I’ve begun collecting memory books and other stuff, apparently. And I recently picked up a 1986 audiocassette series on eBay called “Memory Power System” by David Markoff, a man who, according to the information accompanying the tapes, “is recognized as the world’s foremost authority on memory improvement.”
He apparently built a career speaking about memory at “over 25 colleges and universities” in the 1980s. He then leveraged that into audio training. (He also created a Memoryman comic book and put his name—and face—on bottles of “Memoryman Memory Enhancement Pills,” which he currently sells. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get his web site—
memoryman.com—to load before posting this.) He has claimed since at least 2006 to hold “the world record in memory,” but I have no idea what he means by that and haven’t found any verification for that claim.
Having said all that, Markoff’s approach to self-promotion—while off-putting and almost comical—is hardly unique in the memory world.
I haven’t yet gotten into the tapes, but I’m exploring some of the supporting written material that’s been provided, including study guides and a comprehensive 52-page booklet that stands on its own.
He makes some good points, highlighting aspects of creative image creation that others don’t always emphasize but which can be very helpful. For example, he stresses that, to be memorable, image interactions should move left to right (debatable as a fact, but helpful as advice for maintaining consistency, which can speed recall and understanding) and that there should be strong interaction between two images that you want to link together. We all know this, but he makes a point of emphasizing it and clarifying what he means. Actions that don’t work, he says, are seeing, hearing watching, talking to, running from, standing next to. “None of these involve physical interaction between the two items being associated.” He explains, “If I ask you to associate a brick with a lake, and you see a brick waving at a lake…the two items are not physically interacting. This is not a good association.” Instead, he suggests picturing the brick diving into the lake or floating across the lake.
So far, there are two places where, for me, Markoff comes up short.
In his chapter on “Remembering a Large Amount of Information,” he, like Lorayne before him, completely ignores the value of the memory palace and focuses entirely on developing long strings of linking images.
And then we come to remembering numbers. Also like Lorayne, he presents the Major system without calling it the Major system. Worse, he strongly suggests that he invented the system and that it is exclusive to his Memory Power System. (While Lorayne doesn’t clarify in The Memory Book that it was a pre-existing system, he also doesn’t claim to have created it…although his presentation is so vague that some readers may assume he did.) Markoff refers to Major as “the Memory Power System for numbers” and that “in the Memory Power System, each number is assigned a particular sound.” He never once credits anyone else with having created this system; he presents it entirely as his own.
I will say this: Because Markoff never discusses memory palaces, he avoids retelling the all-too-familiar story of Simonides, sidestepping any suggestion that memory techniques existed long before he came around. Because he takes full credit for creating the Major system, he ignores the many mnemonists who came before him to create the memory techniques we use today. Apparently, he created them all!
I can shrug off the ludicrous bragging, the unsupported claims of dubious achievement. But I cannot believe the gall of someone who refuses to acknowledge the incredible debt he owes to all who have come before him. To me, that taints everything else he has to offer.