The Greeks so worshiped memory that they made a goddess out of her- Mnemosyne. It was her name from which was derived the current word mnemonics, used to describe memory techniques.
In Greek and Roman times, senators would learn these techniques in order to impress other politicians and the public with their phenomenal powers of learning and memory, with these simple but sophisticated methods, the Romans were able to remember without fault thousands of items, including statistics relating to their empire, and became the rulers of their time.
Before the discovery of the physiological breakdown of brain functions in the left and right hemispheres by scientist, the Greeks had intuitively realized that there are two underlying principles that ensure perfect memory: imagination and association.
Brief History of Memory
The exact date when and where the first integrated ideas on memory arose can’t be precisely stated. However, the first sophisticated concepts can be attributed to the Greeks, some 600 BC.
These ‘sophisticated’ ideas were surprisingly naive, especially since some of the men proposing they are numbered among the greatest thinkers the world has ever known.
In sixth century BC, Parmenides thought of memory as being a mixture of light and dark or heat and cold. He believed that as long as any given mixture remained unstirred, the memory would be perfect. As soon as the mixture was altered, forgetting occurred.
Diogenes of Apollonia advanced a different theory, in the fifth century BC. He suggested that memory was a process that consisted of events producing an equal distribution of air in the body, just Like Parmenides, he thought that when this equilibrium was disturbed, forgetting would occur.
In the fourth century BC, the first person to introduce a really major idea in the field of memory was Plato. His theory is known as the Wax Tablet Hypothesis and is still accepted by some people today, although there is growing disagreement.
He said that the mind accepted impressions in the same way that wax becomes marked when a pointed object is applied to its surface.
Plato assumed that once the impression had been made, it remained until it wore away with time, leaving a smooth surface once again.
This smooth surface was, of course, what Plato considered to be equivalent to complete forgetting – the opposite aspect of the same process.
Shortly after Plato, Zeno the Stoic slightly modified Plato’s ideas, suggesting that sensations actually ‘wrote’ impressions on the wax tablet. Like the Greeks before him, when Zeno referred to the mind and its memory, he did not place it in any particular organ or section of the body.
To him as to the Greeks, ‘mind’ was a very unclear concept. The first man to introduce a more scientific terminology was Aristotle, in the late fourth century BC.
He maintained that the language previously used was not adequate to explain the physical aspects of memory.
In applying his new language Aristotle attributed to the heart most of the functions that we now attribute to the brain.
Part of the heart’s function, he realized, was concerned with the blood, and he felt that memory was based on the blood’s movements. He thought that forgetting was the result of a gradual slowing down of these movements.
Furthermore, Aristotle made another important contribution to the subject of memory when he introduced his laws of association of ideas. The concept of association of ideas and images is now known to be of major importance to memory.
Also, in the third century before Christ, Herophilus introduced ‘vital’ and ‘animal’ spirits to the discussion. He thought that the vital, or ‘higher order’, spirits produced the ‘lower order’ animal spirits, which are the memory, the brain and the nervous system.
He concluded that man’s superiority over animals was the large number of creases in his brain; these creases are now known as the convolutions of the cortex.
He, however, offered no reason for his conclusion until more than 2000 years later, that the real importance of the cortex was discovered.
Greeks were the first to seek a physical as opposed to a spiritual basis for memory; they developed scientific concepts and a language structure that helped the development of these concepts; and they contributed the Wax Tablet Hypothesis, which suggested that memory and forgetting were opposite aspects of the same process.
The next major contributor to memory theory was done by Galen in the second century AD. He was able to locate and delineate various anatomical and physiological structures and made further investigations into the function and structure of the nervous system.
He also assumed that memory and mental processes were part of the lower order of animal spirits. He thought that these spirits were manufactured in the sides of the brain and that, consequently, memory was seated there.
Galen thought that air was sucked into the brain and mixed with the vital spirits. This mixture produced animal spirits that were pushed down through the nervous system, enabling humans to experience sensation.
His ideas on memory were rapidly accepted and condoned by the church making his ideas doctrine, and as a result little progress was made in the field for 1500 years.
However, in the nineteenth century, some important advances occurred by reasons of development of science in Germany. Many of the ideas initiated by the Greeks were overthrown.
Modern Theory of Memory
Georg Prochaska, a Czech physiologist, finally and irrevocably rejected the age-old idea of animal spirits and others because no scientific basis to support them.
He said ‘Spatial localization may be possible,’ he said, ‘but we just do not know enough at the moment to make it a useful idea.’ It was not for some fifty years that localizing the area of memory function became a useful pursuit.
Another major theory in the nineteenth century was presented by a French physiologist, who ‘locate’ the memory in every part of the brain.
He said that the brain acted as a whole and could not be considered as the interaction of elementary parts.
Nowadays, memory research had advance because of advances in technology and methodology, such that psychologists and other thinkers in this field agree that memory is located in the cerebrum, which is the large area of the brain covering the surface of the cortex,
but the exact ‘localization’ of memory areas in this part of the brain is proving a difficult task, as is the accurate understanding of the function of memory itself.
Modern theory and research are divided into three main areas:
- Work on establishing a biochemical basis for memory
- Theories suggesting that memory can no longer be considered as a single process but must be broken down into divisions and
- The clinical surgeon Wilder Penfield’s work on brain stimulation.
Ribonucleic acid (RNA) and Memory
The biochemical basis for memory was initiated in the late 1950s. This theory suggests that RNA (ribonucleic acid), a complex molecule, serves as a chemical mediator for memory, which is produced by the substance DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), which is responsible for our genetic inheritance.
Many research on RNA lend support to the idea that RNA does indeed have a lot to do with the way in which we remember things.
Experiment showed that when RNA was taken from one rat and injected into another, the second rat ‘remembered’ things that he had never been taught but that the first rat had.
Why do I Forget Things?
On theories, theorists are saying that we should stop emphasizing ‘memory’ and concentrate more on the study of ‘forgetting’. Their position is that we do not so much remember as gradually forget.
Encompassing this idea is the duplex theory of remembering and forgetting. Stating that there are two different kinds of information retention: long-term and short term.
The short-term situation is one in which the idea is ‘in’ the brain but has not yet been properly coded and is therefore more readily forgotten.
In the long-term situation the idea has been completely coded, filed and stored, and it will probably remain there for years, if not for life.
Doctor Wilder Penfield initiated direct brain stimulation by performing craniotomies which involves removal of a small section of the brain in order to reduce epileptic attacks,
and before operation, Penfield conducted a systematic electrical stimulation of the open brain, and the patient, who remained conscious, reported his experience after each stimulation.
To his amazement he observed that when he stimulated certain individual brain cells (the temporal lobe of the brain), his patients were suddenly recalling experiences from their past.
The patients emphasized that it was not simple memory, but that they actually were reliving the entire experience, including smells, noises, colors, movement, tastes. These experiences ranged from a few hours before the experimental session to as much as forty years earlier.
Penfield suggested that hidden within each brain cell or cluster of brain cells lies a perfect store of every event of our past and that if we could find the right stimulus we could replay the entire film.
The Power of Your Memory
Also, a Russian journalist referred to as Russian S (The Mind of a Mnemonist, by A. R. Luria)attended an editorial meeting, and it was noted to the consternation of others that he was not taking notes.
When pressed to explain why he wasn’t taking notes, the explanation that he gave for not taking notes himself was that he could remember what the editor was saying, so what was the point? Upon being challenged, ‘S’ reproduced the entire speech, word for word, sentence for sentence, and inflection for inflection.
After thirty years, he was to be tested and examined by Alexander Luria, Russia’s leading psychologist and expert on memory. Luria confirmed that ‘ S ‘ was in no way abnormal but that his memory was indeed perfect.
Luria also stated that at a very young age ‘S’ had ‘stumbled upon’ the basic mnemonic principles and that they had become part of his natural functioning. ‘S’ was not unique.
The history of education, medicine and psychology is dotted with similar cases of perfect memorizers. In every instance, their brains were found to be normal, and in every instance they had, as young children, ‘discovered’ the basic principles of their memory’s function.
Parts and functions of The Brain
Professor Roger Sperry received the Nobel Prize for discovering the physiological sections of the brain. Sperry discovered that each one of us has a brain that is divided into two physiological sections, each dealing with different mental functions. Showing that, in most of us, the left side of the brain deals with the following areas:
- sequencing and linearity
While the right side of the brain deals with the following mental functions:
- Rhythm and music
- Color and Dimension
How can I remember anything?
Most of us are actively discouraged from using our imaginative abilities, and consequently learn very little about the nature of mental association, which is pretty simply, if you want to remember anything, all you have to do is to associate (link) it with some known or fixed item , calling upon your imagination throughout.
The brain records every item to which it pays conscious attention and that this record is basically permanent, although it may be ‘forgotten’ in day-to-day living.
Keys for superpower Memory
‘Mnemonics’ or Memory Techniques is a system of ‘memory codes’ that enabled people to remember perfectly whatever it was they wished to remember.
these techniques have shown that if a person scores 9 out of 10 when using such a technique, that same person will score 900 out of 1000, 9000 out of 10,000, and so on.
These techniques help us to delve into that phenomenal storage capacity we have and to pull out whatever it is that we need.
The Greeks belief that in order to remember well, you have to use every aspect of your mind, to do this well, you must include in your associated and linked mental landscape in the following ways:
Colour: Colours can improve your memory capacity by 50%. The more colour you use, the better your memory capacity.
Imagination power: Imagination is the powerhouse of your memory. The more vividly you can imagine, the more easily you will remember.
Rhythm: rhythm and variation of rhythm in your mental mind, can improve your memory.
Movement: Moving objects are easily remembered better than still ones. So, as often as possible, try to make your mental images move.
For example, if you have to remember that you have to buy bitter Kola, you stand a far better chance of not forgetting your task if you can actually imagine the taste of bitter kola as you touch it with your hands, bite into it with your mouth and taste it, see it as it is approaching your face, and hear yourself munching it.
Sex. Sex is one of our strongest drives, and if you apply this aspect of drive to your magnificent daydreaming ability, your memory will improve.
Sequencing and Ordering. Imagination alone is not enough for memory. Thus, in order to function well, your mind needs order and sequence. So as to categorize and structure things in such a way as to make them more easily accessible and easier retrieval of information.
Number. In orderto make ordering and sequencing easier, it is often advisable to use numbers.
Dimension. The right-brain has ability to picture mages in 3-D.
Key Image Word to remembering things
A ‘Key Memory Word’ is the constant hook on which the reader will hang other items he or she wishes to remember. This Key Memory Word is specifically designed to be an ‘Image Word’ that must produce a picture or image in the mind of the person using the memory system.
In using the mnemonic systems to remembering things, you will realize the importance of being sure that the pictures you build in your mind contain only the items you want to remember, and those items must be associated with or connected to Key Memory Images.
The connections between your basic Memory System. Images and the things you wish to remember should be as fundamental and uncomplicated as possible.