Thoughts on David Markoff’s “Memory Power System”

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.”

Right.

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.

Bob

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Not sure what it is you’re saying. One of those sites is for an electric guitar pedal, the Electro-Harmonix Memory Man. The other is an Australian site. David Markoff is an American living in Los Angeles. He says his web site is www.Memoryman.com. His Facebook page is also clear about that: https://www.facebook.com/david.memoryman.

Bob

I believe in 80s there was no internet and text search was not available as a tool hence many people may have used information to gain fame using something they found in ancient texts without letting the source of their information known to readers, conveniently.

Internet , Wikipedia and invention of text search has given us good tools now-a-days to understand our cultural heritage and pay the information forwards for our next generations.

This forum is supreme example of learning from giants and sharing with everyone to gain more from the discussion.

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Good review RMBittner.

I wonder what the Memoryman comic is like? So far I can’t find any free comics of it online. Also, I find it real scummy when people sell “memory pills” that don’t have any scientific backing to them. I think it’s taking advantage of people in one of the worst ways possible.

Lastly, will you review some of the older pre-Lorayne memory books? From the ones I’ve read, a lot of them feel bloated with useless information. But from the ones that aren’t, those are the real gems of the memory word.

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Thanks for your kind words, although I wasn’t really considering this a “review,” per se, since I haven’t listened to the tapes or even finished reading the booklet that came with them. I just wanted to share some initial thoughts, especially since Markoff was new to me and, as far as I could tell, had never been discussed here before. And, frankly, I got “triggered” with the way he handled the Major system…especially in light of another recent thread I’ve been involved in here.

I appreciate the vote of confidence! But other than a few of the real classics—Augustine’s section on memory, the small part of ad Herennium pertaining to memory—and an autobiography by “Datas” (a turn-of-the-last-century memory performer who apparently used no traditional memory techniques), I’m not sure I’ve read anything on memory that was written before the 1970s “Lorayne” era.

Are there specific books you had in mind? I’d love to check them out, especially since anything between 1900-1970 would be new to me.

Bob

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The two books that come to mind are Mnemonics by Kikujiro Wadamori and David Roth’s Memory Course if you haven’t already read them. I think that you would especially be interested in David Roth’s course since Lorayne takes a lot of beats from him and it shows in how similar both of their writings are. You may take umbrage with the fact that none of them mention memory palaces, however. Despite that fact, I think that both books were good for their time. Both books are available for free on archive.org.

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Thanks for those two recommendations! I’ve already downloaded them to my iPad for reading.

I thought it was interested that one was from the late 1800s, and the other from 1918. It makes me more curious about what was going on in the years between 1900 and 1970, when Harry Lorayne really broke through to the public. (I’m guessing his many, many TV appearances didn’t hurt.)

Bob

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I wonder if we have a page somewhere with history of people who invested in Memory Techniques and put forward some techniques. Something like

1918 - Person A - System1, System2
1990 - Person B - System 3, System4

I believe this list can be made from the books people have written so far on Memory.
So this will become Memory Techniques Who’s Who list

This is a well written very methodically organized book. Just downloaded and started reading. Thanks for sharing this treasure. I will update my review of this book once I have finished reading it.

The suggestion by @ehcolston opened a door to Galaxy of books. Link for books on subject Memory in English language on archive.org
You just gave me a treasure trove which will provide reading material for days to come.

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Some of the information is here, but it isn’t complete:

We could start a thread or a wiki-post about it if people want to add more. :slight_smile:

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