Memory Testing
Societies Without Writing
Memory Aids
The Brahmans
The Ancient Greeks
Judaic Tradition
Christian Tradition
The Celts
The Memory System
Memory Trainers
Memory Measurer
Memory Art
Memory Awakeners
Spaced Rehearsals
The Case of the Misplaced Keys
Types of Memory Failure
Actors Learning Lines
The Memory of an Actor
The Actor Replies
Plato and the Mind
Brain Training
Types of Memory
Measuring Retention


The art of storing information in the memory is distinguished by the fact that it is ether mechanical or deliberate.  It is through practice and imitation, through the mechanical repetition of traditional gestures and speech of his or her social group, that the individual without actually realising it memorises most of the information necessary for social behaviour.  Taken in this context, memorisations culminate in the acquisition of innumerable actions, of behaviour, thought and sensibility that define a social and cultural identity.

Memory Testing

Investigation exists where certain individuals are temporarily separated from their usual social group in order to take part in an initiatory ritual or to become part of an educational institution. These extreme cases do not apply to all members of a community, however, and those to whom they do apply are never required to memorise anything, except those gestures, techniques and special narratives that are of particular importance, as, for example certain ritual formulas, declarations of faith, religious chants, prayers and rules of religious behaviour.  Deliberate memorisation thus appears to be a specialisation of the more natural process of acquiring knowledge and techniques, religious and otherwise, that unconsciously determines a person's membership in a particular tradition. Oral memory and memory determined by writing can easily Co-exist in the same culture, as the Greek, Jewish, Celtic and Hindu examples to be mentioned later will show. There is a line that leads from the oral to the written.

Societies Without Writing

In societies without writing, riddles, proverbs, fables and stories depend on memory that is more or less shared by the whole community. In this sense one can speak of a 'social memory' or 'shared knowledge' Henri Junod (1936) recalls a woman (among the Tsonga, an African tribe) who could tell riddle after riddle late into the night. He met story-tellers of every age and both sexes: 'such a narrator may know only one story, and repeat it on every occasion, as did Jim Taldane, who told the story of an ogre Nwatlakoulalambibi, with such enthusiasm that he was nicknamed after his hero.  But others could tell many more.   In Ruanda, the oral tradition of the Uberäni, in which the rites to be performed by the king were described, was divided into 18 rituals that were kept strictly secret.

In certain societies, in particular, among the Native Americans of North America, the knowledge and possession of a particular chant or myth may be the privilege of an individual who may alone pronounce it.  It is for this reason that the Navajo of New Mexico, may give as a sign of his 'poverty' that he does not own a single 'chant'. A 'chant' may thus have become a piece of 'property' that concerns it's own social and spiritual identity.

Most often, however, it is because certain stories are of important collective interest that they are entrusted to the vigilant memory of one or more persons. A specific institution then takes up the task of memorisation often religious.  An elite then controls these institutions, which is close to power. In an essay on this oral tradition Pierre Smith (1970) notes that 'the individuals in charge of remembering and repeating the text word for word - errors could be punished with death - were the most important dignitaries in the kingdom.

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