Memory Dojo—

Cognitive training for learning, inventing, communicating, and remembering

Memory Dojo is: a book, a series of memory training games, and an eighteen-year research project into human memory and mnemonics. It is rooted in the traditions of:

  1. The Cognitive Sciences
  2. Classical Greco-Roman Mnemonics and Rhetoric
  3. Indigenous-Shamanic Cultures
  4. Modern-day mnemonic practitioners

The Memory Dojo training-game and system

Memory Dojo is a rigorous free-spirited training game—a psycho-nautical Lego set. As you begin to play the game, it immediately begins to train your memory, progressively revealing itself to you as you play. Over time, you build-up a vocabulary of images and locations, and develop the core skills, so your speed and ease increase. There is no magic pill, or intimacy with electronic machinery, that can give you the ability of memory and creativity—it must be practiced. Like a form of athletic training or a martial art, the muscles of your memory are strengthened and your proficiency escalates. It’s not even a “Memory Palace,” it is a “Memory Dojo”—through practice, the difficult becomes habit, the habit easy, and the easy beautiful.

In the primary game-level, information is artfully encoded into key-images—then the images are rendered in your minds-eye like 3-D computer graphics and arranged in clusters and scenes, and then anchored around a room or along a journey in different spatial locations and contexts. This keeps the information distinct and yet connected into sequences.

To recall the information, you take a walk along that route, in your imagination, and see the images placed there. The images act as cues, and you may feel like Sherlock Holmes meeting Leonardo da Vinci as the encoded information pops into your mind. It seems like answers are whispered in your ear—from books, lectures, documentaries, or any source—like a form of paperless-note-taking that is always with you, and always on the tip of your tongue. It is faster and more dependable than searching Google, because you have actually learned the material. It's always instantly available to weave into your conversations and creative work. No matter what your field or domain of interest, these techniques will facilitate expertise easier and faster. These are the principles and techniques that are essential to personal memory and learning, and are also the tools to create and regenerate culture as a whole.

Playing the training-game cycle is like learning to ride a bicycle. An untrained ordinary memory may be common, but it is not natural. A trained memory exploits the brain-mind’s native cognitive processes. It's like the difference between crawling and riding a bicycle—perceptual-based-mnemonics is the bicycle you ride, when you want to learn, invent, communicate, and remember.

What is Perceptual-Based-Mnemonics?

The practice of perceptual-based-mnemonics was an integral part of education in the ancient Greco-Roman world, and many other ancient civilizations. Over the centuries, very little written information about it has survived. During the Middle Ages, and particularly the Renaissance, this discipline was practiced and evolved—then it was suppressed in the late sixteenth century—so it is generally not taught in our modern educational institutions. But in our century it has persistently resurfaced: Psychology and Cognitive Science are rediscovering many of its principles—International Memory Competitions are regenerating an interest in the training of mnemonic techniques—and through the proliferation of digital technology and the internet, we are seeing a revolution in visual thinking and visual literacy. It's about time we remember the “Art of Memory.”

Spoken language, written language, and verbal thinking are based on perception, so perception is primary. Verbally-based mnemonics (acronyms, acrostics, and such) are more commonly used—they require less training, are generally less effective, and less versatile than perceptual-mnemonics. Perceptual-mnemonics rely on rendering perceptual attributes and connections in the imagination, like a form of intentionally directed daydreaming. Perceptual-mnemonics facilitates faster memorization, and also tends to be more stable over long periods of time (years or a lifetime).

In many traditional cultures perceptual-mnemonics is employed across generations so it effectively lasts many lifetimes, transmitting cultural information across hundreds and even thousands of years. It accomplishes this through face-to-face communication, visual arts, and enactments of story, song, dance, and theater.

Education, study habits, and training methods in our Era

Many educators in our era casually dismiss memorization and related metacognitive processes, and there is still a strong bias against perceptual-mnemonics and visual-perceptual thinking, and even the arts as a whole. There are many commonly held illusions about human cognition and learning. Perceptual-mnemonics is a perfect framework for learning, inventing, and communicating.

Cognitive science and these other traditions have a wealth of overlooked and essential insights for educators and students. The training of memory is at the foundation of all cognitive functions, and is the key to enhancing other faculties such as imagination, creativity, and critical thinking. Memory provides a basis for our ability to carry out complex cognitive tasks, and to apply knowledge to new problems never before encountered.

Many common study habits, teaching methods, and practice routines, turn out to be counterproductive, because they only serve short-term memory, not the consolidation of information into long-term memory. What is learned should also be available for creative application to new situations. Habits like: highlighting, re-reading, cramming, and repeated exposure to source information are by far the preferred study strategies of most people. But these gains in knowledge tend to fade quickly. These techniques are not sufficient. Long-Term Memory is served best by repeated recall, and also physical enactment. The medium of repeated recall and enactment is perceptual anchoring. Perceptual anchoring is visualization of images in spatial locations, body movement, and song (ordinary speech is also a form of song).

There is a remarkably effective system of learning, and remembering. It is also used for inventing, and communicating. It employs the innate capability for participatory knowing. It is also integrated with and expressed through cultural arts. It is a potential function in every human art.

Dave Baumbach, June 2017

© Copyright 2018, David Baumbach, all rights reserved