Saturday, December 21, 2013

Piphilology: Mnemonics for Pi: O, lest the world should task you to recite


More of the Memory Project. Memorization of poems, prose, songs, lists are all enhanced by the meaningful context, syntax, semantics, cause and effect, mathematical sequence and chronology. Spiritual, mental, emotional and physical associations arise, in a manner or speaking, out of the thing being committed to memory. What it means to learn something "by heart."

Then there is the mathematical constant π: the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter:  3.14 as it is most commonly known. It is an irrational number, infinite with no repeats. As far as memory is concerned, it has an aura of purity around it. Pure memorization. No rhyme or reason to it. Nothing to lock on to. Just an endless series of numbers.

The current record holder is Mr. Chao Lu from China, who on November 20th, 2005 spent 24 hours and 4 minutes reciting Pi to 67,890 places. In an interview, he said that it took him a year to memorize that many digits. In 2006, Krishan Chahal from India recited Pi to 43,000 places in 5 hours and 21 minutes. It is worth noting that the youngest person on the Pi World Ranking List is 6 year-old Sarianna Kuuttila, who recited Pi to 20 digits in 4.47 seconds.

There are many methods for memorizing Pi. Piphilology is the study of mnemonic techniques for Pi. Since I use poetry and music as primary mnemonic aids, I was interested to find two mnemonic poems to Pi. The first, composed by Jill Britton, is relatively easy and most people might be surprised that they can memorize Pi to 31 places (note that the number of letters in the word correspond to Pi):

Sir, I bear a rhyme excelling
In mystic force and magic spelling
Celestial sprites elucidate
All my own striving can’t relate
Or locate they who can cogitate
And so finally terminate. Finis.


The second is more interesting. Created by Joel Doerfel as part of his Neon Shakespeare Project , it uses a clever mnemonic technique of, what he calls "synathesia" - a sort of derivation of a number from the homophonetic sound of the word or phonetic elements of the word. In Japan, there is a form of wordplay called Goroawase similar to this. By using this method for the duration of 14 line sonnet, with approximately 10 "number-sounds" per line, you can memorize Pi to 140 places.

I must admit that as fascinating as the video is, the recitation leaves something to be desired as for as a helpful mnemonic device. So, I have taken the liberty of doing an interlinear "translation" below to assist with memorization.

From Poems that Rhyme with Pi:
This sonnet is an experiment in synaesthesia. Why rhyme with pi? What's the relation between sound and number? What happens to our ears when we hear pi reinforce itself with repetitive numbers? What happens to our ears when we hear a poem reinforce itself with repetitive sounds? This sonnet explores these questions and more...

Sonnet 72 
dreams number us like pi. runes shift. nights rewind
daytime pleasure-piles. dream-looms create our id.
moods shift. words deviate. needs brew. pleasures rise.
time slows. too late? wait! foreign minds live in
us! quick-minds, free-minds, minds-we-never-mind,
unknown, gyrate! neuro-rhymes measure our
minds, for our minds rhyme. crude ego-emanations
distort nodes. id, (whose basic neuro-spacetime rhymes),
plays its tune. space drones before fate unites
dreams' lore to unsung measures. whole dimensions
gyrate. new number-games donate quick minds and
weave through fate's loom. fears, hopes, digits, or devils
collide here—labor stored in gold-mines, lives, lightcone-
piles. fate loops through dreams and pleasure-looms...


dreams number us like pi. runes shift. nights rewind
    3.       1     4    1   5    9      2      6        5        3    5       
daytime pleasure-piles. dream-looms create our id.
  8    9          7         9         3         2      3   8     4   6        
moods shift. words deviate. needs brew. pleasures rise.
    2         6       4        3 3 8     3         2          7          9     
time slows. too late? wait! foreign minds live in
   5        0     2     8      8        4    1      9          7       
us! quick-minds, free-minds, minds-we-never-mind,
  1     6         9        3      9          9        3    7         5     
unknown, gyrate! neuro-rhymes measure our
   1    0         5   8    2    0     9          7          4             
minds, for our minds rhyme. crude ego-emanations
   9         4    4    5          9           2     3  0    7    8   1     
distort nodes. id, (whose basic neuro-spacetime rhymes),
  6    4    0        6     2         8  6    2  0     8      9      9       
plays its tune. space drones before fate unites
  8      6     2       8        0       3    4     8   2    5             
dreams’ lore to unsung measures. whole dimensions
   3          4    2   1    1      7                0       6      7      
gyrate. new number-games donate quick minds and
 9  8        2    1     4     8         0   8      6      5        1     
weave through fate’s loom. fears, hopes, digits, or devils
  3         2            8     2           3       0           6 6    4    7
collide here—labor stored in gold-mines, lives, lightcone-
  0   9     3        8   4    4       6    0      9          5       5    0 
piles. fate loops through dreams and pleasure-looms….
5          8      2       2            3        1       7         2  

And here is Sonnet 72 from Shakespeare:

O, lest the world should task you to recite
What merit lived in me, that you should love
After my death, -- dear love, forget me quite,
For you in me can nothing worthy prove;
Unless you would devise some virtuous lie,
To do more for me than mine own desert,
And hang more praise upon deceased I
Than niggard truth would willingly impart:
O, lest your true love may seem false in this,
That you for love speak well of me untrue,
My name be buried where my body is,
And live no more to shame nor me nor you.
For I am sham'd by that which I bring forth,
And so should you, to love things nothing worth.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Wheel of Mnemonic Correspondences for the Hebrew Alphabet and the Major Arcana

Wheel of Mnemonic Correspondences

Recently, in accordance with a memory project that I am working on, I was searching for a Mnemonic Wheel that would align the correspondences between the Hebrew Alphabet and the Major Arcana of the Tarot.  My interest is not so much in the Kabbalistic qualities of the system but in those symbols which facilitate memory. My sense of it is that the Mnemonic and Kabbalistic are not far apart. However, after some searching, I could not find anything suitable. So I made my own.


The outermost circle of Roman Numbers, excepting 0, is the ordinal sequence for the Rider-Waite Tarot.

The next circle is the Hebrew Alphabet.

Below this is the circle of attributes corresponding to the letters of the alphabet.

Below this are the letters for the cards in the Major Arcana of the Rider-Waite Tarot.

Next are the numbers associated with the Hebrew Alphabet.

Then, the attributes associated with each Major Arcana cards.

In the center is the Tree of Life or 10 Sephirot - to which the Major Arcana also have correspondence.

I have found it a helpful mnemonic tool for both the Hebrew Alphabet, the Major Arcana and the Sephirot. A sub-chapel in the Memory Cathedral.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Colin Wilson Is Dead


Colin Wilson died on December 5th.

From Colin Wilson World:

It is with sadness and regret that I have to report that Colin Wilson passed away on the evening of Thursday December 5, peacefully, in hospital. His wife Joy and daughter Sally were with him. He was 82. After a serious spinal operation in 2011, Colin suffered a stroke, the effects of which he was unable to overcome, and in October this year he was taken into hospital suffering from pneumonia, although later he was allowed home. 

Many years ago, I was traveling through Cornwall and had an opportunity to meet Colin Wilson. On the verge of walking up to his door, I stopped and turned away. At the time, I was an enthusiastic reader. Had read almost everything he had written. I had journeyed down to Cornwall in a large part to see if I could meet him, spend the afternoon with him in "deep philosophical discussion." However, some guiding impulse, thankfully, stopped me.

I often think about why I chose to not meet Wilson. I have played out scenarios that range from icy British door slamming receptions to welcoming dinners followed by late night conversations. (From what I have read, he regularly received uninvited guests with welcome and warmth.) Over the years, through working in bookstores and for the Texas Book Festival, I have met many authors. It was not from anything like shyness that I turned away. More of an understanding, there on his doorstep, that I didn't need to meet him. Everything was there for me in the books. Colin Wilson was an excellent Virgil for me when I was younger. Introducing me to many influential writers, artists, poets, philosophers, saints. I was thankful for this and, perhaps, should have just knocked on the door to shake his hand, say thanks and leave. The half-ironic, half-amusing question here is: what would an authentic outsider have done?

Every time I open The Outsider, I am reminded of how excited he was about his subject. How crucial a poem or a piece of music or a quote was to his intellectual development. It was intensely personal. Life or death. Ideas as dangerous as climbing a mountain or walking a tightrope. The Outsider, Religion and the Rebel, Introduction to the New Existentialism, Beyond the Outsider, The Mind Parasites, The Philosophers Stone, God of the Labyrinth and Anti-Sartre all stand out as his best work - resonating with the same passionate intensity as The Outsider. All of his biographies are insightful introductions. 

I tried to follow along into the occult and crime but never found them intellectually compelling. I took great joy and humor in reading his novels of ideas, delighting at a character's "Wilsonian moments" of insight and increased consciousness. The Spiderworld series is one of the most entertaining in this regard.

I smile still when in conversation I stumble through a Wilsonian metaphor: it was as if I had been seeing the world with a tiny flashlight and suddenly figured out how to turn on the overhead lights; my entire life I had been playing only a few piano keys, simple melodies, now I have the full range of the keyboard; I was trying to drive the car in first gear, not realizing I could shift into third or fourth and do the same thing with less energy, etc.. And I am always pleasantly surprised to return to one of his books and note that the occasion where I was first introduced to a lifelong influence: how perplexing and strange it was to me then and how natural it is to me now. Much to be grateful for here.

However, I have to confess there remains a faint ember of hope that a genuinely rigorous and profound philosophical work might be posthumously published - something like a mix of Boethius' Consolation and Wittgenstein's Tractatus. (Oddly, Kazantzakis' Saviors of God shimmers in the crux.) I recall a comment of Wilson's that The Outsider owed a considerable debt to Reinhold Niebhur's Nature and Destiny of Man. After reading some Niebhur, I found this comment puzzling and glib. Still it planted a fanciful seed of suspicion that in the midst of generating his prolific corpus of books-he-could-write-in-his-sleep, there was The Work. All of the luminous promise that filtered through the assembled blinds of The Outsider would be revealed. However, there is nothing to indicate Wilson ever thought of his work as having not been entirely explained. His work did not gather around any doubt or aporia. "Dogged optimism" haunted him to the end.

[ From 2005. ]

One of the authors that I used to seriously collect was Colin Wilson. At one point in my life, his books - especially the Outsider Series - were like maps, guiding me through unknown territories. I eagerly hunted down everything in and out of print. And in those dark pre-Amazon days, it was a real triumph of discovery to find a copy of the long out-of-print Beyond the Outsider, signed by Wilson, on the dusty lower shelf in an old bookstore.

I am still a great fan of his work. I will admit that his prolific ventures through the fields of the occult and crime have left me somewhat cold. But I retain a great fondness for his earlier "philosophical" books and fiction. Consequently, I was a bit dismayed, slightly amused, to read the recent round of reviews for his latest book, the autobiography, Dreaming to Some Purpose. In particular, the non-review by Lynn Barber in The Guardian made me wince with its winking venom, reminding me of the initial backlash to The Outsider and the rest of the Angry Young Men.

So I was delighted to have it brought to my attention (by the inimitable Jeff G.) that there has arisen something of a defense of Wilson and his work - in the New York Times, no less.

The full article has been reproduced below. However, before that, I have included an autobiographical review I wrote on The Outsider several years ago for the now defunct

I first encountered Wilson during my dreadful freshman year at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. A friend of mine from high school, Bill, who had opted not to attend college, was working nearby at Taylor's Bookstore on Northwest Highway. Often I would stop by between, and sometimes during, classes to chat about what he was reading and see if anything interesting had come in.

One day Bill approached me as soon as I walked in the door, handed me a book and said, "Buy this. Forget everything else. Go home and read this now." High recommendation from someone usually reticent towards praise. The book was The Mind Parasites by Colin Wilson, published in an unusual style by Wingbow Press. On the back there was an intriguing quote from Wilson stating the novel should attack reality like an axe cutting into a tree. That plus Bill's enthusiasm was enough for me. I purchased the book and read it as an excuse to skip classes for the rest of the day. Late that night, when I closed the covers of the book, I realized that something as yet indefinable, but significant, had changed in my perspective on the world.

I returned to Taylor's the next day to discover what other books had been written by Wilson. There were several on the occult, a companion to The Mind Parasites called The Philosopher's Stone and a work called The Outsider. Of course I bought The Philosopher's Stone and also picked up The Outsider. Mid-way through The Philosopher's Stone, I became so stimulated by the ideas and the possibilities, the I opened up The Outsider to see if it explored the same issues.

I skipped past the Marilyn Ferguson foreword and the introduction by Wilson, to the first chapter, "The Country of the Blind". And from that first sentence, "At first sight, the Outsider is a social problem", and then, the quote from Barbusse ending with the line, "It is not a woman I want - it is all women, and I seek for them in those around me, one by one...", I was shot through with the hook, the line and the sinker for the "philosophy" of Colin Wilson.

I finished The Philosopher's Stone and began a deep reading of The Outsider- again neglecting most of my classes. When I did attend, it was as if I were participating in a surreal experiment of Outsiderism. What the professors were trying to teach me was utterly irrelevant to the life that was opening before me. And what my classmates wanted to discuss was even more banal and dead to me. I felt the "nausea" of Roquentin on an acute level, hours after having first read about it in The Outsider. And I came to the verge of recognizing that my college education was a complete sham when I got to chapter five, "The Pain Threshold" where Wilson cites the question by William James:

Does it not appear as if one who lived habitually on one side of the pain threshold might need a different sort of religion from one who habitually lived on the other?

For many years after, The Outsider and the "outsider series" were guiding and teaching texts to me. I took it upon myself to read as many of the primary works referenced as I could. I soon dropped out of college and began what was to be a life of working in book stores. During this time, I carried around a paper inscribed with these "conclusions" by Wilson:

  • The Outsider wants to cease to be an Outsider.
  • He wants to be 'balanced'.
  • He wants to achieve a vividness of sense-perception.
  • He would also like to understand the human soul and its workings.
  • He would like to escape triviality forever, and be 'possessed' by a Will to power, to more life.
  • Above all, he would like to know how to express himself, because that is the means by which he can get to know himself and his unknown possibilities.

Below this, were the two discoveries about the Outsider's 'way':

  • That his salvation 'lies in extremes'.
  • That the idea of a way out often comes in 'visions', moments of intensity, etc.

The Outsider was one of the first books directly responsible, in an extreme and literal sense, for vast changes in the manner in which I lived my life. It was not just that my perspective was altered, but that important life decisions were generated and nurtured under its influence. That a book could have such power was simply amazing to one who had been educated such as I had been. Since then, thankfully, there have been many "life changing" books for me.

Ross MacDonald once remarked that there are certain writers that once were the heart and soul of your direction, that one day you come to be able to "see around" them. (Shakespeare, he added, was one that you could never "see around".) To a certain extent, I can now "see around" The Outsider - and not without a measure of sorrow. I still find myself returning to it often for "tuning". And I am still surprised when I dig into the roots of a current theme and discover what led me there initially, long ago, was a reference from The Outsider.

Although the book was written nearly fifty years ago, it still retains much of its relevance. I understand that there is a peculiar folly in "backward thinking", but in many ways the issues that were of concern to the "intellectuals" of the 1950s are even more prevalent today. Of course, the questions of value and meaning of human existence are bound up in the nature of what defines consciousness. However, the problems of alienation of self in a society that is morally, intellectually and theologically bankrupt have never been more critical. Perhaps this is why that of all of Wilson's books, The Outsider has been kept in print longer and more often than any other.

And, now, here is the NYT defense of Wilson that appeared August 17, 2005:

Philosopher of Optimism Endures Negative Deluge By Brad Spurgeon

Gorran Haven, Britain - Any intellectual who divides opinion as much as Colin Wilson has for almost 50 years must be onto something, even if it is only whether humans should be pessimistic or optimistic.

Mr. Wilson, who turned 74 in June and whose autobiography, "Dreaming to Some Purpose," recently appeared in paperback from Arrow, describes in the first chapter how he made his own choice. The son of working-class parents from Leicester - his father was in the boot and shoe trade - he was forced to quit school and go to work at 16, even though his ambition was to become "Einstein's successor." After a stint in a wool factory, he found a job as a laboratory assistant, but he was still in despair and decided to kill himself.

On the verge of swallowing hydrocyanic acid, he had an insight: there were two Colin Wilsons, one an idiotic, self-pitying teenager and the other a thinking man, his real self.

The idiot, he realized, would kill them both.

"In that moment," he wrote, "I glimpsed the marvelous, immense richness of reality, extending to distant horizons."

Achieving such moments of optimistic insight has been his goal and subject matter ever since, through more than 100 books, from his first success, "The Outsider," published in 1956, when he was declared a major existentialist thinker at 24, to the autobiography.

In an interview last month at his home of nearly 50 years on the Cornish coast, Mr. Wilson was as optimistic as ever, even though his autobiography and his life's work have come under strong attack in some quarters.

"What I wanted to do was to try to create a philosophy upon a completely new foundation," he said, sitting in his living room along with a parrot, two dogs and part of his collection of 30,000 books and as many records. "Whereas in the past optimism had been regarded as rather shallow - because 'oh well, it's just your temperament, you happen to be just a cheerful sort of person' - what I wanted to do was to establish that in fact it is the pessimists who are allowing all kinds of errors to creep into their work."

He includes in that category writers like Hemingway and philosophers like Sartre. In books on sex, crime, psychology and the occult, and in more than a dozen novels, Mr. Wilson has explored how pessimism can rob ordinary people of their powers.

"If you asked me what is the basis of all my work," he said, "it's the feeling there's something basically wrong with human beings. Human beings are like grandfather clocks driven by watch springs. Our powers appear to be taken away from us by something."

The critics, particularly in Britain, have alternately called him a genius and a fool. His autobiography, published in hardcover last year, has received mixed reviews. Though lauded by some, the attacks on it and Mr. Wilson have been as virulent as those he provoked in the 1950's after he became a popular culture name with the publication of "The Outsider."

That book dealt with alienation in thinkers, artists and men of action like T. E. Lawrence, van Gogh, Camus and Nietzsche, and caught the mood of the age. Critics, including Cyril Connolly and Philip Toynbee, hailed Mr. Wilson as a British version of the French existentialists.

His fans ranged from Muammar el-Qaddafi to Groucho Marx, who asked his British publisher to send a copy of his own autobiography to three people in Britain: Winston Churchill, Somerset Maugham and Colin Wilson.

"The Outsider" was translated into dozens of languages and sold millions of copies. It has never been out of print.

The Times of London called Mr. Wilson and John Osborne - another young working-class man, whose play "Look Back in Anger" opened about the same time "The Outsider" was published - "angry young men." That name was passed on to others of their generation, including Kingsley Amis, Alan Sillitoe and even Doris Lessing.

But fame brought its own problems for Wilson. His sometimes tumultuous early personal life became fodder for gossip columnists. He was still married to his first wife while living with his future second wife, Joy. His publisher, Victor Gollancz, urged him to leave the spotlight, and he and Joy moved to Cornwall.

But the publicity had done its damage. His second book, "Religion and the Rebel," was panned and his career looked dead.

Mr. Wilson said the episode had actually saved him as a writer, however. "Too much success gets you resting on your laurels and creates a kind of quicksand that you can't get out of," he said. "So I was relieved to get out of London."

He said his books were probably heading for condemnation in Britain anyway. "I'm basically a writer of ideas, and the English aren't interested in ideas," he said. "The English, I'm afraid, are totally brainless. If you're a writer of ideas like Sartre or Foucault or Derrida, then the general French public know your name, whereas here in England, their equivalent in the world of philosophy wouldn't be known."

He never lost belief in the importance of his work in trying to find out how to harness human beings' full powers and wipe out gloom.

"Sartre's 'man is a useless passion,' and Camus's feeling that life is absurd, and so on, basically meant that philosophy itself had turned really pretty dark," he said. "I could see that there was a basic fallacy in Sartre and Camus and all of these existentialists, Heidegger and so on. The basic fallacy lay in their failure to understand the actual foundation of the problem."

That foundation, he said, is that human perception is intentional; the pessimists themselves paint their world black.

Mr. Wilson has spent much of his life researching how to achieve those moments of well-being that bring insight, what the American psychologist Abraham Maslow called "peak experiences."

Those moments can come only through effort, concentration or focus, and refusing to lose one's vital energies through pessimism.

"What it means basically is that you're able to focus until you suddenly experience that sense that everything is good," Mr. Wilson said. "We go around leaking energy in the same way that someone who has slashed their wrists would go around leaking blood.

"Once you can actually get over that and recognize that this is not necessary, suddenly you begin to see the possibility of achieving a state of mind, a kind of steady focus, which means that you see things as extremely good." If harnessed by everyone, this could lead to the next step in human evolution, a kind of Superman.

"The problem with human beings so far is that they are met with so many setbacks that they are quite easily defeatable, particularly in the modern age when they've got too separated from their roots," he said.

Over the last year, he has been forced to test his own powers in this area. "When I was pretty sure that the autobiography was going to be a great success, and when it, on the contrary, got viciously attacked," Mr. Wilson said, "well, I know I'm not wrong. Obviously the times are out of joint."

Though "Dreaming to Some Purpose" was warmly received in The Independent on Sunday and The Spectator and was praised by the novelist Philip Pullman, the autobiography - and Mr. Wilson - received a barrage of negative profiles and reviews in The Sunday Times and The Observer. These made fun of the book's more eccentric parts, like his avowed fetish for women's panties.

As a measure of the passions that Mr. Wilson provokes, Robert Meadley, an essayist, wrote "The Odyssey of a Dogged Optimist" (Savoy, 2004), a 188-page book defending him.

"If you think a man's a fool and his books are a waste of time, how long does it take to say so?" Mr. Meadley wrote, questioning the space the newspapers gave to the attacks.

Part of Mr. Meadley's conclusion is that the British intellectual establishment still felt threatened by Mr. Wilson, a self-educated outsider from the working class.

"One of my main problems as far as the public is concerned is that I've always been interested in too many things," Mr. Wilson said, "and if they can't typecast you as a writer on this or that, then I'm afraid you tend not to be understood at all."

Related Laughing Bone:

Thanks to Don Webb and Raven Gatto