Adventures with One
of the Most Traveled
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Lew Toulmin


Memory Systems


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Most Traveled Man
Memory systems may date back as far as the poet Simonides of Ceos (now Kea, in SE Greece), who lived from 556 to 468 BCE. According to legend, he was at a banquet, was called outside, and just missed being crushed when the banquet hall collapsed, killing everyone inside. He was asked to remember who the unrecognizable victims were, and realized that by visualizing their locations on couches and seats in the hall, he could list all their names. This led him to develop the system of “loci,” in which information to be memorized is placed in familiar locations inside known rooms.

Other names for this system are the “memory palace” or “brain athletics.” Perhaps a better term would be “maximum brain activation for rapid learning and retention.” Through the use of this method, modern “mental athletes” – who are ordinary people who have simply trained their minds -- have undertaken the following feats (and many more):
  • Memorizing and reciting over 67,000 digits of Pi.
  • Memorizing 132 dates and events in history in 5 minutes.
  • Learning and putting into long term memory 1200 Chinese characters and their pronunciation and meaning, in a short time.
  • Memorizing the order of a random deck of cards in 20 seconds.
  • Recalling over 130 names and faces after briefly meeting each person, or viewing a photo and name, only once.
  • Writing the names and ranks of all the 2500 Americans who were killed in Afghanistan on a commemorative wall, from memory, without assistance or coaching. This took 10 hours, writing at top speed.
Modern masters of these techniques include Tony Buzan, co-founder of the World Memory Championships; Dominic O’Brien, the first modern memory champion; Joshua Foer, a US memory champion who wrote the autobiographical memory book Moonwalking with Einstein; Alex Mullen, the current US memory champion; and Ron White, US memory champion and creator of the Black Belt in Memory on-line program.

I have been interested in memory systems for years, ever since reading Rudyard Kipling’s classic novel Kim when I was fifteen years old. Kim was trained as a youth to improve his memory by playing repetitive memory games by his tutor Lurgan Sahib, and then Kim used his new skills as a spy for the British secret service and the geographical Survey of India.

But it was not until early 2017 that I got around to actually improving my own memory. While I am a fast writer and analyst, I have a poor memory for names (but not faces), and for dates and sequential numbers. I looked around the field of available memory programs, books and systems and I settled on Ron White’s Black Belt in Memory program. Ron was the ex-military man who was able to recall and write down all the names of the 2500 US military personnel killed in Afghanistan.

I studied Ron White’s course on the Internet for about three months part time, putting in about 80 hours of work. White’s system covers various memory elements, including:
  • Setting up memory palaces using your own home, for use in memorizing the Presidents of the US, state capitals, and much more information
  • Memorizing names and faces by converting the names to images and placing those images on a distinctive feature on the person’s face
  • Remembering dates by converting numbers to images and making up bizarre stories linking those images to the event
  • Memorizing sequential numbers by using and linking number images
  • Recalling random decks of cards, using images for each card
  • Memorizing speeches, poetry, dialog, foreign vocabulary, and educational material.
After taking the Ron White course and undertaking another 50-odd hours of study on my own, using his principles, I was able to:
  • Memorize 100 random numbers, and later write them down correctly
  • Memorize 100 names and faces, and later correctly give the name for each person’s face
  • Review a random deck of playing cards, and later recall them in the correct order.
Below are some downloadable tools and aids I developed or added value to in my memory studies, including:
  • Poem for recalling the Kings and Queens of England
  • Images for recalling numbers from 00 to 99
  • Pictures for memorizing a deck of cards
  • Graphic link words for memorizing and recalling common names of men and women
  • Memory aid for remembering the streets of the New Orleans French Quarter.
By the way, can anyone explain why the educational establishment in the USA is not using Memory Systems to dramatically improve the performance of students all across our country?

The Chinese have discovered Memory Systems, and are starting to win world memory championships and introduce the systems into their schools. Hence the flag button for this page is China, not the US. I hope we can turn this around.

Happy memorizing!


Click to enlarge

Images of Toulmin numbers 00-99 v3(PDF)

600 Graphic Link Words for Remembering Names and Faces(PDF)

Memory poem for kings and queens of england - v3(PDF)

Pictures for memorization of deck of cards by Lew Toulmin(PDF)

Toulmin's Memory aid to memorizing the streets of the French Quarter, New Orleans v FINAL(PDF)