Remember it all

(If you haven’t already, you should read << Teachers all around first)

giordano bruno

Giordano Bruno, one of the fathers of the Art of Memory.
(“giordano bruno, by Matteo Mignani / CC BY 2.0)

So I had a decent idea (albeit an incomplete one) of what I would do. First, I would follow a ten-year reading plan which would give me an overall appreciation of the Great Books. The actual intention was not to spend ten years, but to finish the list in two years at most. While doing this, I would write. I would write about my police life, my studies into the Great Books, anything I thought could help me reach a decent understanding of my life, or at least help me endure it. My writings would have to be well-thought-out conclusions, so as to be concise and informative. I might build a blog just to make sure I’d keep the plan — an online exposure of my thoughts and life would demand the kind of commitment to real understanding that I intended. It would also foster my discipline, which has always been one of the hardest parts of any endeavour in my life — the stick-to-itness. Maybe I’d eventually write a book, who knows? But then, I realised something that disturbed me.

These books are not meant just to be consulted or looked up when in doubt or in want for advice. They were not meant either to be memorised by rote, to be regurgitated as informed conversation in a party. They are not even meant to be scholarly appreciated by deep immersion, so that the solution for the great problems of Humanity be found. Well, to be true, for such aims that would definitely need to be done, but they are not just for that and, above all, not just for scholars. They are meant to be the very fabric of Men — that’s where they came from anyway — to be the raw material upon which we’ll build not only innovative solutions for new problems, but also, and most importantly, common-sense solutions for everyday problems. Because everyday problems can be utterly disastrous to one’s life and common-sense is much harder to possess than its name implies. These books are the ones to be “chewed and digested”, as Francis Bacon speaks of, and as such they are meant to be part of our very beings, so much as our hands, our heart and our thoughts are. They are meant to be the building blocks of the bulwark that will forever safeguard us — that elusive and rare quality named character.

The solution: I will remember it all.

*

I learned about the Art of Memory and its homonymous forum because of Blackjack. I play Blackjack for fun, but that doesn’t mean I don’t play to win. To do that, I’ve learned how to count cards proficiently and I have done a few trips to Las Vegas to test my abilities. Despite winning most of the time, I now know that I would have to go to the next level to get decent returns. I would have to come up with improved systems well above and beyond simply counting cards and that would demand something that I didn’t possess: a great memory.

The Art of Memory is also known as mnemonics or mnemotechnics, but I find these names to be undeserving of what they refer to. “The Art“, as I like to call it, allegedly began with the greek poet Simonides of Ceos (556 – 468 B.C). As the story goes, he was performing a recital in a large banquet, when he was suddenly summoned to go outside to meet someone. Just after he left, the entire hall collapsed, crushing and disfiguring the guests beyond recognition. But Simonides, probably to his own astonishment, was able to remember where each guest had been sitting at the large table and, thanks to him, they could be properly buried. His feat hinted on the idea that to better memorize something, one should conjure images and mentally place them on actual spatial locations. Thus, the Art was born.

This is a nice story, whether true or not. But what really matters is that these techniques work and they have been crafted, analysed and promoted throughout the millennia by great exponents such as Cicero, Aristotle, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Giordano Bruno, Gottfried Leibniz, Francis Bacon and Descartes. Beginning with its most pragmatic role by saving lives — even if legendary ones — and evolving into detailed techniques for remembering and learning, the Art of Memory has long reached its status of a true art. And, as such, it has been paramount in fostering men’s character.

In the current society of external digital memories, where that which people think of you is largely more important than what you really are, both the Art and the growth of character are forgotten ambitions of men. However, I can’t imagine a time where both are more needed. Through the Art of Memory, I intend to remember what I read and learn. Just like we remember words after learning a language and are then capable of merging them into new constructs, with new meaning, I will remember the vocabulary of the wisdom of mankind and build a better version of myself.

This is where I end and the Mnemoriam begins.

(Continues on The plan >>)

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