Thursday, January 31, 2013

Memory Palaces - Memory Techniques

Memory palaces take much of the rote out of learning. Arguably, they are one of the most useful memory techniques. The best way to convince yourself that this is true is to try the technique out for yourself.

Counting The Doors In Your House

Take a moment and answer this question:

How many doors are in your house (or some other building that you are familiar with)?

Stop, and take as long as you need to tally up your answer.

Finished? Chances are, you didn't have the answer to this question memorized. Thus, you probably went through your house in your mind and counted the number of doors.

The fact that you were able to explore and visualize your house in your mind shows that you are capable of memorizing incredibly complex material about locations. The memory palace technique takes advantage of this amazing ability of the human mind.

The Memory Palace Technique Demonstrated

The best way to learn the memory palace technique is with an example. For this example, you are going to be memorizing the following five items in order: icicle, jar of jam, leaf, egg, and desk. Before you do this, you need to pick out five loci (distinct locations) in or around your house. For the sake of example, let's say those locations are the mailbox, the front door, the bathroom sink, the roof, and the backyard.

First, imagine an icicle in front of your mailbox. The more ridiculous you make the scene, the easier it will be to remember. Perhaps your mailbox has become encased in a giant icicle and the mailman is trying to thaw it out with a flamethrower. Whatever you visualize, make sure that you really see it in your mind.

Second, place a jar of jam at your front door. Perhaps, you no longer have a front door. Instead, there is a giant jar of jam sitting where your door would have been, guarding the entrance. Once again, make sure you visualize what this would look like. Really see it.

Now walk in your front door and head to a bathroom in your house. Place a leaf in the bathroom sink. Make up a ridiculous situation. Perhaps the faucet is on, but leaves are coming out of it instead of water.

Next, go up to the roof of your house. Place an egg on your roof. Imagine something absurd. Perhaps your roof has been pelted with hundreds of eggs as a prank.

Finally, place a desk in your backyard. Once again, create an exaggerated, ridiculous image.

Now it's time to test yourself. Can you remember what you placed at your front door? What was the fourth item that you placed? Where did you place the leaf? What was the fifth item? Where is the icicle?

If you did a good job visualizing what you placed, you should have been able to answer those questions fairly easily. In fact, without any farther review, you will be able to answer some of those questions a few days from now.

So you've done it. Using the memory palace technique, you've memorized a list of five items in order. Although there are more efficient ways to memorize a list of five items in order, using the memory palace technique is definitely more effective than learning it through rote memorization.

The Usefulness of Memory Palaces

At this point, you might be impressed that your mind is capable of memorizing a list of objects like this, but you might not yet see how to apply the technique to anything practical. Notice, however, that a person could use this same technique to memorize some of the books of the Old Testament in order: Icicle/Isaiah, Jam/Jeremiah, Leaf/Lamentations, Egg/Ezekiel, Desk/Daniel.

There are an endless number of ways to memorize practical information using memory palaces. It just take some planning and creativity.

Note that in the example in this post, you created a "journey" through a memory palace. In other, words, you started at the first location and went through your palace in a certain order. Going on a journey like this is useful if the order of what you're learning is important, but if you are not concerned about the order of what you're memorizing, it isn't necessary to go on a journey (although it could be helpful for organizational purposes). In short, the simple use of vivid images placed in any sort of memorable location— in any configuration— will be effective.

There are a lot of different "palaces" that you can use; you don't have to limit yourself to locations you have personally visited. Using an artificial location that you know well from a movie or video game also works (and if you're really creative, you can construct an original location or building in your mind).

More Memory Palace Examples

If you are looking for more examples of the memory palace technique in action, take a look at the two posts below:

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Quote of the Day #222 - Richard Sibbes

A quote from Richard Sibbes:
We must lay siege to the hardness of our own hearts, and aggravate sin all we can. We must look on Christ, who was bruised for us, look on him whom we have pierced with our sins. But all directions will not prevail, unless God by his Spirit convinces us deeply, setting our sins before us, and driving us to a stand.
~Richard Sibbes (The Bruised Reed, Chapter 2)

Related Posts:

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Land of Zebulun and Naphtali See a Great Light - Matthew 4:12-16 Bible Commentary

Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
"The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned."
(Matthew 4:12-16)
With Jesus' departure to Capernaum, we see that His very steps were prophesied long beforehand. Indeed, this is true for many of our Saviour's travels. Matthew has already told us of the prophecy of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:5-6), His flight to Egypt (Matthew 2:15), and His return to Nazareth (Matthew 2:23).

Jesus, having been baptized and having stood against Satan's temptations, now begins His ministry. Interestingly, He does not launch His ministry in the great city of Jerusalem, but instead in Capernaum— in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali.

These lands were among the first to be taken in the Assyrian invasions of Israel (compare 2 Kings 15:29 to 17:6). This would explain why they are referred to as "Galilee of the Gentiles". Darkness had lain over these lands longer than any other in Israel. Doubtless, these northern regions of Galilee were home to many non-Jews. Yet, by God's grace, those who were the first to face the Assyrian invasion were also among the first to see light again.

The prophecy Matthew quotes comes from Isaiah 9, a chapter which contains many such Messianic prophecies. Many of these prophecies have yet to be fulfilled, such as that "the government shall be upon his shoulder" (Isaiah 9:6). And, while it may be true that the Jews in lands of Zebulun and Naphtail saw the light with their eyes, sadly, their hearts were not enlightened.

In Matthew 11, Jesus singles out three towns in Naphtali for rejecting the light: Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Even though most of Jesus mighty works were done in these areas, the people within them generally did not repent (Matthew 11:20). They rejected their Messiah. Jesus specifically said concerning Capernaum, "And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day" (Matthew 11:23).

Let this be a lesson for us. Let us never be content to merely see the Light with our eyes. We must not be content to merely look with interest upon Jesus Christ. We must make sure that our hearts are penetrated by His truth. If our hearts are not transformed by it, we are no better than those residents of Capernaum who saw the Light, but then hardened their hearts in their blindness.

Related Posts:

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Quote of the Day #221 - William Gurnall

A quote from William Gurnall:
Have you ever looked at a grog and felt thankful God created you a man instead of such an ugly creature? How much more grateful should you be that He has changed you more from the hypocrite you once were by nature into an upright Christian? Lactantius asked, 'If a man would choose death rather than have the face and shape of a beast - though he might keep the soul of man - how much more miserable is it for the shape of a man to carry the heart of a beast?' The hypocrite is in the worst shape of all, for he carries a beastly heart in the disguise of a saint.
~William Gurnall (The Christian in Complete Armour Volume 2, Chapter 1, Part 2).

This quote was taken from the book The Christian in Complete Armour Volume 2 - A modernized abridgement of the Puritan Classic by William Gurnall, published by Banner Of Truth.

Related Posts:

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Book Review: Living Koine Greek Part One (Randall Buth)

If you want to learn Greek, "Living Koine Greek" is a good place to start. Currently, there are three books in the series. This is a review of the first one.

From the moment I opened Randall Buth's "Living Koine Greek," I knew I had found something that would help me learn Greek in a new way. A short explanation of the book's method is followed by 1000 pictures, which are divided into groups of 100 for a total of ten lessons.

The Method

Each lesson in the book has its own audio track. There is no English in any of these tracks, only koine Greek. For each lesson, a description of the first picture is given once and then repeated, followed by a description and repetition of the second picture, and then the third, all the way up to the 100th picture.

Buth recommends listening through each lesson at least three times. The goal of each lesson is to be able to close your book, listen to the audio, and be able "to understand 90% of what is being described" (13).

After the tenth lesson, Buth introduces the Greek alphabet. Then he introduces how to read words. Finally, at the end of the book, there are 1000 Greek sentences. These sentences are identical to the descriptions of each of the 1000 pictures given in the audio tracks.

Here is a video of the first lesson so you can get a better idea of how it works.

Why The Method Is Helpful

If you know anything about Koine Greek textbooks, then you'll know that Buth's method is far from traditional. The method for learning Greek today typically does not place emphasis on being able to understand spoken Greek. This missing emphasis on audio, however, doesn't seem to concern many. After all, the goal is to be able to read the New Testament in Greek, not hear it... right?


You are able to understand this review because you are hearing it in your head. In other words, even when you read something silently, you still hear it. This is called "subvocalization". As you read through this review, you're probably subvocalizing what you read. Some people can subvocalize faster than others, enabling them to read faster (speed reading programs try to eliminate subvocalization, but this tends to cause comprehension to go down— not to mention that it's next to impossible to understand any sort of technical writing without subvocalizing!). There is, therefore, a connection between being able to understand a language audibly and being able to read it. To be truly fluent in a language you must be able to both read it and understand it audibly.

Furthermore, Buth is spot-on when he states, "When a person is fluent in a particular language, they use all of the correct forms without consciously thinking about which category a word belongs" (201). Buth also states, "Analyzing a language and translating into English, while useful in themselves and for their own purposes, do not build toward fluency" (201).

Does It Work?

I can answer this question only as a student— as someone learning Greek— not as someone who already knows it. I should note that I have some prior experience with Greek. In high school, I tried to teach myself Greek using Mounce's text. Now, in college, my class is using Croy's text. Before starting Buth's book, I also was able to give English glosses of all the words in the Greek New Testament that occur twenty-four times or more.

Although I had this prior experience, it did not allow me to speed through anything in Buth's book (except for the section on the alphabet). Learning to understand spoken Greek takes an entirely different mindset.

That being said, the time investment to go through Buth's first book is small (yet also incredibly rewarding!). The audio tracks tend to be right around fifteen minutes long. I committed to going through at least one lesson a day (some days I listened through a lesson two or three times, but that was not the norm). Doing this every day, it took me about 10 weeks to get through it (if you have no prior experience with Greek, it might take you a couple extra weeks).

I found that I needed to listen through each lesson more than the minimum of three times— and that's the great thing about the book. You can listen through as many times as you want until you feel comfortable enough to continue. It's not that the material is particularly challenging (a young child would be able to follow it), it's just that it takes some time to sink in (especially if you're only able to commit to listening through one lesson each day as I did).

Buth's book makes learning Greek enjoyable. Does it take commitment? Of course. But what language doesn't take commitment to learn?

There is no doubt that I have gained more from going through Buth's first book than I have from any other resource. I went from understanding basic descriptions in lesson one (such as "the man is eating"), to understanding geography lessons about first-century Israel in lesson ten.


If you're looking for the best way to learn Greek, "Living Koine Greek" is a good place to start. Buth's first book in this series is not a grammar book, nor is it an endless compilation paradigms. Instead, it's a series of 1000 pictures. If you make the time commitment to go through this book, you will be well on your way to thinking in Greek.

UPDATE (Nov. 2014): As of now, I have not yet gone through the second part in the "Living Koine Greek" series. I have also moved away from the pronunciation Buth uses in this first book and back to the Erasmian pronunciation. This is not to say that I did not like Buth's Imperial Greek pronunciation system; rather, I felt that it would be more practical to stick with the type of pronunciation used by most. I still would still certainly recommend this first book, but I think Buth's methodology could spread easier if he also recorded the material using an Erasmian pronunciation.