The Freakish Willpower Of A Memory Wizard
As an Italian Jesuit priest and missionary, Ricci’s memory techniques were so powerful that some of the people in China who heard him recite their books forward and backward thought he was a wizard. In some cases, people saw him as a religious threat because Ricci also believed he had the ultimate salve for the human condition: Christianity.Indeed, as Jonathan D. Spence suggests in The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci, “by impressing the Chinese with his memory skills, Ricci hoped to interest them in his culture; through interesting them in his culture he hoped to draw them to an interest in God.”
Talk About Ambition!
Although Ricci’s proselytization had only middling results in China, he was a friend of memory techniques, and we can learn a lot from him about how to use mnemonics at a much higher level.He wrote about his approach to memory and quoted the scholars from whom he learned the Memory Palace technique in a book called Xiguo Jifa.
Speaking of books, Ricci was said to have the ability to memorize them cover to cover – and recite them forward and backwards.But is this a useful skill? You be the judge.But memorizing entire books aside, as with all interesting lives, Ricci’s was filled with drama. Along with his many thrills, chills and spills, this “wizard” of the dark mnemonic arts we can learn …
The Many Dangers Of Using Memory Techniques
The first danger with using memory techniques is that as your memory grows stronger, so do your powers. You may even find that special new powers grow, abilities that you did not anticipate.And, as all fans of Spider-Man know …
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
This is certainly true, but those of us living today can probably ignore the idea that using mnemonics fuses your brain with the cosmos. But it was a common concern in the sixteenth century, the flames of which Giordano Bruno had no problem fanning.But for Ricci’s contemporaries, the threat was real. Being accused of magical powers regularly led to imprisonment, disfiguring torture and public execution. Often all three.
We can also probably dismiss the idea that rosemary helps with memory improvement, something promised by Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance, pray you, love, remember.”Other than that, the rest is golden. Drawing on Spence’s book about Ricci, we can now turn to …
Matteo Ricci’s 5 Memory Palace Tips For Total Memory Mastery
1. Cultivate eloquence by using familiar buildings. Ricci grew up during a time when fortresses were taking on more prestige than cathedrals in European cities.
This historical circumstance meant that Ricci could use the best of both worlds.And you can too by visiting the most modern architecture where you live and the oldest remaining buildings.
You can transform these buildings into well-formed Memory Palaces simply by following a few simple principles. The great thing about many civic buildings is that they’re well-planned.
You can also usually find a floor plan on one of the walls. If not, a guard or other official will probably know where it is and let you take a photograph for later reference.
Get Freakishly Insane Results With This DIY Memory Palace Strategy
Or, for very good practice, you can sketch out a floor plan of the building yourself. This activity translates your immediate impressions through your muscles and other representation systems directly into your memory, and if you can start memorizing information before you leave the site, all the better.
The most important point Ricci draws out is that familiarity breeds eloquence when it comes to creating top-notch Memory Palaces.
As he noted in his letters, even the biggest and most chaotic cities he visited during his travels became small and manageable in his mind through familiarity.For us, this means spending more time visiting the homes of our friends and maximizing the value of all the Real Estate surrounding us.
Even the most sprawling metropolis can provide you a tightly organized system of Memory Palaces if you take it just one corner cafe at a time.
This “Best Friend” Secret May Be The Best Way To Get Ahead With Memory Techniques Ever
2. You Don’t Have To Use Memory Palaces On Your Own – Memory improvement takes places in your mind and your mind alone …Or does it?Not for Ricci.As Spence unearths, Ricci and his friend Lelio Passionei created Memory Palace systems together while studying in Rome. Twenty years later, Ricci still reflected on these Memory Palaces.
No doubt they were even more memorable to him than others because he did not create them alone.If you’re creating Memory Palaces all alone, you could be limiting your success. Check out this post on how to play memory games using your childhood with a friend to maximize the potential of your memory and the Memory Palaces you want to use.
3. Flexibility is king – All memory techniques involve encoding information, storing it, consolidating it and then decoding it when you want access to it later.But many people think that using a Memory Palace and visual memory techniques requires creating perfect images. They sweat and labor and fight with their minds to come up with 100% accuracy.
The Best Way To Prevent Failure Is To Stab Perfection In The Heart And Leave It For Dead
Not only is 100% accuracy not necessary. It also rarely works. There is rarely a one-to-one correspondence between what you want to memorize and the images you use to memorize that info.
What you need instead of verisimilitude is flexibility and trust. Don’t let yourself get caught up in the rabbit hole of perfectionism.
Ricci, as Spence tells us in The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci, often made adjustments, getting things just right enough to trigger the right memories at the right time.It’s almost like getting a car engine running just well enough to get it on the road until it can either repair itself or coast based on that initial momentum. When it comes to mnemonics, that’s usually all you need.
Do The Right Work
Ricci did this not only in his mind but in his religious teachings as well. Indeed, to communicate the larger ideas of Christianity, Ricci often adjusted the Gospels so that the visual pictures he had fashioned could do, as Spence puts it, “the right work.”
Our takeaway as memory enthusiasts is that it really all comes down to flexibility and letting your mind fill in the blanks once you’ve got mnemonic imagery that is good enough to do the right work.
4. Information Can Be Broken And Put Together Again – Ricci had the mind of a strategist. Instead of trying to memorize Chinese ideographs as a whole, he would allow them to be as complex as he found them, but cut them into pieces so he could better create images for them.By doing this, he had an easier time compounding multiple meanings onto the same ideograph.
Spence gives the example of “yao,” which may mean to want, to need, shall and fundamental. To fit all of these possible meanings into the single mnemonic image he placed in his Memory Palace, Ricci saw a Muslim tribeswoman from the Xixia territories. She has fundamental beliefs that oblige her to do certain things.
In other words, her fundamental beliefs require that she wants, that she needs and that she shall.Once created, Ricci places this image of the woman in his Memory Palace so “she will stay there, in the quiet light that suffuses the Memory Palace, calm and unmoving, for as long as he chooses to leave her.”
How Do You Stack Up When It Comes To Breaking Things Down?
The point being that most, if not all pieces of information can be broken down into multiple components. Even the smallest words, in a language like Chinese Mandarin, can be separated to learn better and memorize tone structures.
The Magnetic Memory Method for language learning takes this approach a step further by using Bridging Figures that we can apply to numerous similar word pieces and the various combinations they make with other sounds to form complete words.Using the MMM, you can also trigger both the sound and the meaning of the word using the actions and interactions of the Bridging Figure in your Memory Palace.
Cool Stuff Or What?
5. Study As Many Memory Masters As You Can – It was common during Ricci’s time to quote from a number of different sources. We still do this in many books today, but in the world of memory, you’d be hard-pressed to find too many references to books written by other memory trainers.
Many want you to think that they’ve got the best “system” and no one else exists.That’s fine and dandy for branding and marketing purposes (though it’s ultimately destructive in the age of the Internet). Luckily, Ricci had no such concerns, nor did Spence.
Not everyone in Ricci’s time held memory techniques and mnemonics in high esteem.In Of the Vanitie and Uncertainties of Arts and Sciences, Cornelius Agrippe said that the “monstrous images” required by mnemonics dulled the mind. He even went so far as to suggest that mnemonics “caused madness and frenzy instead of profound and sure memory.”
Erasmus and Melancthon agreed and Rabelais went out of his way to mock memory techniques. In Gargantua, the title character learns to memorize bizarre books of grammar and the commentaries written on them by Bangbreeze, Scallywag and Claptrap.
The Enduring Tragedy Of The Memory Palace Of Matteo Ricci
Sadly, Ricci spent so much time in China, but apparently wasn’t aware of the countless Chinese mnemonists capable of memory feats that made his abilities pale in comparison.
So although we get a wealth of information in his writing about the Western mnemonic tradition, Ricci could not expose us to the untold treasures of the Chinese memory wizards as part of his extraordinary career.And like Ricci …