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Thursday, April 21, 2011

h2cm as a 'memory palace' - spatial memory

I've just caught up with BBC Radio 4 Midweek 6 April 2011. I'd heard a trailer that mentioned memory and sure enough Libby Purves and guests discussed dementia featuring Marianne Talbot and her book Keeping Mum: Caring with someone with dementia and memory with Joshua Foer's book Moonwalking with Einstein.

The conversation included the story of Simonides which reminded me of spatial memory and its potential realisation in h2cm:

... Cicero and Quintilian are sources for the story that Scopas, the Thassalian nobleman, refused to pay Simonides in full for a victory ode that featured too many decorative references to the mythical twins, Castor and Pollux. According to the rest of the story, Simonides was celebrating the same victory with Scopas and his relatives at a banquet when he received word that two young men were waiting outside to see him. When he got outside, however, he discovered firstly that the two young men were nowhere to be found and, secondly, that the dining hall was collapsing behind him. Scopas and a number of his relatives were killed. Apparently the two young men were the twins and they had rewarded the poet's interest in them by thus saving his life. Simonides later benefited from the tragedy by deriving a system of mnemonics from it. ...

During the excavation of the rubble of Scopas' dining hall, Simonides was called upon to identify each guest killed. Their bodies had been crushed beyond recognition but he completed the gruesome task by correlating their identities to their positions (loci in Latin) at the table before his departure. He later drew on this experience to develop the 'memory theatre' or 'memory palace', a system for mnemonics widely used in oral societies until the Renaissance.
Source and image: Wikipedia, Simonides of Ceos

Have a listen yourself!

Timothy P. McNamara, Spatial representation, Geoforum, 23, 2, May 1992, 139-150.

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