- Sep 2021
To use your brain well, get out of your brain. Paul calls this offloading. To think well, she says, “we should offload information, externalize it, move it out of our heads and into the world” (243).
This is certainly what is happening in the commonplace book tradition and even more explicitly in the zettelkasten tradition.
What other methods of offloading exist besides writing and speaking? Hand gestures? Dance? What hidden modalities of offloading might indigenous societies use that Western culture might not be cognizant of?
Often journaling or writing in a diary is a often a means of offloading the psychological cruft of one's day to be able to start afresh.
This is some of the philosophy behind creating so-called "morning pages".
We have piles of good research from the last few decades into how brains actually work. Or, if not how brains work (much remains mysterious!), what they like and don’t like.
We're also dramatically missing thousands of years of indigenous experience as well.
- May 2021
No offense, but do you expect every professor to take a field trip with their class each lecture? Let’s be realistic here. How about the students get a workshop on it in the first week (and a book for all I care) and then learn to apply these techniques as they see fit outside the classroom.
The article is about applying these techniques at the highest levels of education, at the point where the learners have already gone through 16+ years of intensive study. I wouldn't expect college professors to go on outings. But why not center these techniques and make them more mainstream at the lowest levels of education starting in kindergarten and for the first six years of formal education? Then they can become daily habits to make learning at the higher levels far easier.
The interesting, and all-too-often ignored, feature of most colleges and universities is that they are on expansive campuses with large numbers of buildings, grounds, and surrounding neighborhoods which could specifically be used to create massive memory palaces or extended local songlines.
Or not… some people prefer rote learning for certain actives
Some may prefer rote memorization, though I don't personally know many who do, and I expect that most probably don't. This research study specifically underlines evidence that these Australian methods are easier and more "fun". The bigger issue is that the vast majority aren't presented with any options for alternate methods anywhere in their educations. I would suspect that the vast majority here in the forums are 15 years old or far beyond by the time they hear about these alternate methods.
[...] others find “song, dance, painting” a little too new age to take it seriously… not passing judgement, but everyone is entitled to their opinion.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion and you certainly have yours. I feel as if you have, however, passed judgment and simultaneously denigrated them (in my opinion) by labeling them "new age". The research article itself states:
The foremost consideration with respect to teaching of the Australian Aboriginal memory technique is the cultural safety aspect and respect for the peoples who developed this approach. In our program, the teaching of this program was administered by an experienced Australian Aboriginal Educator, who was able to integrate the method into our teaching program, while simultaneously preventing several breaches of cultural etiquette and terminology which could easily have compromised the material had it been delivered by a non-Australian Aboriginal educator (TY), however well-intentioned.
They're specifically mentioning here the lack of respect and attention (usually from Westerners, which I suspect includes you) that these methods are given outside of their home culture. I would suggest that you don't value these approaches because they weren't centered or focused on in your own cultural education. As a result you're missing out on the value they do contain, of which the research study under discussion provides direct peer reviewed evidence. Incidentally the metrical system you wish were centered is exactly the sort of technique that is already built into many indigenous systems and was very likely even embedded into ancient Greek culture, but it has long since disappeared and was nearly completely snuffed out by (religious) Western education reformers in the late 1500's.
I'd recommend looking at Dr. Lynne Kelly's texts The Memory Code: The Secrets of Stonehenge, Easter Island and Other Ancient Monuments (Pegasus, 2017) and Songlines: The Power and Promise (First Knowledges) (Thames & Hudson, 2020) (with Dr. Margo Neale) for more details on some of these cultural traditions which have a more nuanced and respectful approach.
Too often here in these forums, and in life, people treat these these mnemonic techniques as "clever hacks", when, for many current and past cultures, they were a literal way of both life and survival.
Let’s face it, be it law school, med school, or b-school… students manage to graduate with or without techniques at the moment, so it’s not like we desperately need memory techniques in higher education.
This is an incredibly privileged perspective. Sure these students do manage to graduate, but you're also looking a minuscule proportion of the most highly educated people on the planet. For perspective, in 2018–2019, 21,622 applicants were accepted to allopathic (MD) medical schools out of the 52,777 who applied, for an overall acceptance rate of 41% in the United States. The accepted people represent roughly 0.0003 percent of the world's population. This number doesn't get much bigger (or rosier) when you expand the population to those in all graduate schools world wide.
I've got several hundred friends and acquaintances who did either MDs or combined MD/Ph.D. programs and very few would say their studies were easy. Why not make it easier? Why not make these methods more widespread? Why not provide them to everyone? Imagine the number who could have not only an easier time, but greater knowledge, (and more fun!)? Very few of the practicing physicians I know could still diagram the TCA-cycle described in the paper, but if you could have a more knowledgeable physician treat you, wouldn't you want that? Wouldn't you want a more educated and happier society all around?
…I’d call that stone garden a “memory palace.” Is there an outdoor element or something that memory palaces supposedly don’t have? I really don’t get how this is different. I use outdoor memory palaces all the time
The stone garden certainly is a memory palace for those who wish to use it that way. However, from the Australian Aboriginal perspective, there are additional layers of narrative, movement, (and potentially song, dance, and art, etc.) layered on top of it to enrich the experience. It's unfortunate that the paper doesn't go deeper into the subtleties or differences, but they're also making at least some attempt to show respect to the culture from which the technique stems. This is a place where Drs. Kelly and Neale's Songlines text may help provide additional depth and perspective, though even it would be limited in comparison with embedding yourself within a culture to have indigenous elders to teach you directly.
The foremost consideration with respect to teaching of the Australian Aboriginal memory technique is the cultural safety aspect and respect for the peoples who developed this approach. In our program, the teaching of this program was administered by an experienced Australian Aboriginal Educator, who was able to integrate the method into our teaching program, while simultaneously preventing several breaches of cultural etiquette and terminology which could easily have compromised the material had it been delivered by a non-Australian Aboriginal educator (TY), however well-intentioned. The need for a deep knowledge and understanding of the appropriate context for teaching and delivery of this material is probably the main factor which would preclude more widespread adoption of this technique.
I really appreciate the respect given to indigenous knowledge here.
The researchers could have gone much further in depth in describing it and the aspects of what they mean by cultural "safety". They've done a disservice here by downplaying widespread adoption. Why not? Why couldn't we accord the proper respect of traditions to actively help make these techniques more widespread? Shouldn't we be willing to do the actual work to accord respect and passing on of these knowledges?
Given my reading in the area, there seems to be an inordinate amount of (Western) "mysticism" attributed to these techniques (here and in the broader anthropology literature) rather than approaching them head-on from a more indigenous perspective. Naturally the difficult part is being trusted enough by tribal elders to be taught these methods to be able to pass them on. (Link this idea to Tim Ingold's first chapter of Anthropology: Why It Matters.)
All this being said, the general methods known from the West, could still be modified to facilitate in widespread adoption of those techniques we do know. Further work and refinement of them could continue apace while still maintaining the proper respect of other cultures and methods, which should be the modern culture default.
If nothing else, the West could at least roll back the educational reforms which erased their own heritage to regain those pieces. The West showing a bit of respect for itself certainly wouldn't be out of line either.
As one of the authors recently pointed out , the cognitive demands on a person in a low-tech, paleolithic environment equal or exceed the cognitive loads placed on members of industrialized societies.
I'll have to bump up Tyson Yunkaporta's work on my reading list, particularly the cited text:
Yunkaporta T. Sand talk: how Indigenous thinking can save the world. Melbourne, Victoria: Text Publishing Company; 2019.
A fourth theme to emerge from the analysis of the data, is the highly relevant ‘cultural’ aspect to this memorization technique which students greatly appreciated. As one student notes: “I like the idea of connecting Indigenous culture with science learning…”. The theme of culture overlays learning and demonstrates the importance of conceptualising Australian Aboriginal ways of knowing or learning with or from rather than about Australian Aboriginal people and their knowledge systems. As Yunkaporta [2, p. 15] states, it is important not to examine Australian Aboriginal knowledge systems, but to explore the external systems “from an Indigenous knowledge perspective”.
This is so heartwarming to me.
An important ancillary benefit was improved understanding and awareness of Indigenous Health and cultural safety.
Not to mention a more sophisticated view of their culture and contributions instead of viewing them as "lesser", which is the dominant mode in most Western cultures.
- knowledge systems
- education reform
- memory research
- cultural appropriation
- indigenous peoples
- method of loci
- paleolithic societies
- indigenous cultures
- industrialized societies
- Tyson Yunkaporta
- mnemonic devices
- cultural safety
- cognitive load
- Feb 2021