Replied to Stones only by Kate Bowles (Music for Deckchairs)
The purpose of Stonehenge is lost to us. There will always be debate about its meaning. Stonehenge Visitor Centre, Wiltshire I grew up in England, although I wasn’t born here. Here. I’m…
I ran across this 5 year old article courtesy of a few recent tweets:

What surprises me is that it’s about education and pedagogy that starts off with a vignette in which Kate Bowles talks about the unknown purpose of Stonehenge.

But I’ve been doing some serious reading on the humanities relating to memory, history, and indigenous cultures over the last few years. It dawns on me:

I know what those stones are for!

A serious answer provided by Australian science and memory researcher Dr. Lynne Kelly indicates that Stonehenge and similar monolithic sites built by indigenous cultures across the world are–in fact–pedagogic tools!!

We’ve largely lost a lot of the roots of our ancient mnemonic devices through gradual mis- and dis-use as well as significant pedagogic changes by Petrus Ramus, an influential French dialectician, humanist, logician, and educational reformer. Scholar Frances Yates indicated in The Art of Memory that his influential changes in the mid-1500’s disassociated memory methods including the method of loci, which dated back to ancient Greece, from the practice of rhetoric as a field of study. As a result we’ve lost a fantastic tradition that made teaching and the problem of memory far worse.

Fortunately Lynne Kelly gives a fairly comprehensive overview of indigenous cultures across human history and their use of these methods along with evidence in her book Memory Code which is based on her Ph.D. thesis. Even better, she didn’t stop there and she wrote a follow up book that explores the use of these methods and places them into a modern pedagogy setting and provides some prescriptive uses.

I might suggest that instead of looking forward to technology as the basis of solutions in education, that instead we look back—not just to our past or even our pre-industrial past, but back to our pre-agrarian past.

Let’s look back to the tremendous wealth of indigenous tribes the world over that modern society has eschewed as “superstitious” and “simple”. In reality, they had incredibly sophisticated oral stories and systems that they stored in even more sophisticated memory techniques. Let’s relearn and reuse those techniques to make ourselves better teachers and improve our student’s ability to learn and retain the material with which they’re working.

Once we’ve learned to better tap our own memories, we’ll realize how horribly wrong we’ve been for not just decades but centuries.

This has been hard earned knowledge for me, but now that I’ve got it, I feel compelled to share it. I’m happy to chat with people about these ideas to accelerate their growth, but I’d recommend getting them from the source and reading Dr. Kelly’s work directly. (Particularly her work with indigenous peoples of Australia, who helped to unlock a large piece of the puzzle for her.) Then let’s work together to rebuild the ancient edifices that our ancestors tried so desperately to hand down, but we’ve managed to completely forget.

The historical and archaeological record:
The Memory Code: The Secrets of Stonehenge, Easter Island and Other Ancient Monuments by Dr. Lynne Kelly

A variety of methods and teaching examples:
Memory Craft: Improve Your Memory with the Most Powerful Methods in History by Dr. Lynne Kelly

Annotated on April 26, 2020 at 08:34PM

Link between Lullism and the Jesuits’ descent into the particular

While reading The Art of Memory by Frances Yates, I ran across the phrase “descending from ‘generals’ to ‘specials'”and it reminded me of the Jesuit idea of “descending into the particular”.

Yates indicates, I think rightly, that this is:

a notion implicit in Lullism as it ascends and descends on the ladder of being [scala naturae] from specials to generals and from generals to specials. This terminology is specifically used of memory in Lull’s Liber ad memoriam confirmandam in which it is stated that memory is to be divided into specials and generals, the specials descending from the generals.

This seems like it is very closely associated with the Jesuit’s concept of “descending into the particular” (or the specials) within their teaching on thinking. (For those unfamiliar, I recall that Malcolm Gladwell has an interesting podcast episode within Revisionist History on this area of moral reasoning.)

Given that Raymond Lull (c. 1232 – c. 1315) has significant philosophical and religious sway in his lifetime, it is highly likely that the Jesuits (founded 1535) may have picked up the foundation of the concept from him. Yates writes this section in Chapter X, in relation to the ideas of memory with respect to Lullism which assuredly influenced Peter Ramus (1515-1572) and his ideas of memory.

I can’t help but think about why the Jesuits didn’t also include the idea of ascension into their philosophy? Perhaps some additional research into the topic will reveal some more direct associations. I think Yates’ link between Lullism and Ramism are pretty solid. I’d like to see some more direct evidence between Lullism and the Jesuits. I’d love to delve into the use of the art of memory within the Jesuit tradition as well.

The scala naturae or great chain of being has had a profound effect (not necessarily a positive one) on religion and modern culture. Far too many people are completely ignorant of what it is or what it entails, yet it underpins a huge swath of Western thought.

Miniature in an illuminated manuscript of Raymond Lull next to a ladder indicating the the levels of being
Scala Naturae or Ladder of Being in Breviculum ex artibus Raimundi Lulli electum – St. Peter perg. 92 [page 13 (5r)]
I’m not as well-versed in the history of educational technology as those like Audrey Watters, but after reading the opening of chapter 10 of The Art of Memory by Frances Yates, I’m prepared to call Pierre de La Ramée (aka Petrus or Peter Ramus) as the godfather of EdTech for his literal iconoclastic removal of the artificial memory from rhetoric and replacing it with his ‘dialectical order’.

To be clear, “Godfather of EdTech” is a perjorative.

Read - Reading: Memory Craft: Improve your memory using the most powerful methods from around the world by Lynne KellyLynne Kelly (Allen & Unwin)
📖 On page 198 of 320 of Memory Craft

I love some of the things she’s documenting here though I’ll have to dig into her references. She’s much better versed in memory practice than Yates, in part because she actually makes a practice of using the techniques. There are pieces I wish she went into greater depth on.

Syndicated to Goodreads on March 15, 2020 at 11:52AM

Attributes in Paintings May Stem from Mnemotechnics Dating from Ancient Greece

As I delve further into the ancient history of mnemonics and mnemotechnics, I  strongly suspect that attributes in paintings (like those frequently seen in depictions of Christian saints) originally stem from memory techniques that date from Simonides of Ceos (Σιμωνίδης ὁ Κεῖος; c. 556 – 468 BCE) and potentially earlier by means of the oral tradition.

The National Gallery has a short little primer on paintings of saints and recognizing them by means of their attributes. As an example, in the painting below Saint Genevieve of Paris holds the candle which she miraculously relit. On the brooch at her neck are the alpha and omega signs. Saint Apollonia of Alexandria’s brooch shows pincers: she was tortured by having her teeth extracted.

Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1472 - 1553 Saints Genevieve and Apollonia 1506 Oil on lime, 120.5 x 63 cm Bought, 1987 NG6511.1 This painting is part of the group: 'The St Catherine Altarpiece: Reverses of Shutters' (NG6511.1-NG6511.2)
Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1472 – 1553
Saints Genevieve and Apollonia (1506) Oil on lime, 120.5 x 63 cm
Bought, 1987; NG6511.1
This painting is part of the group: ‘The St Catherine Altarpiece: Reverses of Shutters’ (NG6511.1-NG6511.2)