Memory and Association

The art of memory requires mentally transforming abstract concepts into images, and bringing these images alive, as if they were real physical objects. If you try to remember to take your car keys, you must make yourself see them in your mind’s eye, feel their weight, experience the sensation of putting the key in the ignition and starting the car—all in your imagination. “The ability to modify imaginary objects goes hand in hand with the capacity to represent them,” according to philosopher Paolo Fabiani. As previously mentioned, images formed in the imagination are most effective as memory prompts when they are rendered whimsical, inappropriate, even bawdily outrageous compared to the real objects that inspired them.So how might you go about representing a word like epistemology? Think back to that coffee mentioned a moment ago. Picture in your mind Albert Einstein holding a cup of coffee in his hand while reading a book titled Epistemology. This image of the world’s most famous scientist intently reading a book dedicated to how justified belief can be distinguished from mere opinion (a workable definition of epistemology) will provide you with an accessible memory for the meaning of epistemology. The smell increases alertness and concentration—two qualities Einstein would require for delving into such a heady subject as epistemology. The guiding principle: Our memory can be enhanced by using our imagination to link the thing we are attempting to remember to images that highlight it.Organization is important because a successful memory performance can’t take place without it. Our brains are designed to work with meaning. If meaning isn’t obvious, we create it (as good an explanation as any to account for the existence of conspiracy theories). A list of a dozen unrelated objects is difficult to remember for the long term without some form of organization. The easiest way to organize unrelated information is to associate the things you are trying to remember with something you already know. Organization involves creating a framework for transforming random information into something meaningful and therefore easier to memorize.As an example, I parked my car yesterday in parking space 351 in a seven-story garage. The penalty for forgetting that number could turn into an exhausting daytime nightmare. I shudder when I picture myself walking along what seems an infinite line of cars trying to identify my own. So how to guarantee that I will be able to find it? By using the sounds-like system based on rhymes. The number “three” rhymes with “tree,” “five” rhymes with “hive,” and “one” rhymes with “sun.” I pictured a tree in full bloom with beehives so numerous and ponderous that they weigh down all the branches. This scene took place under a blazing sun. When I returned to the garage I had no trouble converting the images back to numbers. More on this in chapter III.Finally, association is basically a blend of multi-coding and organization. Simply thinking about how two or more things can be associated requires you to concentrate and focus—two brain activities which on their own lead to enhanced memory.