Dr. Lynne Kelly’s research on history, indigenous people, and memory, and a dovetail with Big History

David Christian, Fred Spier, Bill Gates, Big History Institute, and other Big History researchers and thinkers, if you’re not already aware of her, allow me to introduce you to researcher Dr. Lynne Kelly. Her work dramatically expands our understanding of pre-literate societies’ learning, memory, and particularly collective learning. Further, it makes for a strong and fascinating story that could not only be integrated into Big History; it provides links between modern and pre-modern humans and ties deeply into ideas of origin stories, mythology, and early religion; and it provides actual methods for improving student’s memories and particularly that for history.

I think her work has some profound impact on the arc of Big History, particularly with respect to Threshold 6, well into Threshold 7, and continuing into the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution. In true big history fashion, her thesis also touches heavily on a broad array of topics including anthropology, archaeology, psychology, neuroscience, history, and education.

A broad, reasonable introduction to her work can be had in CalTech physicist Sean Carroll’s  recent podcast interview.

Another short introduction is her TEDx Melbourne talk:

A solid popular science encapsulation of her work can be found in her book The Memory Code: The Secrets of Stonehenge, Easter Island and Other Ancient Monuments (Pegasus Books, 2017).

A more thorough academic treatment of her work can naturally be found in:

With some work, I think her research could become a better foundational basis for a stronger bridge from threshold 6 into threshold 7 with dramatic impact on how we view origin stories, mythology, religion. It also has some spectacular implications for improving pedagogy and memory within our educational systems and how we view and use collective memory and even innovation in the modern world.

Watched Modern memory, ancient methods by Lynne Kelly from TEDxMelbourne | YouTube

Today, we explore whether memory still has a practical place in the world of big data and computing.

As a science writer, Lynne has written 18 books including The Memory Code. Her research showed that without writing, people used the most extraordinary suite of memory techniques to memorise massive amounts of practical information. This explains the purpose of monuments like Stonehenge, the Nazca Lines and the statues of Easter Island. Her next book, Unlocking The Memory Code explains the most effective memory methods from around the world and throughout time. Lynne shows how these can be invaluable in modern world. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.

I had watched this earlier this fall, but thought I’d take another peek for the compactness of the presentation.
Listened to Sources and Methods #34: Lynne Kelly by Alex Strick van LinschotenAlex Strick van Linschoten from Sources & Methods

Interview with Lynne Kelly primarily covering an overview of her memory-related works and focusing primarily on her academic work including her Ph.D. thesis and subsequent archaological-based texts. This appears to have been done prior to The Memory Code and so doesn’t cover those portions of some the more applied areas like her work in rapscallions or the bestiary.

Originally bookmarked on December 14, 2019 at 08:42AM

Listened to Memory Craft: Lynne Kelly On The Potent Power Of Ancient Mnemonics by Anthony Metivier from magneticmemorymethod.com

Cover of Memory Craft by Lynne KellyNot only is Lynne Kelly the author of several books on memory, but she is a highly skilled researcher, science educator, author and memory competitor.

Most known for her theory about Stonehenge’s purpose, she has also contributed to work in popular science and is a promoter of skepticism.

Lynne’s critical thinking and contributions to such a wide range of science subjects has led to awards from the Royal Zoological Society of South Wales among others. As a memory expert, Lynne Kelly is that rare practitioner who takes on large learning projects and shares the journey in addition to attending memory sport activities.

Episode covers:

  • The real reason why stores play such upbeat, catchy music.
  • Why outdoor Memory Palaces can be so helpful for memory retention.
  • The benefits of “setting aside” time for memory training versus incorporating practice into everyday life.
  • How vivid, violent, or vulgar imagery can bring abstract concepts to life.
  • Why “rapscallions” are useful memory tools and not just mischievous little creatures.
  • How art can help you remember more in a Memory Palace.
  • The pros and cons to living with aphantasia.
  • The key to using hooks and layering to create dynamic visuals.
  • How to “dialogue” with your memory aids.
  • Why we should encode using music and places for maximum mental skill (and possible mental health) benefits.
  • The usefulness of memory techniques for school aged children and their long-term effects.
  • The secret to overcoming “ghosting” when using memory techniques.

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A fascinating interview, but likely needs some additional introductory material to make sense of what is going on. The audience here are people who have at least a passing knowledge of mnemonics and many of it’s methods. I could have stood to hear a few more hours between these two given my academic interest in the area.

There’s an interesting segment on aphantasia and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the middle here. I’d definitely be interested in looking into the research on aphantasia more. There’s also some more material here on memory methods for education (compared with other interviews with Dr. Kelly). She does use a physics example on force and the idea of push/pull with respect to Star Wars which I’ve heard her mention before.

Originally bookmarked on December 07, 2019 at 01:11PM

An informal mnemonics podcast

I started out using Huffduffer to collect a handful of podcast interviews with LynneKelly on her work with mnemonics, but noticed a handful of others that had already been using various tags like “memory” and “mnemonics” on the service as well.

While I know there are some podcasts dedicated directly to memory, most of the ones I’ve tagged/highlighted in my list are one-off episodes or radio interviews that stand alone. I’ve also gone through a few past posts on the forum about podcast episodes relating to memory and tagged them as well.

I’ve seen a dozen or so other posts on the forum here in which people have mentioned particular podcasts, so I’ll mention that Huffduffer is a great audio-based web tool for finding, discovering, and collecting audio content. It also provides iTunes subscribe-able audio feeds for every account, collective, and even tag on the site.

If you’re interested in the topic of “mnemonics” you can subscribe to the public RSS feed on Huffduffer and you’ll automatically be updated in your podcatcher of choice whenever anyone else in the community uses Huffduffer and tags an audio file with the same “mnemonics” tag.

Happy listening and collecting.

Listened to Lynne Kelly: unlocking ancient memory storehouses by Richard Fidler from ABC Radio

Lynne Kelly is a science writer who was researching the methods used by ancient cultures to retain vast amounts of information about animals and plants.

She was looking into the way knowledge was recorded through stories, song and dance.

On a journey to Stonehenge in England, Lynne was struck by the thought that the makers of that monumental stone circle were doing the same thing.

Lynne's research suggests the stone circles of England, the huge animal shapes in Peru, and the statues of Easter Island, were not so much objects of superstition, but tools allowing people to create a huge storehouses of knowledge.

An academic with diverse interests including spiders, history, and scepticism, Lynne applies the memory 'code' to manage her own stores of facts and information.

Duration: 48min 28sec
Broadcast: 

Great introductory interview on Lynne Kelly’s work on indigenous memory just after her book The Memory Code came out.

Originally bookmarked on December 07, 2019 at 01:08PM

Listened to The Indigenous memory code by Lynne Malcolm from ABC Radio National
Traditional Aboriginal Australian songlines hold the key to a powerful memory technique used by indigenous people around the world.

Have you ever wondered how ancient indigenous cultures maintain so much information about the thousands of species of plants and animals—without writing it down? Traditional Aboriginal Australian songlines are key to a powerful memory technique used by indigenous people around the world. It's intricately tied to the landscape and it can be applied in our everyday lives.

Duration: 28min 49sec
Broadcast: 

Another Lynne Kelly interview, but this one focuses more on the indigenous peoples of Australia and their memory techniques. Also some discussion of “dreaming” and songlines with Karen Adams here.

Originally bookmarked on December 07, 2019 at 01:13PM

Listened to Mindscape 72 | César Hidalgo on Information in Societies, Economies, and the Universe by Sean CarrollSean Carroll from preposterousuniverse.com

Maxwell’s Demon is a famous thought experiment in which a mischievous imp uses knowledge of the velocities of gas molecules in a box to decrease the entropy of the gas, which could then be used to do useful work such as pushing a piston. This is a classic example of converting information (what the gas molecules are doing) into work. But of course that kind of phenomenon is much more widespread — it happens any time a company or organization hires someone in order to take advantage of their know-how. César Hidalgo has become an expert in this relationship between information and work, both at the level of physics and how it bubbles up into economies and societies. Looking at the world through the lens of information brings new insights into how we learn things, how economies are structured, and how novel uses of data will transform how we live.

César Hidalgo received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Notre Dame. He currently holds an ANITI Chair at the University of Toulouse, an Honorary Professorship at the University of Manchester, and a Visiting Professorship at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. From 2010 to 2019, he led MIT’s Collective Learning group. He is the author of Why Information Grows and co-author of The Atlas of Economic Complexity. He is a co-founder of Datawheel, a data visualization company whose products include the Observatory of Economic Complexity.

Mindscape cover art

It was interesting to hear Cesar Hidalgo use the concept of “big history” a few times in this episode. I’m not 100% sure he meant it in the David Christian sense of the words, but it at least felt right.

I was also piqued at the mention of Lynne Kelly’s work, which I’m now knee deep into. I suspect it could dramatically expand on what we think of as the capacity of a personbyte, though the limit of knowledge there still exists. The idea of mnemotechniques within indigenous cultures certainly expands on the way knowledge worked in prehistory and what we classically think of and frame collective knowledge or collective learning.

I also think there are some interesting connections with Dr. Kelly’s mentions of social equity in prehistorical cultures and the work that Hidalgo mentions in the middle of the episode.

There are a small handful of references I’ll want to delve into after hearing this, though it may take time to pull them up unless they’re linked in the show notes.

 

hat-tip: Complexity Digest for the reminder that this is in my podcatcher. 🔖 November 22, 2019 at 03:28PM

Replied to Constantly building new memory palaces is annoying by Ywan MüllerYwan Müller (Art of Memory Forum)
Hello, I have a problem and I hope, you can help me. Is there a way to just memorize information with mnemotechniques without doing much work beforhand? My problem is, that I am tired of having to constantely building new memory palaces before I can memorize something. (Reusing memory palaces does not work for me, unfortunately.) Is there a technique where I don`t have to constantely memorize new loci, a technique where I can just put the infos somewhere and review them later? And if so, how does this technique work and is it efficient (a good way to memorize things)? Thanks.
In many modern descriptions of the method of loci, they’re often (unfortunately) described as places that are frequently reused as they would be for memory competitions. This makes them much tougher to use for remembering more useful things in longer term memory. As a result I use a small handful of very specifically selected places for these sorts of short term memory-based journeys. When I’m done with the specific task at hand, I mentally travel back through the journey and wash out all of those short term memories so that I can come back to them in rotation and they’re fresh and clean with many of the memories having faded out with the advance of time. Alternately peg-systems or linked story-systems can be used depending on the items being memorized.

For longer term memory, I prefer to use more everyday locations such as my home (or previous residences, schools, college, etc.) or walks around my neighborhood. This way, as I’m moving about my house, neighborhood, or other frequently visited quotidian places, I’m seeing the accumulated images and regularly re-firming them in my memory. This regular revisiting of them makes them stick in my long term memory much better. For things you want to keep for longer term, revisiting them at an hour, a day, a week, a month, and then three months with occasional annual revisits helps to keep them stored permanently in your long term memory. This method also allows you to add additional information via images over time so that when you’ve read that biography of Abraham Lincoln, for example, you can add any additional information to the loci where you stored him when you may have memorized all of the U.S. presidents in order. Lynne Kelly has a reasonably good description of this in her book The Memory Code where she discusses the timeline of history she’s created in a journey around her neighborhood.

In short, one should carefully consider the type of information one is trying to memorize, the length of time one wants to remember it, and then choose from one of the many methods for remembering it. Experience in doing this takes some time and advanced thought, but in the end will give better results.