She has conducted a series of experiments to replicate memory techniques from the classical memory palace to handheld memory devices such as the Lukasa to rituals and storytelling. Today, we talk about how several early and modern cultures have used these memory techniques, why Stonehenge and Chaco Canyon may have been used as memory palaces, and why they were almost certainly centers for an oral culture's knowledge economy.
As with our other conversations with anthropologists, it's helpful to remember the following guidelines:
- Do not confuse industrial technological advancement with intelligence. "Primitive" people, whether distant from you in space or time, were and are at least as smart as you. The less technology they had at hand, the more this is true. Fools die when times are hard, or as Lynne Kelly's colleague Nungarrayi said to her, "The elders are pragmatic old buggers. If they weren't, we wouldn't have survived."
- Most often, they are observationally correct even when they are theoretically wrong. We can identify the exact species of animals in cave paintings despite the fact that the artist didn't have a grip on modern biology. Just as any sufficiently advanced technology looks like magic, so does any technology sufficiently different from our own.
- People of almost all cultures have been given to humor, hoaxes, tall tales, and flimflammery. Sometimes, when they tell you (or each other) something, they're just having a laugh. Sometimes, they're both having a laugh and expressing something serious.
Photo credit: Abigail Heitbaum
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More on memory palace techniques with Ed Cooke or Anthony Metivier. More on pre-literate cultures and magical technologies with Gordon White.
Show Notes and Links
Richard I. Ford Color of Survival
Nungarrayi- "The elders are pragmatic old buggers. If they weren't, we wouldn't have survived."