Prentiss Riddle: Time

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Computer-aided mnemotechnics?

At the last Meetup we talked a bit about blogging tools and their relationship to personal knowledge management tools.

Adam mentioned wishing that Moveable Type had a finer-grained hierarchy for different levels of detail and access, from a grocery list to private or public brainstorming to a polished essay. David showed his handy note-taking application which connects ideas with balloons and arrows. I tossed in the suggestion that the kinds of tools commonly found on PDAs might benefit not only from integration with blogging tools but from more sophisticated ideas from cognitive science, and that I'd heard that the ancient Romans had developed some real expertise in menmonic techniques.

Well, on the latter point, Ed Vielmetti's e-mail newsletter has a capsule review of an interesting book:

[Frances Yates], [The Art of Memory] -- just getting started on this one, which is an account of the history of mnemotechnics: the art and practice of expanding and augmenting the human memory. The classical account of this goes back to Simonides of Ceos, who had memorized all of the names and seating arrangements of the attendees at a banquet while giving a speech to them and was thus able to identify the dead when the banquet hall collapsed. Ancient orators used these memory systems to memorize long, long speeches.

The Art of Memory by Frances A. Yates

Nowadays with the prevalence of writing and the availability of digital technology, perhaps the emphasis should not be on rote memory or comprehensive personal databases but rather on optimal hybrids. Making software reflect the way our minds work and polishing mental tricks and habits which tie nicely into our software could bear useful fruit.

If I can never remember Joe Schmoe's name but I know he has red hair, perhaps the contact list in my PDA should bring him up if I scribble "red hair" and also remind me of a mnemonic ("joe" rhymes with "tomato") -- but not record Jane Doe's black hair if that's not a distinguishing characteristic. Maybe it would be useful to develop a faceted subject hierarchy, fine-tuned to my individual interests and associations, for organizing book lists, browser favorites, class or conference notes and our soon-to-be-ubiquitous multimedia archives in a unified way. And of course an important domain of associations in our memories but often ignored by PDAs (outside the calendar function) is time -- a domain central both to blogs and experimental systems like David Gelernter's Lifestreams.

time 2003.03.31 link


I've been meaning to get hold of the Yates book (from the 1960s apparently - she's also written about the networking role of the Rosicrucians in helping experimental science to take off in the 17th century) for a few years now. I'd love to have some mnemonic stuff down.

Like those houses of memory....

mark [contact ARROBA otherlanguages PUNTO org] • 2003.04.01
I don't know...twice when I was young, I made the mistake of telling my mother I was bored. The first time I was ordered to memorize "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere"; the second time got me "The Raven." I can still recite them. In fact, I went on to memorize oodles more poems on my own, and memorizing things has become so easy that I often remember random phone number, license plats, etc. Plus I have an almost limitless store of literature at my disposal for personal receitation in moments of boredom. It's also an interesting method of measuring time.

"How long did your run take?"
"Twenty verses of the Rubaiyyat of Omar Kkayyam, three short Garcia Lorca poems, a John Masefield, and a selection of William Blake."

Reen • 2003.04.02
More time >