Mnemonics MIBs UFOs & Sarah C Rich's The Architecture of Memory

Over at the Smithsonian I'm reading Sarah C Rich's The Architecture of Memory.

One of the things that's always struck me about say MIB encounters is how the people they approach've often been witness to something they thought slightly odd but thought nothing more of it until the MIBS've shown up.

So just as they're about to forget that weird light in the night or that odd 'dream' an MIB'll tell them "Forget the whole thing you saw no'h'in'!" which of course immediately makes them think "Ooh now I know there must've been something significant about what happened I'm certainly not go'n'o take no notice of this very weird guy telling me to forget the whole thing!"

In other words the MIBs seem almost sent in as mnemonic devices.

Ditto the Close Encounters themselves.

People find their way blocked by what could ostensibly pass for an earthman type astronaut in a slightly experimental craft but there's something about the exchange or some detail about the 'foreignness' of the astronaut or the craft (such as odd designs or markings on it) which leaves the witness (and anyone who hears the account) wondering what the hell happened there?

In other words the locations and certain details of the events almost seem deliberately designed to be oddly unforgettable.

And that's before we get into the episodes which truly strain credulity.

And that's why I find Sarah C Rich's Memory piece very striking.

She brings up the ancient practise of erecting architectural structures in one's memory as a way of storing vast amounts of easily retrieval data (though her attribution of it to the Ancient Romans misses out as far as I'm concerned (amongst others) the Jews' use of it [in the form of The Temple] the Hindus' [in the form of say supernaturally constructed vimanas which supposedly only continued to exist and work as forms of transport as long as their existence was continually renewed in the memory] and the Australian Aborigines' [using the landscape as a record of the tribal history as well the moments when the Dreamtime created the world and made subsequent incursions into human affairs hence the importance of the walkabout].

Sarah mentions the philosopher Edward S Casey's definition of place 'as a physical location where memories can be contained and preserved' distinguishing it from site 'a generic, boundless locale which “possesses no points of attachment onto which to hang our memories, much less retrieve them.”'

She quotes UC Berkeley architecture professor Donlyn Lyndon's statement “Good places are structured so that they attract and hold memories; they are sticky—or perhaps you would rather say magnetic.”

And adds Finnish architecture professor Juhani Pallasmaa's assertion “Human memory is embodied, skeletal and muscular in its essence, not merely cerebral".

[Which reminds me of another great and mighty cosmic secret the answer to everything ultimately lies not in the human head but the human body (in the same way it's only when everything we need to know about how to drive's no longer in our head but in our body that we finally can say we realy know how to drive)].

But for me the ultimate example she gives in her piece's the science writer Joshua Foer who set out to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms behind memory by training to enter and eventually winning the US Memory Championships.

"According to Foer," she tells us, "in order for this technique to work, the features of the memory palace must be hyperreal, exaggerating the edges of normalcy in order to stand out in the mind. Whether the palace is a modernist bungalow or a faux-Italianate McMansion or a mobile home doesn’t matter, so long as it is memorable, which is to say, so long as it is a place."


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
emlong's picture
Member since:
18 September 2007
Last activity:
1 day 9 hours

And apparently material objects can themselves hold memories in a more literal sense: