Imagination

Practitioners of the classical art of memory must have had an extraordinarily vivid inner vision. Anyone who comments on the lighting of a particular locus along an imaginary route is assuming tremendous powers of imagery. Simonides himself was universally praised for his use of evocative imagery in his poetry, and he frequently compared his poems to paintings.

Aristotle (fourth century BC), writing in De Anima, believed that the human soul never thought without first creating a mental picture. All knowledge and information entered the soul via the five senses; the imagination would act upon it first, turning the information into images; only then could the intellect get to work.

Aristotle's theory of knowledge has an important bearing on memory, although he himself was never a great believer in the mnemonics practised by Simonides. In Chapter 2, I said that the key to a good memory was your imagination. Even though he might have disapproved of much of this book, Aristotle would not have found fault there.

Memory, he argued, belonged to the same part of the soul as the imagination. Both faculties were concerned with the forming of images, there was simply a small time difference: memory dealt with things past, rather than with things present.

Our understanding of the imagination is slightly different today, but its similarities with memory are still there for all to see. They are two sides of the same coin, both requiring inner vision.

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