The mnemonic of the Ramchal

Having found the Sefer hadiqduq of the Ramchal, I began to study it with a sephardi scholar at the kollel Bobov. The kehila of Antwerp is well-known for his friendly atmosphere.

The tree structure of the Sefer hadiqduq is eye-catching and even ear-catching.

But we remarked some inconsistencies and some phrases without real significance, the kind of phrases that you can find in conversation but not in a book. The Rav Brieger writes in his introduction that he used two different manuscripts written by the talmidim of the Ramchal.

At the first sight, I was a little bit disappointed but I understood that this sefer gives a  living picture of the structured memory of the Ramchal.

Let’s have a trip in Amsterdam in the years 1730. We are in a classroom of the portuguese synagogue. The Ramchal teaches diqduq to his talmidim. He does not have a book or manuscript. He has everything in his mind’s eye and he dictates to his talmidim.

I think it is a proof that the Derech Tevunos is not a book about logic but about mnemonic or, more exactly, about ramist mnemonic, a mnemonic based on logic unlike the ciceronian mnemonic, also called method of loci, based on visualization of three dimensional images.

A bit of history : In 1966, Dame Frances Yates, researcher at the Warburg Institute publishes a book called The Art of Memory and the world discovers a forgotten science.

The Greeks and the Romans, as any traditional cultures, attached special significance to memory. Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, was the mother of the nine muses, the goddesses of sciences and arts. Since the rise of modern science, memory seems to be just a tool and with the rise of computers, memory seems to be obsolete.

The traditional Art of Memory is based on the use of mental three dimensional images. The orator or the poet builds in his memory such images where he attaches the topics and the words of his texts. The Art of Memory was used first and foremost for composition. Poets like Petrarch and Dante Alighieri gave very precise information about how they used the Art in their works. The Ramchal knew those authors because he studied latin and italian authors with the Rav Isaac Chayyim Cantarini.

In the middle ages, the Art of Memory was used by theologians and when printing came, a lot of textbooks about the Art became available. The baroque aesthetics produced huge catalogs of images that are sometimes quite weird and therefore inadequate for bnei torah…

You can find here a very funny Memory Palace designed by Robert Fludd to teach music theory. Perhaps some user interface designers could find here some inspiration…

Came a reaction : Pierre de la Ramée, a devout protestant, was horrified by the use of images. He build a mnemonic based on logic by using the tree structure as fundamental pattern.

And then the Ramchal discovered the Ramist mnemonic, a natural mnemonic for a brain trained by the gemara. This has been proven by Charles Manekin in his seminal paper On Moses Hayyim Luzzatto’s Logic and on Ramist Influence in His Writings.

By the way, the tree structure was known by the Ramchal since his childhood. We can see a tree used for the classification of metaphors in his Leshon Limudim (on the page 84 of the pdf). A book about rhetoric and poetics he wrote at the age of 17 when he was in Padua.

The Derech Tevunos is therefore a book about mnemonic : how to organize memory by the logical analysis of the texts to be learned.

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