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Thinking without language?

Vidar Hokstad vidarh at screenmedia.no
Mon Nov 22 05:26:14 EST 1999

"Peter T. Daniels" wrote:
> Paul Miller wrote:
> >
> > On Sun, 21 Nov 1999 07:29:21 -0500, "Alan Roth" <alan42 at mindspring.com> wrote:
> >
> > >> When I
> > >> recite the first  200 decimal places of pi, I do  it musically: I rely
> > >> on the sounds and (predominantly) tones of the Cantonese pronunciation
> > >> of  the 10 digits.   So, I  can't recite  them if  I try  to do  it in
> > >> Mandarin or English.
> >
> > >I have a musical background but had not thought of using it this way,
> > >(and I certainly can't recite pi to 200 decimal places with sheer
> > >memorization).
> >
> > You certainly could if you put the effort into it.  Actors memorize entire
> > plays, and Homeric poets memorized epics.  Surely 200 words is not too much to
> > memorize?  Some soliloquies in Shakespeare run longer than this!
> A 200-word speech has semantic content. A string of 200 occurrences of
> 10 different words has no semantic content. (Unless, of course, you
> *calculate* the value of pi each time you recite its digits.)
> Off-the-shelf memory can handle lists of "five plus or minus two"
> unrelated items.

I certainly agree that it would be much simpler to memorize 200 words,
200 digits of Pi. But a simple way (for me anyway) to memorize large
sets of
digits is to _create_ relations between the numbers. Creating
with other objects, stories etc. doesn't help me. I've never tried
the first two hundred digits of Pi, but the way I went about learning
the first
100 digits went as follows:
    - I already remembered 3.1415
    - Take the last two digits learned (15), think about them,
    - Take the next two digits (92), think about them.
    - Repeat a set number of times
    - Repeat the entire sequence
    - Repeat from step two.

When learning really long sequences, I sometimes would repeat shorter
parts (for
instance two sets of four digits) just before repeating the entire

It worked great for Pi, and also works great for me when memorizing
pieces of
text. Instead of applying associations "external" to the sequence, I
associations between parts of the sequence by simple repetition, and
it's relation to the sequence I'm learning by repeating the sequence
close in
time to learning the part (otherwise I find I'd start messing up and
parts of Pi when trying to recall another number, for instance).

This method requires regular repetition on a few occasions after the
"session" to make it stick, though, or you'll rapidly forget it again.

Vidar Hokstad
<vidar at hokstad.com>

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