Like so many children, as a youth I was mystified by this wonderful and exasperating thing called memory. In casual and relaxed situations it worked so smoothly that I hardly ever noticed it; in examinations it only occasionally performed well, to my surprise, but was more often associated with ‘bad memory’, the fearful area of forgetting. Since I spent much of my childhood in the country with animals, I began to realize that the misnamed ‘dumb’ creatures seemed to have extraordinary memories, often superior to my own. Why, then, was human memory apparently so faulty? I began to study in earnest, eagerly devouring information about how the early Greeks had devised specific memory systems for various tasks; and how, later, the Romans applied these techniques to enable themselves to remember whole books of mythology and to impress their audiences during senatorial speeches and debates. My interest became more focused while I was in college, when the realization slowly dawned on me that such basic systems need not be used only for ‘rote’ or parrot like memory, but could be used as gigantic filing systems for the mind, enabling extraordinarily fast and efficient access, and enormously enhancing general understanding. I applied the techniques in taking examinations, in playing games with my imagination in order to improve my memory, and in helping other students, who were supposedly on the road to academic failure, achieve first-class successes. The explosion of brain research during the last decade has confirmed what the memory theorists, gamesters, mnemonic technicians and magicians have always known: that the holding capacity of our brains and the ability to recall what is stored there are far and deliciously beyond normal expectations. Use Your Memory, a major new development from the memory sections of Use Your Head, is an initial tour through what should have been included as first among the seven wonders of the world: the ‘hanging gardens’ of limitless memory and imagination.
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