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Memory through association with images and other ways to bear important things in mind.

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"We hardly notice anything anymore"

  • Nov 21, 2010

The rather good book with a rather silly title: WHERE DID NOAH PARK THE ARK? has a more lucid subtitle: ANCIENT MEMORY TECHNIQUES FOR REMEMBERING PRACTICALLY ANYTHING. It is by Israeli author Eran Katz, who makes a living by writing and lecturing on memory and intelligence.


We are invited to ask ourselves whether Noah remembered where he had parked the ark. In Chapter 23, the book's last, we are enlightened: either Noah did not remember or if he did remember (Mount Ararat), so what?  It wasn't important. "In truth, Noah didn't really need the ark after the flood was over, so he didn't need to remember where he parked it. The point being, it's not necessary to remember everything."


Eran Katz in a good-humored, incessantly bantering tone and via a text loaded with Jewish humor, carries us on a romp through the still evolving history of mnemonics (memory techniques) and describes in considerable, helpful detail "tricks" to help us remember names and faces, historical dates, calendar appointments, long string of numbers and more. Katz's most basic tip is to notice, really notice, a stimulus when it reaches your brain. For instance, at a cocktail party you meet a short little German named Pope Benedict XVI. You exchange names and views. You probably need no memory shortcuts to remember that encounter. Why? Because you NOTICED!


And yet we use only ten percent of our memory capacity. We forget where he laid our keys. We can't remember our nephew's phone number. Why? Argues Eran Katz:


"maybe it's because ... we're overwhelmed with information, but the disturbing fact is that our collective level of attention and concentration has radically decreased in the past twenty years. We hardly notice anything anymore. ... Take Burger King's (logo), for example. How many times have you seen that logo? Yet are you able to draw it? ... What about Starbucks, 7-Eleven and Pizza Hut? Can you recall their logos in detail?" (Ch 4)


What we notice, really notice, the first time: that we remember. What comes to us while we are tired or distracted or if we consider it dull or unimportant, we don't notice, or notice poorly. So we forget.

To remember these stimuli we need help: for instance, ancient Greek and Roman "memory palaces" or "method of loci." Or ancient Hebrew gemetria (relating numbers to letters). I am currently using a modern updating of  gemetria, very well described at length by the author in Chapter 11. As he recommends, I began slowly. I have finally memorized a credit card number. To do that, I related the numbers to letters as formalized by a German monk, Gregor von Feinaigle, in 1811.  0, for instance, is a Z (as in zero) or an S. By golly, it works!


I personally would prefer a book less smart alecky and cutesy, with fewer jokes translated from Yiddish. But I put up with the presumably popular silliness for the author's really good substance. The book is worth a quick read by you, followed by selective trials of recommended "tricks."

It is all about noticing, associating sense impressions with words and numbers, making vivid imaginative linkages and putting what you want or need to remember in mental filing cabinets of your own design. Many of these techniques were known to Roman orators, including Cicero, and were revived in the Italian Renaissance. They were then used by Father Matteo Ricci and other pioneering Jesuit astronomers at the Chinese Imperial Court in Peking to master the Chinese language. Enjoy!



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November 21, 2010
Great review! I just ordered this from Amazon to learn more. Hopefully, I'll remember to check my mail.
About the reviewer
(Thomas) Patrick Killough ()
Ranked #6
I am a retired American diplomat. Married for 47 years. My wife Mary (PhD in German and Linguistics) and I have two sons, six grandsons and two granddaughters. Our home is Highland Farms Retirement Community … more
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About this book




ISBN-10: 0307591972
Author: Eran Katz
Publisher: Three Rivers Press; 1 edition (March 3, 2009)

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