The Art of Memory and the Growth of the Scientific Method

Interdisciplinary Description of Complex Systems 13 (3):373-396 (2015)
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I argue that European schools of thought on memory and memorization were critical in enabling growth of the scientific method. After giving a historical overview of the development of the memory arts from ancient Greece through 17th century Europe, I describe how the Baconian viewpoint on the scientific method was fundamentally part of a culture and a broader dialogue that conceived of memorization as a foundational methodology for structuring knowledge and for developing symbolic means for representing scientific concepts. The principal figures of this intense and rapidly evolving intellectual milieu included some of the leading thinkers traditionally associated with the scientific revolution; among others, Francis Bacon, Renes Descartes, and Gottfried Leibniz. I close by examining the acceleration of mathematical thought in light of the art of memory and its role in 17th century philosophy, and in particular, Leibniz’s project to develop a universal calculus.


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