Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Memory Culture

     Ancient cultures demanded the ability to remember. The learned required a method to access what they knew, their internal data base. Books were expensive. Systems of intellectual compartmentalization evolved from before the ancient Greeks throughout what Europeans considered the civilized world. China is of course a part of that ancient world. Ancient Chinese has great simularities to Sumarian. Egypt/Sumer gave birth to the ancient world. There is evidence of an even greater world wide civilization in the more distant past.
     If we lost computers, or if the art of book publishing was reduced to rolled scrolls, men would again have to renew the art of memory, as information would be harder to access. I have an extensive library, I have the internet for anything else. I frequently use both. I know where to access information in my library, the internet is easy for subjects readily accessible. What if they did not exist.
     Yet we must admit that even if the graces of civilization remain to us for ages to come, the discipline of the art of memory is an attractive pursuit to keep the mind functional and youthful. After all, mental discipline keeps the brain functioning in what we would consider a normal or youthful way, staving off memories decline. If ever I am tired, or overly absorbed in one area of thought, my mind becomes what I call tongue tied. It has been that way all my life.  I have to stop thinking to think. With a system I can easily recall the most important things to me.
     The ancients had many methods. The Qabalists had the Tree of Life. A system of ten spheres called Sephiroth. A system of compartments with a series of correspondences equated with each Sephirah. For example, the fifth Sephirah is called Geburah which means severity. One could also call it discipline. The planet Mars is attributed here, as is the color red. Fire, martial principles, the bodily will, the katabolic forces of existence or necessity which break down the useless or effete are all principles. I could make a modern attribute to add to this. A fire engine, is red, has energetic people who fight fires and break down doors to save people. A building too burned after a fire is condemned and given over to the wreckers ball, which in this case could also be attributed to Mars.All these concepts and ideas are Geburah. Understanding the rules of attribution to the Sephiroth enables you to attribute anything relative therein.
     In this way are all things attributed to and remembered from the Sephiroth.
     The Romans had a system whereby they created in their minds a house. They of course learned this from the Greeks, who received their inspiration from the Persians, who received theirs from the Babylonians, who treated the Sumerians as the Romans considered the Greeks; the intelligentsia.
     This 'house' building carried on through to the middle ages and renaissance. The rooms where designed in a fashion simular to the principles or subjects to be stored within them. Pictures, sculptures, objects of art and nature all would be placed in the rooms as mnemonic keys to the information to be stored there. It is said that the system worked so well that tomes could be easily recited by those trained in the subject.
     The more practiced the more rooms, the more objects to stimulate memory, the more easy to memorize lines and lines of text, calling them up through well placed symbols and other concepts. Architecture after all has a great deal of meaning within it.
      A good introduction to the subject is The Art of Memory by Francis A. Yates.  Hoping you enter the profound study of memory I bid you good night.

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