Topical Memory Improvement System

The subject of Memory Improvement is not a new one by any means. There has been much thought devoted to the subject for at least, for two thousand years. Many methods or “systems” invented and many books written thereupon, the purpose of which has been the artificial training of the memory improvement.

Instead of attempting for memory improvement by scientific training and rational practice and exercise along natural lines, there seems to have always been an idea that one could improve memory on Nature’s methods, and that a plan might be devised by the use of some ” trick”‘ the memory might be taught to give up her hidden treasures.

The ancient Greeks were fond of memory systems. Simonides, the Greek poet who lived about 500 B. C. was one of the early authorities, and his work has prejudiced nearly all of the many memory systems.

Story Behind The Theory

There is a romantic story linked with the foundation of his memory system. It is related that the poet was present at a large banquet attended by some of the principal men of the place. He left before the close of the meal because he was called out by a message from home.

Shortly after he left, the ceiling of the banquet hall fell upon the guests, killing all present in the room, and damaging their bodies so horribly that their friends were unable to recognize them.

Simonides, was able to recall the exact order in which each guest had been seated as he was having a well-developed memory for places and position, and therefore was able to help in the identification of the remains.

This incidence impressed him so forcibly that he devised a system of memory improvement based upon the idea of position, which achieved great popularity in Greece, and the leading writers of the day highly recommended it.

The Working Of Tropical Memory Improvement System

The system of Simonides was based upon the idea of position. His memory system was known as “the topical system.” He taught his students to picture in the mind a large building divided into sections, and then into halls, rooms etc.

Then the thing, which is to be remembered was “visualized” as occupying some certain space or place in that building, the grouping being made according to association and resemblance.

When one wished to recall the things to consciousness, all that was essential was to imagine the mental building and then take an imaginary trip from room to room, calling off the various things as they had been placed. The Greeks thought very highly of this plan, and many variants of it were employed.


Kay here gives here the secret of many a high priced system of this class: Select a number of rooms, and divide the walls and floor of each, in imagination, into nine equal parts or squares, three in a row.

On the front wall, which is opposite to the entrance of the first room, are the units; on the right-hand wall the tens; on the left hand the twenties; on the fourth wall the thirties; and on the floor the forties.

Numbers 10, 20, 30 and 40, each find a place on the roof above their respective walls, while 50 occupy the center of the room. One room will thus furnish 50 places, and ten rooms as many as 500.

Having clearly fixed this in the mind, so as to be able quickly and at once to tell accurately the location of each place or number.

It is then essential to relate with each of them some familiar object (or symbol) so that the object being suggested its place may be instantaneously remembered, or when the place be before the mind its object may instantly spring up.

The objects can be run over in any sequence from beginning to end, or from end to beginning, or the place of any specific one can at once be given, when this has been done completely.

To link the ideas we wish to remember with the objects in the various places is next immediate thing to be done, by which means they are easily remembered, and can be gone over in any order.

In this way one may learn to repeat several hundred detached words or thoughts in any order after hearing them only once. We do not consider it necessary to argue in detail the fact that this system is artificial and cumbersome to a great degree.

While the idea of “position” may be employed to some advantage in grouping together in the memory several associated facts, ideas, or words, still the idea of employing a procedure such as the above in the ordinary affairs of life is bizarre, and any system based upon it has a value only as a curiosity, or a mental acrobatic feat.


Quintillian advises students to fix in their minds places of the greatest possible level, expanded by considerable variety, such as a large house, for instance, divided into many apartments. Whatever is remarkable in it is carefully impressed on the mind, so that the thought may run over every part of it without hesitation or delay.

Places we must have, either imaginary or selected, and images or symbols, which we may create at pleasure. These symbols are marks by which we may differentiate the specifics, which we have to get by heart.


Cicero said that certain places must be fixed upon, and of those things, which they wish to keep in memory, symbols must be imagined in the mind and ranged, as it were, in those places for the improvement of memory.

Thus, the order of places would protect the order of things, and the symbols of the things would signify the things themselves; so that we should use the places as waxen tablets and the symbols as letters.

Many modern systems have been erected upon the foundation of Simonides and in some of which cases students have been charged high prices “for the secret.”



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