"But what did the Dormouse say?" one of the jury asked.
"That I can't remember," said the Hatter.
must remember," remarked the King, "or I'll have you executed."

-Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland





A riddle


In Thessaly around the fifth century B. C., a nobleman named Scopas holds a large banquet during which the lyric poet Simonides of Ceos recites a poem in his honor. After delivering the paean, Simonides steps outside for one minute and the roof of the hall collapses, killing everyone inside. Yet during the excavation of the ruins, the poet correctly identifies each body, crushed beyond recognition, in its place at the table. How?





Stanford University, Stern Hall


In the first place: a twelve-year-old girl in a camp-issue t-shirt, size extra-large and over it a belt with a square gold buckle. Watch her glance at the digital thermometer display on the wall, outside temperature 59°F and through the ribbon window a clear bright morning. She runs down the stairs of the freshman dorm and through a pneumatic door that closes softly behind her. See her tugging at the hem of her shirt, gold buckle glinting in the sun, cut across a yellow-green field and nearly collide with a boy, head of dark curls, past the fountain, past the church.





Intro Cogsci, Notes


Lecture 2. Method of Loci

- From the Ancient Greeks:

- Imagine a familiar place. For example your house, a shop-lined street, a school campus. Say you want to memorize a list of items or words or numbers

- The setup: walk a route through your place stopping at certain points. At each locus place one of your things, see it there

- To recall: retrace your steps (a mental walk down memory lane). Pick up the pieces along the way

- People who have used it: eight-time world memory champion Dominic O'Brien. Simon Reinhard, world record holder for memorizing a deck of shuffled cards in 21.9 seconds. Another super mnemonist to memorize pi to 65,536 digits.

- Also known as: mental walk, journey method. Memory palace.





Mitchell Earth Sciences


The girl takes the stairs two at a time down to the basement classrooms, pushes open a door marked A65 into a class called History of Math. She wonders again why she is taking this course on mathematics in Ancient Greece with an instructor who starts numbering quizzes at zero and waxes endlessly poetic on the beauty of pi.









COGS0010, Quiz 3


A. Name the three main types of long-term memory. Briefly explicate and provide an example of each.

  1. Semantic (declarative): knowledge of facts and concepts. For example that Cicero was an orator of Ancient Rome. Requires conscious recall.
  2. Episodic (declarative): knowledge of events or stories, the sensations or emotions associated with a particular time and place; autobiographical memory. For example that I memorized pi to 50 digits during the summer of 2002 in Palo Alto, CA.
  3. Procedural (nondeclarative): primarily motor skills and conditioned responses; subconscious. For example, how to run, how to use chopsticks.





Kitty Hawk


Orville Wright, eighth grade, oversize suspenders and newsboy cap, is missing from the stage. In one of the most dramatic scenes of Kitty Hawk, the musical, Orville is to perch on a wooden desk on wheels in center stage, like he is flying a plane, and at the moment the strings crescendo to a climax and the cymbal crashes, he is to roll dramatically off the desk and thud loudly to the floor. But here Orville has forgotten to enter, and the six girls with kites run onto the stage for their kite dance ("the kite, the kite, the wonderful kite the wonderful kite is so right, so right"). Two scenes later, Orville Wright is carried onstage by his brother and sister, prostrate on a white stretcher and with great effort set on the desk. The boy dressed as a surgeon at Fort Meyer Hospital reads his report: "8:46PM Patient has regained consciousness. Mr. Wright is suffering from a fractured left thigh. He also sustained a fracture of several of his ribs on the right side. He suffered from severe shock, but reacted well."

Onstage, backstage the girl and her classmates stifle their laughter.





Life of Pi


"And so, in that Greek letter that looks like a shack with a corrugated tin roof, in that elusive, irrational number with which scientists try to understand the universe, I found refuge" (Martel 26).





To square the circle





C:\My Documents\My Pictures\Lava caves


Double-click IMG_338: a girl and boy hang upside-down from monkey bars, knees and ankles hooked neatly over thin green metal. They laugh, hair a mess of dark brown, tangle of curly/straight. They hold triangles of almond butter and jelly sandwiches on small squares of wheat bread and there is strawberry jam on the girl's cheek. The picture plays on a slide show at their middle school graduation and he whispers look, she had forgotten that picture was taken.





Wild Ginger, Seattle


Over family-style seven flavor beef and brown rice, a story: "remember our old classmate, what was her name, she was so in love" they say, chopsticks clicking softly over ceramic white plates, "how many years and he would not look at her." Between delicate mouthfuls: "she asked your father to write a letter to the boy, he was his closest friend" - tea cupped in hands - "he wrote and signed a letter in his name and months later they were married." Then an oolong-filled pause; "it must have been now, thirty-two years ago. And years after she wrote to you didn't she, 'thank you, she didn't know how to possibly thank you. They still had the letter somewhere.'"

"And you don't remember what you wrote," I asked.





On fortune cookies


Our lucky numbers: 50 28 84 19 71 6. "You'll be as old as 79 and still saying remember when, or what if; what are those chances?"




Bainbridge Island, WA


The boys and the girls are bubbly drunk off '93 Perrier-Jouët from the wine cellar of the little waterfront house, they hadn't known it was as expensive as it sounded, the label only looked so pretty. They left the bottle empty on the bookshelf with its delicate scripted date facing outwards; they are laughing dancing to Move Along, fall asleep singing Champagne Supernova: the world's still spinning around we don't know why, why why?





Feynman Point


At the 762nd decimal place of pi begins a string of six nines (...51870721134999999837297804...): an incredibly unlikely occurrence, especially so early into pi. In fact this is the first instance of any digit appearing more than three times in a row; the next chain of six consecutive identical digits (incidentally, also nines) does not occur for another 192,272 decimal places. Nobel laureate and physicist Richard Feynman once joked that he would like to memorize pi up to this point so that reciting it he could say "four nine nine nine nine nine nine," tongue-in-cheek, "and so on..." as if after 762 decimal places pi ran into a nine repitand and turned out to be rational after all.





Stuff and nonsense


It is impossible to square the circle (meaning: to construct the square root of pi) because pi is not only irrational but transcendental: it cannot be pinned down by a finite algebraic expression. Yet in its irrational infinity any finite sequence of digits can be found: every birth date, phone number, address, an infinite number of times. For example, 375, which as it happens is the approximate number of miles between Los Angeles and San Francisco, is found starting at position 46, then 942, then 3,776, and so on. Then in remembering, we rationalize the irrational (and with this rationalization comes memorization) - so that in this nonsense, in its decimal places and these places, we make some sort of sense.





Palo Alto, January 2011


"Here" he stops the car, "remember this courtyard, this parking lot. Donner, or Larkin wasn't it" he asks. But I am looking for the zigzagging stairs and the metal mesh that aren't here, and the field and the fountain, could I have remembered incorrectly? "We must have run into each other multiple times that summer" he says "and we hadn't known, who would have known?"







Andersen, Dave. "The Pi-Search Page." Angio.net. Angio, 2010. Web. 27 Feb. 2011.


Weisstein, Eric. "Feynman Point." Wolfram Mathworld. Wolfram Research, 2011. Web. 27 Feb. 2011.


Yann, Martel. Life of Pi. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2001. Print.


Yates, Frances A. The Art of Memory. London: Routledge, 1966. Print.




Photo taken from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Squaring_the_circle.svg.


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