Memory Dojo—

Cognitive training for learning, inventing, communicating, and remembering

Memory Dojo is: a book, a series of memory training games, and a twenty-year research and experimentation project. The subject of this inquiry is human memory, mnemonics, and creativity.

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 book

This is the user’s guide to human memory and mnemonics—for humans who want enhanced imagination and memory. It is also a description of how the arts are employed to invoke your genius, and to create and sustain culture.

The book includes: a unique “radical paradigm” of memory; the practice of perceptual mnemonics and meta-learning; with references and stories from sciences and cultural traditions; also original training games; and fantastic illustrations.

The Memory Dojo training-game and system

At the core of Memory Dojo is a set of 23 rigorous free-spirited training games—a psycho-nautical Lego set. As you begin to play the games, they introduce tools that train and expand your memory and creativity. This becomes a new way of thinking. The sequential games gradually reveal the whole system. The levels of difficulty are progressive and adaptable—so the gameplay can be tailored for children or the most sophisticated adults.

The crucial component of learning any new skill or attaining expert performance in any field or discipline, is the training of perceptual imagination through visual-spatial and sonic-temporal memory.

Memory Dojo is a cognitive training system that can transform learning anything (even the most boring and difficult information) into a lively inspired and humorous play. Your imagination is ignited through spontaneously occurring puns, symbols, and koans—giving you a whack on the head, and tickling your funny bone.

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 mind 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.

Game-playing is about simulation in relevant scenarios with low-stakes testing

Essential to learning is the freedom to fail and try again—experimenting in playful simulations without excessively negative repercussions. How do you create new habits? Playing, learning, and the arts are closely related and inseparably intertwined. Interaction and enactment is the key to creating new habits. The goal is not only new knowledge, but also the development of new habits and “generalizable cognitive skills,” which can then be applied to new situations. Game dynamics can serve these goals. These games are a medium of learning and teaching, and a structure for people to co-create.

Play alone like solitaire or with other people very much like Charades, Pictionary, or Improv Theater. There are word games, visualization games, story games, brainstorming games, sketching games—taking turns, co-creating, moving game-pieces, combining images, racing to beat the clock, gesturing, describing, competing and cooperating. Hack the Matrix of learning and creativity like a Jedi-Ninja in a Monty Python movie.

The “Method of Loci,” “Memory Palace,” and “Art of Memory”

A large part of the games are about constructing clusters of images and stories. These clusters are humorous and highly intelligent memory cues made of visual images and perceptions. These artfully encoded key-images are rendered in your minds-eye like 3-D computer graphics. They are 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, this system can facilitate true expertise easier and faster.

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 (often inaccurately called “visual 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 digital technology and the internet, we are seeing a revolution in visual thinking and visual literacy. It's a good time to remember the “Art of Memory.”

Spoken language, written language, and verbal thinking are based on perception, so perception is primary. Verbally-based mnemonics (like acronyms and acrostics) are more commonly used. They require no training, are less versatile and less scalable 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 with more accuracy, 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 are casually discarded. There are many commonly held illusions and misconceptions about human cognition and learning. The arts and sciences cannot actually be separated—rightly they work together to create human culture. The arts and sciences are sisters, in the same way the Ancient Greek Muses are all sisters, and the mother of the Muses is Mnemosyne the goddess of Memory. Perceptual-mnemonics is a well-proven framework for cognitive processes—but it has to be intentionally and specifically designed into the training, game, or art.

The cognitive sciences and cultural 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. The training of memory is the key to enhancing other faculties such as imagination, creativity, logic 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—this is because they only serve short-term memory and 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.

Generalizable cognitive skills = long-term working memory + retrieval cues

Generalizable cognitive skills and expertise is equal to the transfer of new knowledge and skills into scaffolds in “Long-Term Working Memory”—Long-Term Working Memory is the association between long-term memory and working-memory—then you must be able to access that knowledge instantly through visual-spatial and sonic-temporal cues—through practice, these cues become ingrained in the muscles and body, new habits are developed.

Today the whole world of people are struggling to learn new skills

Learning in school, learning for work, learning new technology, learning a new language, learning a new subject—and then expressing that learned knowledge, communicating it to others—speaking, writing, enacting, inventing, making, teaching. Whatever your age or circumstance, learning and teaching is important, and memory is important. Almost anyone that is learning a new skill, striving for competence, or even expert performance, can use this system to enhance their abilities.

Memory Dojo makes sense of the entire field of mnemonics

Memory Dojo boils it down to the core principles and techniques applied in the correct order, and integrates them into an optimal system. The system is embodied as a set of twenty-three training games. The games amplify motivation and enjoyment, enable social participation, and engage the development of new habits. Memory Dojo also makes the bold assertion of a psychophysical reality that is evident in subjective experimentation, like what can be learned through yoga, meditation, and martial arts. Memory Dojo correctly identifies and exemplifies the tight integration with the arts that traditional cultures demonstrate—it employs those arts for specific mnemonic functions that amplify learning and cognitive capabilities.

The ultimate purpose and capability of the Memory Dojo system is to be a tool or framework for people to co-create either in-person or on-line through game-based learning and teaching. The larger vision is to support the regeneration of culture. The primary limitations in learning and evolving as a human being are often due to the limitations of memory, and also the difficulty and inability to form new habits.

Human beings often resist rightly participating in life. Human beings often resist giving and receiving energy and attention with others through learning and teaching, and also through intelligent conversation and productive debate. This resistance to incarnate relational service and insight must be gone beyond. There must be a lively “consideration”—an ongoing conversation, like the Ancient Greek Agora, and like Socratic questioning. These disciplines of learning and teaching, of consideration and discourse, of experimentation and discovery, of co-creation and cooperation are essential to our true humanity.

We need a new Renaissance

Mnemonic techniques were an integral part of Ancient Greco-Roman Education and should be reintegrated with modern education. Many people who study and practice these techniques expect that this would cause a revolution in our educational system. We need a revolution of that type—we need a new Renaissance. “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

The rediscovered Ancient Greco-Roman knowledge and the Art of Memory played a major role in the cause of the European Renaissance. This positive, proactive, challenging creativity, this transmission of art and beauty (even in the face of adversity) is essential to the spiritual and evolutionary progress of humanity. This employment of symbols and memory has the potential to cause a flowering of the arts and sciences like the Renaissance.

A well-designed perceptual-mnemonics system like Memory Dojo can make it easier for human beings to learn and invent by providing practical tools that facilitate these important human capabilities. Perceptual mnemonics is as fundamental as thinking, and language, and reading, it is an essential component of the oral traditions that evolved before literature, it is a culturally relevant tool, with the potential of changing individual habits and the potential to serve the preservation and regeneration of true culture.

This is a remarkably effective system for learning, and remembering—it is also used for inventing, and communicating. It initiates the innate capability for participatory knowing. It is also integrated with, and expressed through, cultural arts. If intentionally designed, it is a potential function in every human art.

About the Author:

Dave Baumbach is a writer, illustrator, and digital-web-media designer/developer, specializing in elearning and human memory.

© Copyright 2014, 2020, David Baumbach, Memory Dojo, all rights reserved