How old are memory techniques?

One of my first thoughts when reading The Memory Code (and later, Memory Craft) was “how old are memory techniques?”

(Those books take the history of memory techniques back much further than the Ancient Greeks.)

I guess we would also have to define, “what is a memory technique?” The books describe things like physical devices that you can touch to recall information, myths that encode knowledge, songs that encode maps, stories that link with stars to encode information, message sticks, and much more.

It appears that humans have been thinking symbolically for a long time:

  • Neanderthals from 66,700 years ago made art.
  • Humans from 100,000 years ago had symbolic thought.
  • Homo erectus from 500,000 years ago created symbols, thought the marks appear very simple, and the meaning is unknown.

When did cultural elements like dance, mythology, and song first occur, and when did they start encoding knowledge?

I don’t think that this question can be definitively answered, but it’s interesting to think about. :slight_smile:

1 Like

I guess language itself can be argued to be a memory technique.

Before language, our vocabulary was very limited. Grunts and yells weren’t efficient and their variety only went so far. While we were learning to walk, we were also learning how to protect ourselves and live in large groups. This new way of living demanded an effective way of communicating. Language gave us the opportunity to transfer much more information than before and it was more precise as well. Through language we could store more information. So, the oldest memory technique could be as old as language itself if you review language as such. Unfortunately, we don’t know the origin of language. The numbers themselves range from hundreds of thousands of years ago to several millions years ago.

Probably less so than language is for sure, but we can’t say for certain that it wasn’t efficient per se. Honey bees are a good example:

Unfortunately, we can’t built a robotic Neanderthal to study this further… they did though for honey bees…

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/230887540_Imitation_of_the_Honeybee_Dance_Communication_System_by_Means_of_a_Biomimetic_Robot

I think humans will eventually try to clone them, though I think it’s a terrible idea. :confused:

My point was that we can’t build a robot Neanderthal and send it into a Neanderthal community to study their communication patterns… like they did with the robot bee in the article I linked.

Ethics aside, I don’t see the point in cloning a single Neanderthal… that’s just not a good sample size. Imagine the shoe was on the other food. Pick any random human and then start making assumptions about the entire population. Just spend 10 seconds each thinking about a world full of only:

  • Michael Jordans
  • Albert Einsteins
  • Donald Trumps
  • Ted Bundys
  • Yourself

… it really tells you absolute nothing about where “that society” would fit in the overall picture. Which is what they say in the article you link would be they point of cloning one:

[…] knowing where Neanderthals fit into the evolution of Homo sapiens is essential to understanding the development of the human mind. […] The problem is, of course, that we don’t have a cloned Neanderthal. Which is why we need to make one.

So rather than discussing ethics and basic human rights in the article, they should think about how bad the science would be. And without a Neanderthal society to place the clone in the whole thing becomes nature versus nurture… wonder if they’d get excited if the clone starts playing Nintendo and refuses to do its homework, etc. if they place it in an average family rather than raising it in lab. :wink:

1 Like

Prehistoric humans had to know a vast amount of information. Our brain size has actually declined since the Cro Magnon, shrunk by an amount the size of a tennis ball!

It is speculated that an era of rapidly alternating climates forced rapid advances in early human evolution. The need to develop techniques for surviving a several different environments required a lot of knowledge and planning and there was no way to record anything much.

I think it stands to reason that, having both the ability and urgent need, they developed memory techniques along with language.|

I have a pet theory ( speculation ) that the fundamental structure that the human mind uses to encode complex linked information is a story, a narrative, especially if it involves people or personalities. And cultural recording probably emerged as sequences of chained narratives which would be chanted.

Even in the most abstract tech work, I find that if I “socialize” a problem. That is, develop feelings for the elements as if they had personalities, information is absorbed much more readily.

And that’s my second speculation: That our intelligence is heavily biased towards solving social problems and if you can play to that strength you get a real boost.

IMO the PAO scheme is designed to exploit both these predilictions. It produces mini anecdotes about people.

I think this is one advantage Aspergers and Autistics have. ( I am in there ). My “social software” is buggy and I have difficulty with people but on the other hand, I can have very strong feelings for things and ideas. Which is why so many of us make good engineers etc.

1 Like

That’s interesting. I had thought that only Neanderthal brains were larger, but it appears that Cro-Magnons has larger brains too.

From what I’ve read, the Neanderthal brain size difference might have been due to the size of the eyes and visual processing areas.

This is also interesting:

I wonder how much interbreeding took place between Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals. If humans were living with Neanderthals, and humans had knowledge of memory techniques back then, would it be likely that Neanderthals used them too? :slight_smile:

1 Like

That’s an interesting question. But we don’t know if they had language. I think there’s just one example of an abstract symbol or design from a Neanderthal and that’s late in their history.

You can transmit culture without language, but it has to be by demonstration. Many animals do this do a greater or lesser extent.

1 Like