“Creativity is, in a sense, future memory.” Tony Buzan
Mnemosyne, the personification of memory in Greek mythology, was the daughter of Gaia (goddess of Earth) and Uranus (god of the sky) and, quite interestingly, the mother of the nine Muses. These latter, in turn, were the goddesses of the inspiration of literature, science and the arts. They were considered the source of knowledge, related orally for centuries in the ancient culture that was contained in poetic lyrics and myths.
Mnemosyne, is, you might have guessed, the source of the word mnemonic. The notion that memory and creativity are two sides of the same coin sounds counter-intuitive, but this notion has been around as far back as when Socrates and Plato were busy laying down the foundations of Western philosophy. Remembering and creativity, especially in this modern day and age, seem like opposite, not complementary, processes. But the idea that they are one and the same is indeed quite old, and was once even taken for granted. The Latin root inventio is the basis of two words in our modern English vocabulary: inventory and invention. And to a mind trained in the art of memory, those two ideas were closely linked. Invention was a product of inventorying.
“Where do new ideas come from if not some alchemical blending of old ideas?”, asks Joshua Foer in “Moonwalking with Einstein.” In order to invent, one first needs a proper inventory, a bank of existing ideas to draw on. Not just an inventory, but an indexed inventory. One needs a way of finding just the right piece of information at just the right moment, and this was especially true before advances in technology that externalized knowledge. In other words, it takes knowledge to gain knowledge, and it takes knowledge to remember new knowledge much more effectively, as I pointed out in Memory Tip #7.
“It turns out the seeds of remembering or forgetting are laid from the very first time you approach an idea,” says Scott Young. “By using brain scans from fMRI machines, while people are in the process of learning a new fact, scientists can tell, just by using the scan, whether that fact will be recalled correctly later. This suggests memory has a lot more to do with how you learn, and less about what takes place in the intervening time.”
Learning the right way, the first time, can therefore produce dramatic differences in how much we can recall, even long periods of time later. And the goal of training one’s memory is to develop the capacity to make new connections between old ideas, and to connect seemingly unrelated words, names, or data by drawing from your experiences and imagination. Connecting the new with the old is often done through clever use of analogies and metaphors (which works especially well for ideas or concepts) and through, of course, the use of mnemonics.
As Dominic O’Brien says in “You Can Have an Amazing Memory“, instant association is an important aspect of memory training, because first associations will prove to be the most reliable. “Your past provides you with learning and you need to use that learning to create pathways from one thing to another. Everything in your life fits together like pieces of a jigsaw. To get from one piece of the jigsaw to another, you can link them piece by piece. The most efficient way to create that pathway is to use the fewest pieces of the jigsaw possible – to find the most obvious connections from your of knowledge.” An example he gives for remembering two unrelated words is worth quoting at length:
Here’s [an] example: pen and soup. In what ways can you connect them so that you remember them both? Using free association and my imagination, I come up with the following possibilities: use the pen to stir the soup (perhaps the soup changes colour as the ink from the pen mixes in); use the pen to make a pattern or perhaps write a word in the thick soup; fill the pen with soup as though it were ink to write a letter; use the pen as a straw for the soup; and so on. Although the connections to my past aren’t obvious in this example, all the associations draw upon my experience and understanding of both a pen and a bowl of soup. Memory and association are inseparable.
Here’s an additional example to really hammer down this concept. Let’s say you’re at a party and are introduced to a group of new friends. There is John, Luke, Julie, and Mary. By using your own experiences, interests, and knowledge, and using these to make associations, you have the ability to easily remember these names quickly and embed them into your long-term memory. John could make you think of the company “John Deere”, or the actor “Johnny Depp”. Luke could be “Lucky Luke” or “Luke Skywalker”. Julie could be “Angelina Julie” or the month of July, which is spelled similarly to Julie. I’ll let you make your own associations for Mary. But as you can imagine, by making very simple associations, remembering becomes so much easier, it’s like magic. And once those associations are made, you can quickly form mnemonics to really anchor those names and images into your mind. You can imagine, say, Johnny Depp holding a lightsaber during a hot day in July, or whatever other crazy menmonic you might come up with.
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This is Memory Tip #8 out of 12. To access additional tips in this series, click on any of the following links: Tip #1, Tip #2, Tip #3, Tip# 4, Tip #5, Tip #6, Tip #7, Tip #9, Tip #10, Tip #11, Tip #12