will be relaxing until Monday, November 27. In the meantime I point serious storageheads at a wonderful article in the November 20 issue of the New Yorker.

As a warmup, memorize the Bible
Titled Homer in India, the oral epics of Rajasthan (not available online, AFAIK) the article discusses an ancient oral literary tradition of India. It was only some 75 years ago that scholars realized that Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey were handed down for hundreds of years orally before they were ever written.

In India, however, an even more elaborate tradition had managed to survive, relatively intact. An anthropologist friend had told me how he once met an traveliing storyteller in a village in southern India. The bard knew the Mahabarata – India’s equivalent of the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Bible, all rolled into one. The epic is the story of the rivalry of two sets of princely cousins whose enmity culminates in an Armageddon-like war on the battlefield of Kurukshetra; at its heart lies tha Bhagavad Gita, for many Hinduism’s most profound and holy text, a dialogue, on the eve of battle, between the god Krishna and one of the princely heroes about duty, illusion, and reality.

With its hundred thousand slokas (stanzas), the Mahabharata was more than six times the length of the Bible. My friend had asked tha bard how he could possibly remember it. The minstrel replied that each stanza was written on a pebble in his mind. He simply had to recall the order of the pebbles and “read” from one after another. [emphasis mine]

While that is amazing enough, it turns out that the Mahabharata is only one of a large number of other India epics, some of which the article goes on to describe.

Can computers learn from people?
Do the tools of massive memorization have anything to teach computers about organizing digital information? I suspect they do, as the context creation of semantic web advocates seems not unlike the “pebble” paradigm described above or the location-based techniques of the medieval West. Memory “objects” ordered to preserve knowledge? What were they thinking?

Comments, as always, welcome. Enjoy the holiday, and count your blessings.