The Art of Memory

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Can’t remember what it was you swore you wouldn’t forget? Chance Massaro says memory is a skill and it helps to practice, practice, practice.

On a recent nature walk with Michael Ellis I was reminded of what a big deal memory is and how many of us lament that ours is fading.

The human beings who roamed this earth 100,000 years ago had language but not writing. They survived and built cultures without Google. In addition to building cairns, drawing on cave walls, our ancient ancestors used song, dance, gestures, poems, plays and bodily expressions to learn to gather food, attract a mate, protect themselves and sustain life. The art of memory was an essential part of every day. It was a positive, productive practice.

The art of memory was like religion from just before the time of the Greeks. There were dozens of "cults" each of which taught their way to remembering astronomy, the seasons, animals, trees, etc. While most people didn't read or write, most had bodacious memories.

Then Gutenberg came on the scene and the art of memory began to slip away. Since the invention of the printing press we have developed tens of external ways to remember stuff without working at it.


Today we have the world, nay, the universe at our fingertips. Now we have no need to remember anything because, well, it's all in our phone. We don't describe the baby, we show a dozen pictures. We don't know how to get anywhere because we have GPS.

So let's say ”Yay” when we remember something we wanted to. Let's complement others whenever they remember. Let's ask for and give memory tricks and techniques. Let's always say, "My memory is an art. I practice and it is getting better every day."

With a Perspective, this is Chance Massaro.

Chance Massaro is a memory consultant and coach in Santa Rosa.