The Memory Code by Lynne Kelly

I have a terrible memory. But it’s a fickle one. For example, I could take two steps and forget I was supposed to get someone something from the next room on my way back, but I can remember not only the current set of characters and their interactions in my current project, but be actively working out the ending, the possibilities of a recent plot twist, and memories of the previous book(s) in the series that relate to my current project.

It’s frustrating.

So, I’m always interested in anything related to how memory works, why it works, and how I can make mine work better. Part of that, I think, lies in the ability of the mind to latch onto stories, as opposed to facts. For that, I’ve borrowed Wired for Story by Lisa Cron through ILL.

But when it comes to memory devices and systems, so far, nothing beats The Memory Code by Lynne Kelly.

Based on her work with Australian Aborigine songlines, Lynne Kelly took her initial research and began to notice that memory devices exist in many parts of the globe. She includes Chaco Canyon, Easter Island, and Stonehenge as ways the ancestors of the various peoples of the world attempted to remember what was important within their culture.

That, in and of itself, is fantastic work. She does an excellent job of laying out her theory while explaining why it makes sense.

But for me, the most fascinating part was when she explained her experiments with various memory techniques and devices. (She’s posted a page summarizing all of them here: My 36 memory experiments.)

For example, she uses her daily walk to remember the history of the earth, using a variation of the Memory Palace technique. She uses memory boards (lukasa) to remember species of bird and knotted strings (khipu) to remember the history of art. She carves up sticks and totems, creates a North American winter count, and even talks about Neolithic Scottish memory balls, which look like roundish versions of regular dice, but with textures instead of dots (unlike the other items mentioned, I don’t remember her creating carved memory balls).

When it comes to the actual techniques, she has a new book out, Memory Craft, which I have yet to read that seems to go more into the how-to of creating memory devices. However, I think she goes into enough detail in The Memory Code that a person who understands the principles can figure out how to apply these devices in their own lives.

Highly recommended book, especially for those with poor memories.



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