Home Page Science Frontiers
ONLINE

No. 40: Jul-Aug 1985

Issue Contents





Other pages


Other Interesting Sites


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 

 

Mnemonism not so easy!

"This paper reports a systematic study of a man (T.E.) with astonishing mnemonic skills. After a brief description of his most favoured mnemonic technique, the 'figure alphabet,' his performance and the mnemonic techniques used on five classical memory tasks are described. These are: one task involving both short- and long-term memory (the Atkinson-Shiffrin 'keeping track' task), two tasks involving just longterm memory (recall of number matrices and the effects of imagery and deep structure complexity upon recall), and two tasks involving just short-term retention of individual verbal items and digit span. Whenever possible, T.E.'s performance was compared with that of normal subjects, and also with other mnemonists who have been studied in the past. There was no evidence to suggest that T.E. has any unusual basic memory abilities; rather he employs mnemonic techniques to aid memory, and the evidence suggests that previous mnemonists who have been studied by psychologists have used very similar techniques."

The "figure alphabet" employed by T.E. was used in Europe as early as the mid-1700s. The Hindus had a Sanskrit version even earlier. Basically, each digit is represented by a consonant sound or sounds:

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  0  
TNMRLJKFPZ
DNg  G-soft  G-hard  VBS
Th  ChQC-soft  
ShC-hard

The letters AEIOU and WHY have no numerical value and are used to build up words. Thus, 21 can be NeT, NuT, aNT, auNT, etc. The system is phonetic in that the digits are sounds rather than the letters themselves. Silent letsters do not count and double letters count as single.

In one of the tests, T.E. was presented with strings of digits on a computer screen at the rate of one per second. In spite of the rapid rate of presentation, T.E. used the figure alphabet to convert digit strings into several words. Generally, he converted three digits into one two-syllable word. Twelve to 14 digits might be remembered as four or five two-syllable words. In this test, T.E. could remember more than 12 digits in the strings as they flashed by at one string per second.

(Gordon, Paul, et al; "One Man's Memory: A Study of a Mnemonist," British Journal of Psychology, 75:1, 1984.)

Comment. Two comments here: (The figure alphabet seems rather cumbersome at first, but its long history suggests that it dovetails nicely with human memory processes; and (2) Several ancient languages were written without the vowels, like the figure alphabet. Could there be a connection?

From Science Frontiers #40, JUL-AUG 1985. 1985-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:

Quotes

  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987