career as student and teacher so much easier. If you don't know what that is, you really ought to look it up.

    The story of Giordano Bruno is a ripping yarn, too. He was a mathematician, astronomer, poet, and theorist in the 16th century. He was also a Dominican friar. He was one of the guys who came up with the "infinite universe" theory and the notion that the Earth was not really stationary with the heavens moving around it. He was a brilliant dude, but had absolutely no patience for people not as smart as him. Even so, the Church tried to move him around, to Oxford, to Rome, to France, hoping he'd find a place where he couldn't upset too many people.

    He's one of the few people in history to have been excommunicated from three different religions, including one that he wasn't even a member of. Yes, he was actually preemptively excommunicated.

    His love of learning and his obsessive reading finally did him in. See, he liked to read while on the crapper,, like most of us, and he kept a well-worn copy of poems of Erasmus behind his toilet. So, when the Pope's men came for him, they found the Erasmus, and since it was "forbidden" by the Church, that pretty much was the end. Even then, they'd have let him go if he'd just have recanted his notion that Earth wasn't the only "world" in the universe. Not being able to abide stupid people, he told them to go fuck themselves. Then, they tried and convicted him of a host of thought-crimes, from heresy to occult practices to general mopery.

    They burned him at the stake in 1600.

    • Re:Memory Palace (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Required Snark ( 1702878 ) on Thursday March 09, 2017 @11:53PM (#54010931)
      In the highly regarded fantasy novel Little, Big [wikipedia.org] by Robert Crowley, the character Ariel Hawksquill uses Bruno's memory palace technique. It allows her to perform divination by remembering things she never knew about in the first place.

      It's a wonderful book to read and has many places where the mundane world becomes intertwined with the world of magic. You might enjoy it if you liked Tolkien. However, it has no grand "save the world" plot, no epic battles and no iconic figures of good and evil. It's about people at the edge of a magical realm, and how this status changes them in both helpful and hurtful ways.

    • Re: Memory Palace (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Memory palace is just one of MANY memory techniques, good over view here https://www.coursera.org/learn/learning-how-to-learn

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      >They burned him at the stake in 1600.
      And yet we still have to deal with those idiots.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Giordano Bruno did not come up with the "infinite universes" theory. That idea is basically as old as humanity, but Bruno himself got it from Nicholas of Cusa (Cusanus), who was a highly regarded cardinal. The idea is not, and was never, considered heretical and it was not one of the reasons that Bruno was burned.

      • Giordano Bruno did not come up with the "infinite universes" theory. That idea is basically as old as humanity, but Bruno himself got it from Nicholas of Cusa (Cusanus), who was a highly regarded cardinal.

        The difference is that Cusanus believed the universe was infinite because God was infinite and Bruno just thought the universe was infinite because it was. Unlike other scientist/clerics of his time, he didn't necessarily feel the need to couch his theories in language that would make the "Religious Right

    • Someone taught me Giordano Bruno's "memory palace" technique when I was a freshman at uchicago, and it made everything about my academic career as student and teacher so much easier. If you don't know what that is, you really ought to look it up.

      From the summary " The technique, which involves conjuring up vivid images of objects in a familiar setting, is credited to the Greek poet Simonides of Ceos, and is a favored method among so-called memory athletes".

      If this is the same thing- this would be too foreign for me. I actually have a better-than-average memory, but I can't "picture things".

      It's as foreign as when people talk about "picture your happy place in your mind", I can't picture things in my mind. I couldn't visualize a house to place o

      • If this is the same thing- this would be too foreign for me. I actually have a better-than-average memory, but I can't "picture things".

        This is very interesting. I've never heard anyone say this before. If you think about your mother's face (or dog, or the Apple logo), do you not conjure a picture?

        If I asked you to draw the symbol for infinity, in the moment before you start to move the pen on paper, do you not "see" the symbol? Could you describe a giraffe without looking at a picture?

        Either way, I'm gl

        • I know what my mother's face looks like, I know what an Apple logo looks like. I can't literally picture them in my head though. I can't create an image of them in my head, I have no problem recognizing them though. I can certainly draw an infinity symbol- I can't picture one. I could describe a giraffe, but no, I don't see it before describing it- it's purely academic, I know a giraffe is orangey with pale lines between blotches and a long neck with two hairy horns on top of it's head.

          (I didn't realise

          • I'm curious, if you don't mind me asking: Can you "hear" music in your head? If I were to name a song that you like, could you summon it in memory?

            • I'm curious, if you don't mind me asking: Can you "hear" music in your head? If I were to name a song that you like, could you summon it in memory?

              Kind of, but only music. It's an interesting question one I haven't thought about, that people hear things in their head differently to me too. I can't re-hear birds or car engines running, or any random sounds, or usually people's voices (although I sort-of can sometimes).

              When I "hear" music in my head, it's more I feel the beat and I find myself subconsciously altering my breathing to mimic the notes in a tune. I don't hear the singer-singing, it's my internal voice singing- or at least what I internal

          • Ah, now it makes sense; you don't understand the word "picture" in the sentence, "picture it in your head."

            You're just getting hung up over the word and then pretending you can't do the thing, instead of accepting that the word means the thing that you're insisting on calling a "thought construct."

        • For me, trying to visualize things brings only very brief, half-formed flashes before it's just blank again. Almost as if I begin to visualize, and then am introspecting the process too much and it dissipates.
          • For me, trying to visualize things brings only very brief, half-formed flashes before it's just blank again. Almost as if I begin to visualize, and then am introspecting the process too much and it dissipates.

            Too bad Oliver Sacks is gone. I bet he would have liked a look at your noggin.

            I'm unable to visualize not being able to visualize. I guess the variations in human consciousness are pretty vast.

      • I am the same way. As a teen, trying to get to sleep, I would sometimes try to imagine a swinging pendulum, but the visualization would fall apart after just a few swings. I have a terrible visualization ability, and actually do much better when I describe things in words than in pictures. As a mechanical engineer, this makes me very much an odd duck compared to my peers who, by and large, see and manipulate 3D objects in their brains all the time. You are not alone!
        • I wonder if your thought process- remember things as concepts rather than images actually helped you become a mechanical engineer. If it, being a physical science thinking in words and concepts is more useful that picturing things. (cuts out some of the distraction).

          I'm a web developer- so thinking in concepts probably helps my coding- but it makes me wonder if I would be better at aesthetics if I could picture moving things around in my head. I tend to think of laying things out by golden ratio, and mimi

    • by epine ( 68316 )

      Yes, he was actually preemptively excommunicated.

      Damn! I so much want to add that one to my bucket list, but then it would almost kill me to have to cross it off.

      1. have sex
      2. have sex again

      So here's my big question: can you make bucket list items out of sheep's intestine? Cause I'd want to reuse this one a lot.

  • Then you have to remember where you put stuff.

    I have a hard enough time remembering where I put real things.

    • by arcade ( 16638 )

      I'm in the same boat. I've tried teaching myself this technique, but fail every time. I can't remember the "familiar place", and I can't call up vivid imagery when I close my eyes.

      There was a writeup on Aphantasia making the rounds a while ago: https://www.facebook.com/notes... [facebook.com]

      It's quite a good read. :-)

    • by quenda ( 644621 )

      I have a hard enough time remembering where I put real things.

      Try closing your eyes and picturing your home/office. Imagine yourself putting the thing away. Where did you put it?
      The memory palace technique can be modified for real things.

    • Oh I do this all the time when I forget the shop list yet I've gone shopping, I just kinda stand still, lean against something, imagine I'm looking in the fridge, cupboards, bathroom, cabinets etc and identify the places for each item and then try to remember how much is left.

      I generally end up getting most of the stuff on the list.

  • How many words did the control group get right by the end? 20 hours of memorising for 72 words ... and they only remembered 36 more than they started out with?? Surely that abstract is wrong. I have a bad memory but, really?

    FWIW I tried memory-palacing and couldn't remember any of the items that were supposed to help me recall the data. I could remember some of the data though. Clearly not for me.

    • I learned a technique similar to the "memory palace" as an introduction to the "memory palace." This one uses a preset list, called the Tree List. I found it to be useful in and of itself, and also as an introduction to the other memory methods. Here is a link: http://greglhamon.com/memorize... [greglhamon.com]

      The tree list can be used independently of the "memory palace" or even as a first stage, before entering the palace. The results are impressive. In the example of the article, just imagine not only being able to

  • by cloud.pt ( 3412475 ) on Thursday March 09, 2017 @11:27PM (#54010869)

    Most people simply don't need photographic memory in their daily tasks, and the brain in most of us, as the sophisticated piece of evolution it is, will just rewire itself dynamically with the environment.

    I'm not very savvy on the internals of the brain, but my calculated guess is that brain cells and links mold themselves (chemically? electrically?) either for short-term storage (like nand memory), long-term (flash, optical, magnetic...) or, and here's the kicker, for multi-field optimization/performance. Maybe even some more exotic things like keeping themselves transient, volatile, so they can be used for general purpose on demand, ad hoc (a task commonly required for astronauts, for instance, who need to be prepared to MacGyver the shit out when shit hits the... water recycler fan?).

    Now given this opinion, maybe training yourself for memory isn't such a bad thing regardless of your personal or professional goals. It is a known fact most of us have an easily distracted mind, especially in current times. Surrounded by information and "drives", we can't really decide over the most interesting "blobs" of data to pursue, to store, or to decode. It's like a chronic form of ADD, induced by the rapid evolution of communication and societal patterns, one that was once largely specific and even documented in Japanese urban areas even causing psychological disturbs, but now very common across the developed world due to entertainment, the internet and smart device ubiquity.

    We were once forced to read books as no alternative was present, now we can learn ALL educational subjects in the same place we watch videos, listen to music, make, share and experience most art, virtually travel, and of course play games (what I call the "combined experience"; what actually is the least prone to raise your IQ, especially with the cesspool that plagues most multiplayer games). And guess what: from all those things we can do with a connected smart device, the human psyche is largely biased towards all but the first one, the only one that really mattered for anything relevant in society. Unless you're a movie critic, game tester, DJ or a professional traveler of course.

    We can't really change our physiological drives, but we can certainly fool them and improve something we need but can't reach sporadically with that guidance. Making ourselves a little more prepared for memorization, especially if you have a job that benefits from it, like most here probably do. Fast and efficient programming does require a certain amount of recollection: most people will reach a better sorting algorithm, and/or will get to it faster if they remember the "basic moves" (like chess or rubik cube openings and strategies).

    But I believe the jury is still out on "the perfect human mind". And that is, by association, the reason we must also not dwell into A(s)I yet. If anything, I believe perfection for the human species comes in collective form and not individual, so there's nothing wrong to have different ways of thinking, we just need to make sure we have enough diversity (and of course, VALUE that diversity). Maybe these last two should really be the foundations for AI development. Unless you voted for the Dolan.

    • We can't really change our physiological drives

      That's kind of what Buddhism teaches you to do, right?

      • Probably, but I doubt anyone ever really achieves pure change. Urges can be mitigated by habit, but they are genetically instilled - they will come back if left "unattended".

        • Nah, that's why they focus on getting to the root cause, instead of behaviour modification.
          • I guess that's why so many Sillicon Valley top brass go on Indian/Tibethan pillgrimage :D

            Nah but taking it seriously, I have no idea how Budhist teachings work. I have stepped aside of serious religion self-thinking for the past 10 years or so. I just failed to see the point in believing in something that so many respected minds have... (pun incoming) lost faith in.

            And despite keeping up to speed a fair share with philosophy and psychology topics on my spare time, I fail to grasp scientific ways to really g

  • Having been afflicted by a couple of particularly severe episodes of the so-called "Beer Goggles" phenomenon, I would rather learn a method that would help me forget.

  • I tried a very similar technique in 1971; it was a short shopping list. I still remember all thirteen items!

    Real world, it is quicker and simpler to write a list. However, none of my shopping lists still exist 46 years later.

    It probably works because our memories deal with objects real or imagined differently than with words.

  • Maybe it works, tell me about it when the control group is spending half an hour a day for 40 days trying to remember lists of words and doing something with them.

    In my youth I provisioned phone service in a CO. I would take a batch of orders, memorize the numbers on them and then thread the cores and run jumpers to provision the service. I'm no savant, everyone in the office that had been there long enough could do just as well or better.

    I could remember quite a few of them at a go. It took a couple of wee

    • by Nethead ( 1563 )

      Damn, that would be a nice after retirement job for me, kind of like going fishing.

  • by werepants ( 1912634 ) on Friday March 10, 2017 @01:56AM (#54011139)

    Subject says it all. Sure, if you want to be able to recite the Iliad around a campfire just like Homer, then spend hours a day practicing this technique and eventually you'll be able to do it. But you still need to put in the work for every additional item you want to remember, and that just isn't worth it for a lot of things. It's more of a curiosity than a widely applicable skill.

    • It's extremely applicable for learning languages. The problem with language learning is you have to learn 1-2 thousands things (vocab) before it's useful. Once it's useful you can use it and you don't need any special techniques.
      • I was going to say the same thing. The memory work required for learning a language is brutal (I've been speaking English for decades and I still learn new words fairly often). Anything to make it easier is a boon.
      • It's extremely applicable for learning languages.

        Have you personally used it for that? By my understanding of the technique, it helps you to memorize arbitrary lists of things, which is relevant to memorizing a story, or random digits of pi, or an arbitrary list of nouns. But nowhere do I see that you're capturing actual semantics or a working knowledge of these items, and in fact I could imagine it being counterproductive, because what you're really trying to do is create a bunch of arbitrary but creative and memorable associations with the list items. W

    • In non-literate societies, storytellers don't repeat stories anywhere near verbatim, and even how long the telling takes varies. You don't need special memory techniques to remember a story if you don't have to remember all the details all the time.

  • by bdwoolman ( 561635 ) on Friday March 10, 2017 @02:11AM (#54011175) Homepage

    Years ago I was gifted a book by some very nice people after I gave a talk. The book was How to Develop a Super Power Memory by Harry Lorayne [wikipedia.org]. It was full of practical mnemonics and methods to remember numbers, peoples' names etc. etc. It also delved into the history of the use of memory. The take away? The brain is like a muscle. Use it or lose it. I never became obsessed on the subject, but twenty years later I still use many of the tools outlined in the book to remember things. Mindfullness is a big fad these days. But really it is just watching what you are doing, paying attention, remembering what you need to remember. Like anything else it is a skill that can be sharpened using a set of tried and true tools.

    Now permit me to digress onto a related topic. A lot of sturm und drang these days about the dangers of AI. I for one am not too panicked by the prospect of Skynet and its ilk. But to my mind one of the very real downsides of AI is the offloading of memory tasks and degradation of important human abilities. The brain is energy efficient (read: lazy ass) if it knows something is recorded elsewhere or readily available elsewhere it will be more likely to forget it. Look at how our geographic sense deteriorates with GPS. [nature.com]

    These days I make an effort not to always Google something the moment I can't summon it into memory. I will give it time and the name of the actress or politician or writer will often percolate up. And if I am returning to a place for a second time I try to visualize my route beforehand and leave my navigation system out of it. Sure. If I am tormented endlessly, or in a heated conversation, or lost, or pressed for time, it makes sense to resort to the computational oxygen around me. But I try to avoid over dependency on it all.

    • by pz ( 113803 )

      I turn on my phone's GPS to use an on-line mapping tool only rarely, such as when I'm visiting an unfamiliar city. Otherwise, I check a mapping service beforehand, memorize any key specifics, and off we go!

      The upside: I'm always looking at the road and can avoid the idiots who aren't.

  • We've had lots of stories arriving late on Slashdot, but this might be a record. Considering that memory palaces were known to ancient Greece, and the knowledge never has been lost, this story is millennia late.

  • I still have the McDonalds Menu Song memorized from back in the 80s. I know my phone number from first grade, but not from college. I can remember the Quadratic Equation but not my kid's teacher's name. Why do some things stick around for decades, but others you can't remember a week (or less) later? Do people who play these memory games have a method for wiping the slate clean? I'd hate to accidentally remember the location of the 6 of clubs a year later.

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