Evolution of Brain Training: from Mind-Palace to Mobile App
Brain training is not a new concept. It has been around for over 2000 years. The first related instance occurred in 500 BC. Once the Greek poet Simonides stepped out of a dinner party to receive a message. When he returned, he found out that the roof caved in and every other guest was crushed among the ruins. The corpses were so disfigured that it was impossible for family members to identify their dead. That’s when Simonides stepped in and offered to name every last person. How? He remembered the positions they’d been seated in around the table.
This was the birth of the loci method of memory training. It is the oldest and plausibly the most famous memory technique.
The ancient technique of Mind Palace-
The method of loci was based on the fact that people have better memory for objects than they have for ideas or words. For example to remember a shopping list of 3 items of 4 eggs, 5 apples and an iron rod of 1 meter length you form your own mind house. Imagine 4 bald people in room. They are sitting around a round table with each having an apple in front of them. Then there is another apple hanging a meter above the table. It is a vague idea but with the similar techniques you can form mind streets and even mind palaces.
This method was first recorded by Cicero in 55BC. He was famous for remembering 5000 words long speech with the help of loci method. This method became widely popular because mostly communications were oral and books were rare. It remained a fundamental pillar of intellectual life for over 9 centuries.
Onset of Books; the easier way to remember
Almost halfway through the last millennia Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. With this the prices of books dropped and the availability of information increased. The need for long form of memory ceased. In 1890 the memory training program of Pelmanism came.
The Pelmanism program consisted of a dozen little grey books targeting the needs of the current age: memory for facts and dates rather than long speeches. The course delivered a mix of common-sense memory advice, early psychology, and logic puzzles through the mail. Thousands of people filled in the questionnaire in their Pelman books and sent them as instructor feedback. This pen and paper exchange was a new way to capitalize the entirety of books.
The digital age; emergence of Neuroscience
Till the 19th century people used to talk about mind whenever the discussion about memory was to be done, but in the 20th century talks about brain were established. People started talking about neurons and neurotransmitters.
In 2003 a brain researcher named Eleanor Maguire studied several people following Simonides’ habits in the lab. Ten “mental athletes” from the World Memory Championship, were asked to memorize some simple facts. Both mental athletes and normal people activated areas of the brain linked to memory, but the mental athletes also activated two brain areas related to visual memory and spatial navigation, confirming what Simonides had discovered thousands of years earlier.
Today’s memory training programs are encoded in bytes. An online or software-based program can use automated algorithms to provide instant evaluation and adaptation. The ease and transmissibility of the digital age have also dispersed these training programs to tens of millions of people — making them perhaps more widely used than Simonides’ techniques.
So next time when you start brain training, know that you are following the development of centuries old time-tested techniques.