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Memorization Techniques
For Non-linear Minds

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MEMORIZATION TECHNIQUES for NON-LINEAR MINDS (c) 1995,96 by Robert E. Frazier - all rights reserved This may be reproduced, reprinted, and/or distributed so long as it is not altered in any fashion, and contains the above copyright notice.

For me, the task of memorizing detail has always been a chore. Yet, it seems that much of the education we all receive involves a LOT of such activity. We take history classes, and memorize lots of names, dates, and places that have no meaning whatsoever to us, regurgitate them onto a test, and hope our score is above a 'C' when we complete the semester. Yet, there is absolutely NO meaning to the information, and it is quickly lost and "re-taught" to us, over and over, if only to re-inforce this "by rote" memorization technique in our minds.

Yet, for the 'non-linear' mind, this type of "by rote" memorization is not only appalling, but represents a detestable activity which is best avoided, at all costs, including bad grades, disciplinary problems, and so on. Yet, this seems to be the ONLY method presented to us during our grade school lives, and we are expected to have mastered it by the time we reach high school and college. Unfortunately, it works well ONLY for linear minds. Repitition just isn't in the diet of a non-linear thinker, who constantly searches for the 'new' and 'interesting' among the 'background' of 'ordinary'.

All of the memory experts I know of agree on one thing: the human brain remembers through ASSOCIATION. By my own observations, there seem to be certain 'pathways' along which memories are stored. My field of expertise is in computers and information science. As such, I have an affinity towards an analogy (and not an incorrect one) between the human brain and a computer. Computers cannot think, but they CAN remember very very well. Yet, even with computers, remembering where something has been placed is a typical problem as their storage capacity increases. Those of us who have large hard drives cluttered with thousands of files know exactly what I'm talking about. So, with the computer comes an organizing method that tries to define a "group" or "sub - group" of files, so that they can be more quickly identified through something that is common to them, and more easily understood, and more easily located. In the case of the computer, it is a named directory or sub-directory. The name is important to us, since it represents what we are looking for, and not where the data is. And, we use that name, along a PATHWAY, to finally locate our file.

The human brain is similar. The different directories might be labelled "sigh", "hearing", "smell", "taste", "touch", "fear", "pain", "love", "hate", "pleasure", "humor", and so on, based on the experience that is associated with the item to be remembered. The brain stores all of its information chemically. One hypothesis suggests that the memory is re-triggered by firing the neurons 'attached' to it in a similar pattern to that of the memory itself (like a computer address), thus causing the person 'remembering' to re-experience the sensations stored as a 'memory'.

So, if we consider how computers store information (number addresses) we can also attempt to create an easily recognized address for our brain to use to 'store' data as well. This technique is referred to as "association" and has been successfully employed for years by several memory experts. I refer to these 'addresses' of information as "pathways" by which we can retrieve information from our own brains. To initiate the pathway, we need to have a starting point that's easily remembered by itself, and once invoked, the pathway is followed directly to the information we are trying to remember.

Example: Suppose your wife or husband or parent called you on the phone and asked you to pick up some items at the store. You didn't have a pen or paper with you, and you needed to remember the list quickly. It is a list of several items, none of which are related to one another in any common purpose. You must memorize them as quickly as possible...

Here is the list: 1) Bananas 2) Brillo pads 3) Pork Chops 4) A carving knife 5) Butter 6) Dog Food 7) Canned Peas 8) Beans 9) Flashlight Batteries

These are typical items you find in any grocery store, with no real relationship to one another. And, you must remember them in a hurry, and remember it accurately. So, how do you do it? Well, one associative technique you can use is to visualize each item acting on a different part of your body, in a manner that causes a strong emotional response. Since you are walking to the store (in this example, we'll say you are walking) then we will begin with the feet and work up. So, you might memorize the list like so:

1) Bananas - imagine you are wearing bananas instead of shoes, and people are laughing at you because you have bananas instead of shoes 2) Brillo Pads - you are wearing Brillo Pads on your knee caps, like knee pads, while scrubbing a floor. (that's pretty funny, if you think about it) 3) Pork Chops - your legs are NOW oversized pork chops, complete with plastic wrap and a tag (at $1.89 a pound - how much are your legs worth??) 4) A carving knife - imagine a carving knife stabbed into your navel. OUCH! 5) Butter - there is BUTTER smeared all over your chest! 6) Dog Food - the dog is licking the butter on your chest! (DOWN Fido!) 7) Canned Peas - You are wearing a neclace about your neck, made entirely of peas, with little cans for charms. 8) Beans - you have beans stuffed in your nose. Or, in your ears, if you prefer (there's a song called 'Beans in my ears' as I recall...). 9) Flashlight batteries - Your hair is "rolled up" in curlers, except that the curlers are flashlight batteries.

OK - now, WITHOUT peeking, let's see how much you remember:

You are WALKING to the store, so start with your feet... 1) Feet = ? 2) Knees = ? 3) Legs/Thighs = ? 4) Abdomen/Navel = ? 5) Chest = ? 6) Chest (again) = ? (related to the one above) 7) Neck = ? 8) Head/Face/Nose/Ears = ? 9) Hair = ?

(you can grade this one yourself).

Okay, you say, I understand that this works for things like GROCERY LISTS, but I have a bunch of NUMBERS I have to remember, including dates, and places that I've never BEEN to, and people's names I've never HEARD of. So, how do I remember THESE? Well, the truth is, you remember EVERYTHING you experience - absolutely EVERYTHING. The only problem is that you merely forgot where you "put" the information. It's not lost, but you need to find some 'key' that you can use to retrieve it. And, since the information is stored in MULTIPLE locations, if you reliably associate the information with multiple 'pathways' you are much more likely to retrieve it. So, when studying it is VERY helpful to employ as many of your 5 senses as possible, and if you reflect on the information, or draw conclusions from it, you are that much more likely to recall it later on.

Some people memorize well by DOING. A typical activity that may help in this area could involve some level of 'rote', but hopefully in a manner that does not allow you to lose interest. For example: Let's suppose you had to remember a series of dates within a given year, for various battles fought in the Civil War, and you had to relate each date with the place that the battle was fought in. Well, one way to memorize this would be to create a large calendar, then using small cards with the battles on them, arrange them according to their date (possibly just the month and 1st digit of the date to begin with). Then, shuffle them up again, and repeat the task. Since each repetition involves several skills, and is 'different enough' each time through, it will not quickly become 'boring' (like writing something down 50 times to memorize it). Also, if you repeat the name of each battle and the date while placing it down, you end up creating an additional "pathway" in which the information is stored. So, using this technique, you store the information by 1) experience in doing a task, 2) sight, 3) speech, and 4) hearing, as well as any cognitive activity that might be going on as you try to correctly place the various 'battle cards' "without peeking".

At some point in time, though, you may need to memorize something that is totally abstract, without any obvious relationship to anything else. But, there is a good example of how to do this that is often used by biology students. This is the method of 'mnemonics', or making a word/phrase out of the initials of what we want to memorize. In biology class I learned the order of the various biological classifications by memorizing the phrase: "Kings Play Chess On Fine Grain Sand", representing "Kingdom", "Phylum", "Class", "Order", "Family", "Genus", and "Species", which I still remember, even 30 years later. Obviously this method works. And, similar to this method is a 'visual mnemonic' used by electrical engineers, known as the 'right hand rule' and the 'left hand rule'. When the hand is placed in the correct position, the thumb represents 'Motion', the 1st finger on the hand 'Field', and the middle finger 'Current'. When I was in the Navy I was taught that this could be remembered by "Mary's Fuzzy Cat". Well, similar. (Double entendre's stick with you for a LONG LONG time...)

Those of us who have musical inclination may wish to make up songs, or rhythmic 'raps' to memorize something. We all know how well those T.V. commercial jingles stick in our heads. If you don't believe me, just try filling in the blank on these items below: "You deserve a break today, so get up and get away, to ..." "... tastes good like a cigarette should" (for those old enough to remember) "Plop, Plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is" (product is: ...)

Fortunately, advertisers don't use such "jingles" nearly as often as they used to, so my examples are a bit "dated". Still, the technique works well, and can be used for remembering various things. In fact, the effort you make in CREATING the song (which is best kept to the tune of something you already know, so you can recall it easily) reinforces the memorization process even more; therefore, it is best to make up your own songs and not 'borrow' anyone elses unless you are out of choices for the moment.

Many years ago I read through an old correspondence course on improving memory, written by a man named Dr. Bruno Furst. One of the techniques he outlined involved memorizing numbers, by associating each number with an object that was common, and easily remembered, and easily associated with a unique sound or type of sound. His method went something like this: 1 - the letter 't', to be associated with a teacup. 'T' has a single downward stroke, and can easily be associated with a '1'. 2 - the letter 'n', to be associated with Noah. The letter 'n' has 2 downward strokes, and can easily be associated with a '2'. 3 - the letter 'm', to be associated with May (the month). The letter 'm' has 3 downward strokes, and can be easily associated with a '3'. 4 - the letter 'r', the last letter in 4, to be associated with 'Ray', as in a ray of light from a flashlight. The letter 'r' looks somewhat like a reversed '4' if you squint hard... 5 - the letter 'h', as in 'hand', on which you have 5 fingers. 6 - The letter 'j', to be associated with a jack-o-lantern. The letter 'J' is similar to a reversed '6'. 7 - The letter 'l', to be associated with a lantern or lamp. 'L' looks like an upside-down '7'. 8 - The letter 'b', to be associated with a bee, as a 'B' looks a lot like the number '8'. 9 - The HARD letter 'g', to be associated with a gate, as 'g' looks a lot like the number '9'. 0 - The letter 'z', or 's', to be associated with a snake. 'Z' and 'S' have similar phonetic characteristics, and zero begins with 'z'.

Each letter above was chosen also because it represents a different type of consonant, offering possible substitutes as follows: 1: t, d 2: n 3: m 4: r 5: h 6: j, or soft 'g' 7: l 8: b, p 9: g, k, q 0: z, s

Using this technique, the word 'pickle' would represent the number 897. The more obvious drawback to this method, though, is the need to memorize the 'code' first, before you can use it. But, once memorized, a code such as this one can be effectively used to memorize any numeric quantity. And, in combination with other methods, it can be a useful tool to remember things that are associated around numbers. Let's say you wish to remember how many BTU's there are per kilowatt-hour of power. (Incidentally, I am NOT using this example based on prior knowledge - I shall be generating the memorization 'key' as I go along). There are 3413.0 BTU's per KW-hour of power. Using the technique above, 3413 becomes mrtm, or mrtm.s if you add the '.0' at the end. Also, the object associated with each number are: 'May' (as envisioned by a 'may pole'), 'Ray' (a flashlight beam), 'Teacup', and 'May' again. Because 'May' is repeated, a combination solution might work best. So, with the 1st three digits 'mrt' we can have 'Mr. T', and the 4th item 'May' as 'Mr. T' dancing around a maypole. (I pity the poor fool who dances around MY maypole!). Now, given this image in your mind, associate with Kilowatts (power meters also attached to the maypole) and BTU (British Thermal Units) - have Mr. T carry a 'Union Jack' and wear a British revolutionary war uniform while dancing around the maypole. The end result is pretty silly, but for some odd reason, the more rediculous something is the more likely you are to remember it later. If you don't believe it, just fill in the blank: "Please don't squeeze the ...".

Whatever means of memorizing information that you choose to use for yourself, you must involve something that you are already good at, or else you will spend an inordinate amount of time perfecting your 'method' while at the same time you may fail to learn how to memorize effectively. Repeated success is an imporant part of 'learning how to learn', and not just 'doing better next time.' So, start with something you know, and build on it. The techniques I outlined above may not work for you, but the principles behind them will. After all, our brains work pretty much the same way, in general, and we need to have some sort of easily retrieved "pathway" by which we can access information in our minds.