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March 22, 2011 / graceunsw

Global Mnemotechnics

Mnemotechnics – aiding or meant to aid one’s memory (Collins Compact Australian Dictionary 2000, p.548).

Andy Clark and David Chalmers established two main principles that are at the heart of mnemotechnics, in their seminal paper ‘The Extended Mind’

1. The distortion of the past, present and future (and the effect of their increasingly blurred boundaries)

2. The connection between mind, body, and the environment.

Firstly, the distortion of the past, present and future. The effect of technology on people’s capability to retain memories cannot be overstated. Media technologies consciously play into the human experience, and have, as David Chalmers states “rapidly become a very important part of our cognitive processes…taking over many important functions that used to be performed within the mind,” which may be seen, on an everyday level, with the iPhone. The iPhone serves as a repository of many aspects of our everyday experiences (if not all of them) such as music, phone numbers, emails and photos, which suggests that the object has indeed become an extension of the mind.

This has ramifications for the notion of retention. Husserl delineates between three branches of retention, explained by Carr (1987, p.252) as:

1.Primary – the near present/most recent memories

2. Secondary – the state of recalling a moment from the past

3. Tertiary – the increasing reliance on external supports, namely media.

It will be interesting to see the effect/affect tertiary retention will have on the dynamic relationship between mind, body and the environment. Already, I think we are seeing some of the early struggles that attempting to bridge the internal retention (primary and secondary) of humans with the profoundly machinic tertiary retention technologies of recent times has engendered, and this will only continue. Although this video is slightly futuristic (and, to be honest, a little frightening), it does make some important points about the way things seem to be heading…

It is clear that while our assumptions about mnemonics are inherently rooted in traditional media, ways of thinking, memory, action, thought processes, feeling, habit and sensation have all been externalised. Mediated interference in our daily lives has disembodied the mind, and whilst we may not be cyborgs yet, it is not too difficult to imagine a future where that is the reality.


Beyond Human: The Cyborg Revolution, 2008, online video, accessed 22 March 2011, <>

Carr, D 1987, Interpreting Husserl: Critical and Comparative Studies, e-book,  accessed 22 March 2011, <>

Chalmers, D, Clark, A 1998, The Extended Mind,, accessed 22 March 2011, <>

Collins Compact Australian Dictionary 2000, Mnemonic, Harper Collins Publishers, Sydney


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