The Problem Of How We Discuss and Communicate about Memory Systems

“And that’s the problem… there is no general standard nomenclature, taxonomy, notation or recognised authority for this subject of ours.”

I posted the above sentence in another thread in reply to someone asking about experience with Memory Courses and it triggered me into opening up a little about some of the problems I have found with getting across to people what Memory Systems are all about

I also wrote: "There are in my experience VERY FEW GREAT memory courses available. But I have worked through a few and I can tell you that the following three are GOOD MEMORY COURSES I bought and used:

Dominic O’Brian’s Quantum Memory which I got from Audible,
Ron White’s Memory in a Month,
Course In Memory And Concentration - Dr Bruno Furst which I picked up at a local Charity Book Shop)


Three courses three approaches no standard definitions or solutions.

And that’s the problem… there is no general standard nomenclature, taxonomy, notation or recognised authority for this subject of ours.

While Memory systems are very much like music or mathematics or language grammars - we have not yet been able to agree on standard terms or approaches or even definitions:

Fact: we do not have a standard notation, measurement criteria or difficulty ratings or - even one standard model for approach.

I think that we are at present about five hundred years behind music, three hundred years behind mathematics and several hundred years behind languages. I mean by that if I open any piano music book it is written in standard musical notation, key signatures, grand staff, standard clefs, time signatures and a standard pitch - you can write anything down using these standard terms and notations – Same with any maths book it uses the conventions of number and then arithmetic then algebra, geometry, trig, single variable calculus, multi variable calculus, statistics, probability logarithms… all built on each other - it is now a big collection of standardised terms which anyone who knows the language of maths can follow.

We do not have that in memory.


Because we have can’t agree. And most people writing generally about memory are amateurs (myself included - and yes Francis Yates too and Dominic O’Brian and Ron White - we are all amateurs when it comes to laying out a standard step by step vision of how to communicate with each other about ideas… )

There is no standard notation for ENCODING (Systems), STORING Systems) , RETRIEVAL )Systems) … so each course is different as each author advocates different takes like the Dominic System version of a PAO, the Ron White version - in fact most of the real serious work on memory is the development of competitive systems - not one universal ‘method’. Yet!



You mean the way long division looks nothing the same when you compare for example German notation to US notation. :wink: Not the best example to make your case.

Interesting you leapt to that conclusion. I would argue ‘LONG’ division is a perfect example - I learned my type of long division using one system taught in Scottish Schools but my kids do it completely differently (and better) but what we are talking about is not ‘LONG’ division - it is simple the definition of division.
It’s an operation.
Which (I am sure I do not have to remind you) is in mathematics the inverse of multiplication. Which is a base axiom. Mathematicians don;t define ‘division’ as a separate thing, it is the inverse of multiplication.
They say If you count A, B times that is multiplication.
Multiplication is the axiom the thing defined.
So what is division?
To a mathematician who know multiplication is an axiom, they consider division as the inverse operation. The method (and notation step by step) is different - but the definition is the same.

Hope you get my point.

I get your point, but before you made a different point:

Trust me I’ve done math on both sides of the pond and some of the stuff is not mutually intelligible when you write it down. Same problem, same answer, but different approach… that’s really the opposite of what your point was initially. Deck of cards to memorize, deck of cards to recall, how you do it might be different.

As far as your “new” point… convert abstract into concrete image and place in physical location and done. The rest is just details. Call it memory palace, memory journey or whatever, it’s all the same in the sense that it makes use of your brain’s capability of navigating space. Use Major, Dominic, or Katapayadi… all just systems that help you converting abstract into concrete.


Thanks Cal, you take my point - I take yours.
I was inaccurate in saying simply ‘notation’, notatoin built step by step from definitions might be a better.

I do NOT think we have axioms in our discussion similar to maths or music notations. “Encoding abstract into into concrete image and place in physical location” is not an axiom. It’s a method. No more than Pythagoras Theorem is an axiom. It’s a theorem - a method. It took generations of mathematicians and musicians to agree on ‘almost’ a standard system that could be used to describe music and nature mathematically. Music notation for example is evolving very fast - it is very hard to keep up with the notational changes but the definitions of tempo, time, beat, meter, voice, timbre, pitch, intervals etc they have not changed. We in memory don;t - it seems to me - have a standard definition of what we are trying to do… and that makes it so difficult to describe what we do, to an outsider who does not know what 'abstract idea into a concrete image means never mind place in a physical location… I think I’d (in fact I do -) I’d have to go a few steps back from method.

Thanks for your input - I do not post much but I have enjoyed many of your past posts I’ve read as a lurker.
Kind Regards


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I’m struggling to see how memory systems are very much like music or mathematics or language grammars. Care to elaborate?

I also wonder what these could be for this subject of ours. Any suggestions ?

I admit I haven’t thought about this much, but memory techniques are based on so little. If a child can understand and Implement these with the help of simple guidance and without any special nomenclature or what have you, than why bother ?

For extremely Advanced systems that share enough similarities, sure, I see where there could be this problem.

But for memory techniques, perhaps it would be like riding a squared wheeled bicycle. Squared wheels ? :yum:

Imagine a phone made out of apples, and place it on your bed, which starts to eat that apple-phone. Then you can remember the word appeler, to call, in French. That’s it ! And even the most advanced and complicated systems I have come upon are actually just that, yet multiplied.

Imagine, associate, place it, find it. One of 100 ways to describe it. Isn’t that The beauty of it ? The simplicity ? It’s so simple that I can happily understand posts written by people from all over the world, people with different levels of English, and I can still understand them perfectly, get inspired by them, learn from them.

I see that simplicity as a strength, not a problem.

Well said

I think that standardizing these techniques is difficult or close to impossible. The reason being is that as the name implies, the Art of Memory is more of an “art” than an exact science. Everyone needs their own custom approach when dealing with these techniques and I think that memory techniques are ultimately too simplistic to be described by some notation.


The post advice is not about standardising the techniques. Or methods. There’s nothing standardised about the method of long division, but the definition of division as the inverse of multiplication (of you count A, B times) is standardised. It is a mathematical axiom. I was arguing we don’t have any set of standard definition to use our techniques to tackle more complicated things than parlour tricks like memorising the King’s and Queens of France. What if we want to use our techniques to communicate I dunno, something much more abstract like … Three description of a p pyramid.
I do apologise if that sounds cheeky, it’s not meant to.


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Now you’ve lost me… the technique remains the same. Memorizing the periodic table is no different from whatever you consider a parlor trick,

There’s not much use developing notation unless you are ready to supply crisp definitions. IMO we are nowhere near ready to do that. We still don’t clearly understand how memories are encoded or organized. Nor is it clear what we mean by vizualization or images. Most people don’t follow classical memory palaces exactly.

Nor is it always desireable to nail things down. I don’t think it would help to have an exact definition of Art. We still need to explore the subject more before, if ever we determine its exact nature.

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Problem is memory is sometime too personal to be encode. And transfering knowledge need effort Between transmitter and receiver. Yet, time matter, we may heard this memory technics come from ancient era. But the awarenes about memory is not have continuity, so i think that is why we have memory championship to make ball keep rolling. If we can read all matery posted here we can have much reference. So from there we have at the same level or reference.

Yes we have standard for math, chemistry, and physic. But how student learn that subject, numerous kind of style that student apply make different result.

Here we are to learning how to learn. Anonymous ever said to make machine we can teach with bachelor degree mechanical engineering maybe for 4-5 years. But learn how to teach people about engineering itself need some profesor or master degree.

The moment when we want standarized memory is the momen when we try to figure out what memory is which is abstract from the matter it self. We can see speed, weight, sound, interaction between air and tree.

Im never buy any courses, and yes you have that position to compare.

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Now you’ve lost me… the technique remains the same. Memorizing the periodic table is no different from whatever you consider a parlor trick,

Sorry about that. I am not doing well in this thread… and acknowledge the fact.
But I agree with you. I really do.


Memorising the period table is no different at all - because that is a parlour trick. But there is no way (in spite of Ed Cooke’s brilliantly funny version of this) anyone could help someone else learn that table in one session from cold (meaning no previous knowledge of memory systems).

I’m interested in memory systems where the result is understanding and knowledge, not speed times or accuracy over a few minutes or hours or even a couple of days from one session.

I don’t like to admit this but what I have found is that the only real effective use of MethOvLoco and the encoding systems is when combined with … quite a few other things…

But let me clarify - I am saying memorising the periodic table is only a small step on a very long path to comprehending it. I don’t care if you can say it backwards and you know every detail - that does not let you understand how it was grouped or why similarly grouped elements share certain characteristics of those around them on that table.

Yet memorising the entire table would - in my opinion be useful - as an aid to other work.

The Lies “We” Tell To Beginners…to make a Buck
A lot of beginners think they can learn MethOLoki techniques and memorise lists after looking at it once - and that is just not true. They think this because some unscrupulous deluded conmen claim they can and can help teach them how to do it… And it is a total lie.

The Truth
The truth is we can push the forgetting curve out a bit, but as yet no one - absolutely no one has overcome it - ever - with any technique that can be repeated using large numbers of subjects. Though please correct me if I am wrong - and if I am wrong please please tell me what technique!. And yet MOL is (for me ) invaluable as a very very powerful tool in my toolbox to help others learn ‘stuff’ and teach others ‘stuff’. That’s my interest in Memory Art.

Out and Out Conmen And The Head in the Sand Brigade
In fact I do not know anyone in the memory technique world apart from out and out conmen and the head-in-the-sand brigade who have ‘theories’ that don’t match their actual results… who would claim they could teach a beginner say a PAO and this beginner could memorise a list of twenty-three digits in one session and that they would remember that list forever. i.e. they would know it months later when asked at random without ever having had to review it… I’ve seen claims like that and it is the kind of crap that tarnishes all of us who are actually DEADLY serious about using applied memory systems and their use in aiding or complimenting other study techniques.

And if you can’t - it’s your fault!
I even saw one memory guru claim that if you can’t it is ONLY because you did not follow the technique well enough - because the technique works! They cling to this claim but cannot produce any data that when scrutinised gives credence to their claims. I have great admiration for Ron White who is really honest about this these days and has talked about this problem in his industry.

Perfectly reasonable question, I hope this is a perfectly reasonable elaroration:
Information can be transmitted.
One method is by language.
Languages can be translated. Back and forth. Or on and on.
But you need rules. For every language along the chain.

Music Theory - written symbols representing sounds - allows me to hear something being played by someone busking a tune in the marketplace and I can write a few symbols down on paper and send it by carrier pigeon to someone hundreds of miles away who - if they know the language they can then play that music and it will sound exactly the same depending on how well I had transcribed it. The only thing that was necessary was the fact that they guy I sent it to knew how to read music. I did not send the music… I sent a representation of the music.

Same goes with translating a sentence from one language to another like English or Spanish.
Es completamente igual traducciendo un frase de un idioma a otro, por ejemplo, el ingles y el castellano…

All that’s needed is for both people to understand both languages. From the grammars of Spanish and English. I did not send the English Sentence. I sent a Spanish Translation that a recipient who knows Spanish and English can then translate back into English.

I’ll skip over the maths one as mathematics by definition is abstract, and can be used to define concrete things, but if you want an example I can write (using Arabic Numerals and conventional algebraic symbols x^2 + y^2 = 12 feet : you’d know I was talking about a shape and its size…

What I believe is that Memory Systems are just another language, meaning a method of transferring information from one form into another and that process can be reversed - you can encode the number into a single image and given the image you can decode the number from the image.
If we both used the same PAO or other system for encoding. I do not need to send the actual digits, the recipient can work out the digits from the picture.

If you knew my PAO and you sent me a Picture of Ernest Borgnine blowing air through a wicker basket - I would know the number was 52 (Ernest Borgnine - the P) 24 (Blowing through, Action of Bob Dylan) a 12 Wicker Basket (Alli Baba’s Object)… I would look at the picture and say - okay this represents 522412, or more accurately 52 24 12 as what has been sent is not a number it is three sets of two digit number pairs. You did not send the numbers - only a picture which encoded the numbers for me.

While this subject is a bit more complicated than that, what I am saying above is that Memory Systems are just another form of language - where the rules can be written down just like music theory, maths or language grammars.

Hope that makes some sense. And thanks.


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As with alcoholics there are as many types of mnemonists as there are mnemonists.Same tends to apply to those terms we commonly use such as ‘visualization’ or worst still, IMO. ‘seeing images in your mind’s eye’. Means something different to everyone and by using the word we tend to scare off those who claim to suffer from congenital ‘Aphantasia’ . IF we could come up with a better, more descriptive term then we could start to work on the other bits of jargon and terms we use. I say ‘visualization’ needs to be dealt with first because that is the one that seems to come up time and time again.
At the risk of Josh having to censor me, I have found , when dealing with my fellow newbies or people interested in mnemonics, I counter the ‘I can’t see’ s with the simple technique of telling them to close their eyes and try to recall as much as they can about the first time they had sex …with another human being. Whatever they then ‘experience’ in their mind is what is meant by ‘visualization’ for them .


Continuing the discussion from The Problem Of How We Discuss and Communicate about Memory Systems:

I think you are talking about cypher text. Although these things exist and maybe your point is quite correct here are the problems.

When talking about a common PAO list, there must me many characters which I never even heard of, similarly there may be some characters I know but you never heard of.

As a result, at the time of memorisation both you and me may not be able to encode and memorise properly.

This destroys the purpose of using this technique, partially

But still such things exist, for eg take the Major system.
But it provides you the way to encode, the main work is done by yourself.

For eg. For the same no. 52 you may visualize it as loan whereas I may visualize it as line

The technique is same but the process is different for both of us.

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Here’s an Analogy for you.

Consider memory techniques as the basic recipe for making a simple cake​:cake::cake: (eggs, flour, sugar, baking soda and nothing else)

You know the recipe, but just simple cake is to blank for you so you modify it as according to your taste.
You like vanilla very much, so you add extra components to make it a delicious vanilla cake.

Now I have the same recipe but I love chocolate very much and hate vanilla(assume) ,so I make a dark chocolate cake.

We both give each other a sample of our cakes, although both are cakes but still you prefer your version since it suits your taste better than any other.

And similarly I don’t like your version of cake that much.

Similarly @cameri made a black forest cake,

@bjoern.gumboldt made a pineapple cake

And, @Nagime made a fruit cake :apple::green_apple::tangerine::pear:

Etc. (sorry couldn’t mention all users in this post :pray::pray:)

All of them are ultimately cakes but the best one that suits your taste is made and only made by you.


Understanding isn’t permanent.
Knowledge isn’t permanent.
Long-term memory is not permanent.

There are ways to retain memories for longer periods, or to avoid forgetting them as quickly, these can potentially achieve a state of permanent memory with maintenance. The extent of maintenance you need to do can be reduced. Beyond this however it is a dynamic thing.

“There are just some people who can’t do it” Is more false than it is true. It’s like saying to a tennis player who has practised for years and years : “Some people just can’t hit smashes”. Well do they have arms?, Do the arms move? Then they can hit smashes.

Specifically how they can do this will differ from person to person, some ways of formulating things will ring with some and not with others, the instructions are never really perfectly specialised for the individual. Saying a beginner can do this and that is possible, there isn’t a proof that a beginner can not do it. The instructions may not be formulated clearly enough or they may be lacking. Someone who already knows the answer may not see this easily.

Separately the marketing gimmick : In X hours you can do Y, forever, 100% guarantee is just to get customers:

A says I don’t know if you can learn it in X time
B says you can learn it in X time

Likelihood of learning it in X time : 80%

With no idea about what this is will you pick B or A; you will almost instinctively assume A is worse than B. So why does B do this? To give confidence in his approach to others, the confidence that they want in order to start learning this. The truth is B can never say this even if B is trying to teach someone what 1+1 is in 24 hrs. So it is either will you ever say it perhaps with higher likelihood or will you not say it at all.

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I really love your example. Though I fail to see how it relates to what you are trying to explain, it sure outlines one of the reasons memory techniques work so well.

I’m sorry if I have missed your point, sincerely.

But isn’t there a reason why we each have of our own p a o?

Is it just me or its Starting to feel like everyone’s talking about something different. ? Makes for a rich thread though, which I enjoy reading. Thanks.

Memory is such a personal thing, no? That is why I’m still convinced that the best way to communicate it is with plain language and all its nuances.

I know, it sucks, but…

Doesn’t this happen with any subject ?

I was a teacher for a while and this always happened with a couple of students. I just had to go and explain it differently and take the time to do what it took… And it was often just a matter of how flexible I was in my explanations, and also how successful I was (not always :persevere:)in finding ways to take off the pressure or the stress that are sometimes caused by anyone trying to learn something new.

I think there’s a really good reason why there are many ways to say this, and I sometimes feel like I’m the only one that feels this way, but I feel it’s actually a good thing.

It works for one and not for another. Or could it be that it simply means something different to everyone because it is a different to everyone? And if so, how could new commonly applied terms ever change that?

I just can’t see how we could have it any better than we have it already with the language we have already, which covers it all in such rich and simple and flexible ways.

:joy: I actually think this has less chance of working but I’m pretty sure you haven’t tried that on a perfect stranger!:sweat_smile:

I try to focus on something that is as simple as possible like just asking them :man_dancing:
what do you love ? Where is bathroom and what does it look like ? Something general.

Then they come up with: I love black forest cake! or My boyfriend!

then I asked them him or her: what does that look like, feel like, details please… and then they tell me, and I tell them, that’s it! place an umbrella there, if an umbrella looks like a 77 to ya! Okay went off the rails a bit sorry…

But truth be told, I have often imagined these techniques to be much more than what they are. Unfortunately, I do not have the luxury anymore to think that far away from what is right in front of me. :bomb::fearful: :joy_cat:

I’ll keep on reading you guys because I still find this really interesting but I’m realizing that this is way above my current understanding on the matter, so I will bow out respectfully.

how did you know? :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes: :smirk: miam!

No but seriously, you’re whole analogy is great and made me laugh, which I needed greatly. You killed two birds with one stone!


I thought initially that the differences were forms of puns on it, but I suppose what I thought the core of this post is ‘we should make memory techniques something that we can unify and build onward from to make them much more effective and optimal’ Kind of like, everyone’s contributions bring everyone forwards.If someone is greedy in getting better they will learn the established systems and advanced techniques we have unified and quickly become competent. Provided you take the same steps you will get there 100% of the time.

In simple words though, turn the current state of memory art into research,science,truth and competition.