A big thank you to our participants from our latest workshops!
In order to introduce participants to the foundations of building a memory palace we first began with a little role-playing exercise. Using props and costumes to help send their minds back to a time before writing. Be they a chief, hunter, healer or child. What would we need to remember to survive? The playful nature of the exercise was also designed to break the ice and this worked surprisingly well. Some of the participants even remarked how ‘getting into character’ had easily allowed them to feel what their responsibilities would have been to their community, what information they’d have to retain and how to pass this onto the next generation. A list of the most important elements for survival quickly filled the board. We were then able to demonstrate how many of these connect back to the land, to place. Our minds have evolved to form strong links between memories and our environment and this is why memory palaces work so well.
Next another playful exercise to demonstrate pareidolia; the natural tendency for the brain to seek out any familiar patterns among random information. Like the way we might see creatures in the wood grain or suggestive shapes in the clouds. How better to demonstrate this than a fun game of Mr Squiggle. The participants were perhaps a little unsure at first but soon got the idea. When building memory palaces, pareidolia can help to connect an unfamiliar piece of information to an object or location by using our brains uncanny ability to find a familiar association.
Participants were also given a brief lesson in the neuroscience of memory and how our natural brain function preferences specific ways of collating information about our world.
We were able to introduce the components of our LENS framework for the first time. Loci, Emotion, Narrative and Senses being the most powerful tools for creating strong memory.
They were now primed for creating their first memory palace. By visualising a favourite room in their house, they were asked to encode a list of famous people/characters into a sequence of different objects and loci around the room. Nearly all the participants were able to recite back the list with their own personal links to items in their house. They were often surprised how easy it was to form these associations and how sometimes it felt like such a perfect fit; Marilyn Monroe encoded to the heating duct, fossil shells with Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill with a book about Winston Churchill. Everyone’s home is different yet they all managed to find their own unique links to the information being encoded. Some links were less direct and required a stretchier imagination; Princess Diana encoded to a picture of the Dali Lama. The question was raised about what to do when it is hard to find any clear associations. We said there was no rules against ‘cheating’ and it was perfectly fine to put an object there that does work. Also changing from a visual format to a different sensory stimulus can help; do a silly dance or sing a song at that location.
After a little breather for a cuppa and a biscuit and more interesting chats, they were ready to start building the main memory palace for this workshop. Participants were given the challenge to encode 20 of the most populated counties in the world to a set of abstract ‘rusties’ and sculptures around the room. And again, everyone had their own unique ways of making these association. Some chose simple word/rhyming associations while others created long elaborate stories to connected with their own experiences of these countries.
Dr Lynne Kelly then arrived, to everyone’s delight and shared some of her extensive experience with memory palaces. Since the time Lynne had constructed her palace for the countries, the populations had changed causing some differences in the order. This lead to a discussion about whether or not to alter your memory palace accordingly. Lynne said she didn’t bother as the order remained more or less similar. Two countries might switch one year then switch back the next and this didn’t really affect the information associated with them. On the other hand, Paul said he’d been creating little stories to explain the new order. It’s possible that altering the palace to suit changes could help provide a time line reference for events associated with each country, but what works for each person depends on the specific knowledge they want to remember.
Initially there was some apprehension to admit to impolite association but we assured them it was better to go with the more emotional engaging association regardless of how rude or socially unacceptable it might be. Lynne gave some examples of her experiments with language learning. French has masculine and feminine words so she has a male and a female teddy bear Rapscallion she practices vocabulary with. As ‘soutien-gorge’ (Bra) is a masculine word, she imagines her male bear wearing a Bra and his humorous reaction to this.
After going through all 20 countries and encoding them to each location, they were then tested to see how well they could remember after just this initial set up. First while looking at the room, then with eyes closed. It was fascinating to observe how even with eyes closed the participants spatial awareness was very strong. They would turn and point in the direction of each loci, clearly holding a picture of the space in their minds eye.
During the course of this first workshop the participants became aware of situations where they were already using orality to some extent, both personally and with their teaching. They felt encouraged that they now had a more conscious understanding of how to apply these techniques. I think this is a common phenomenon. Many people naturally use orality but without much thought or definition as to what it is they are doing. What TOC workshops seem to do is draw attention to these latent abilities, then help strengthen them so they can be applied with greater efficiency and purpose.
All participants from the morning workshop were also booked in for the afternoon Memory board workshop. This meant they only required a brief refresh of the earlier lessons in how to build memory palaces using the LENS framework. Memory Boards also work like a memory palace only miniaturised and so easily transportable. The lesson began with a demonstration of why portable memory devices are important and some examples of the various styles different cultures have used. A key difference noted was that when trying to picture a memory board in the mind’s eye you can better visualise all the locations together. While a defined sequence can still be used, it is less necessary and this is why memory boards can work well for information that doesn’t easily fit a list format. Lynne showed off her beautiful lukasa, mimicking the traditional Luba style and her original experiment for encoding Victorian bird species. Her aboriginal coolamon, gifted to her by its traditional keepers, was carefully passed around and notably triggered a lot of emotion. Everyone was getting a sense for how powerful these objects could be for holding knowledge but also for connecting to the people who once owned and used them.
Participants could pick from the lists of information provided if they hadn’t brought their own. Then they were instructed to choose a distinctive little object to represent each item of information from a selection of beads, shells, rocks or more. Again, using their pareidolia skills to make mental associations, but this time there was more advantage in being able to choose specific objects to suit a piece of information. Everyone set about fossicking for objects and gluing them onto their wooden boards. During the first workshop people had naturally revealed quite personal information about the way they think and feel as well as some of their past memories. It was nice to see how this had allowed for a certain amount of bonding to occur between participants. Now sitting around doing something creative with their hands seemed to add another level of openness and familiarity. Everyone was comfortable chatting away with each other and even teasing people who had been perfect strangers earlier.
Normally during the tea break their boards would be set aside to dry a little, then when seated again participants would be asked to try drawing what they had done so far from memory. However, everyone was far too engaged with the making to stop, so instead each person was asked to hold up their board and demonstrate what they could remember without looking at their list. Everyone had very interesting associations that were again very unique to their personalities and preferences. Choosing beads that suggested the look of something or the sound of a word. Most were surprised how much they could recall easily with just this initial set up.
It was a pleasure to meet all the participants and we look forward to feedback and updates on how they progress using these memory techniques. We are especially interested to see how well teachers manage to bring these techniques into the class room.
The Orality Centre was formed by a group of passionate educators who see the potential for advances in learning within the research of Orality Centre Founder, Dr Lynne Kelly, into the ancient memory systems from cultures all around the world.
Our aim is to research, develop and experiment with memory systems that bridge the divide between the ancient methods of learning and retaining information and the modern digital age that provides an abundance of information. Information that has been stored externally from the human mind, as a direct result of the development of literacy, remains disarticulated from the potential of being applied in creative and innovative ways. In response The Orality Centre hopes to revive the ancient and profoundly effective memory capacities of the human mind, since only retained information can actually be construed as knowledge.
The Orality Centre intends to work within the education sector, from primary schooling through to tertiary level, researching the most appropriate and effective means of applying the memory technologies of the past to the modern education of our children. We want to enrich learning for students of all abilities, including those with special needs, learning difficulties and as an extension for advanced learners. The dream is to deepen their level of engagement and profoundly increase their level of information recall within the context of their schooling and beyond into their daily lives.
Adult learners are also a target for The Orality Centre’s research with the provision of group workshops, individual tuition and targeted memory technologies that are most suited to the interests and fields of study of each individual learner.
We are also interested in reviewing research on the response of those with dementia to music and places from the past, and whether there are formal methods we can employ throughout life to reduce the impact of memory issues with ageing.
From professional development in industries that require a vast amount of memorised information to enthusiastic amateurs who wish to learn more about their area of personal interest or to simply enhance their pre-existing knowledge, the value of memory systems is immense ,
Our research will be conducted in collaboration with our participating students and adult learners alongside our ongoing experimentation with the various memory devices from Indigenous cultures. We will also be devising memory devices here at The Orality Centre.
Our goal is to develop memory technologies that utilise the collective intelligence of us all, thereby harnessing an untapped potential for human creativity and innovation.