Sunday, March 13, 2011


What order do you do operations in, in math, when you've got a lot of them? Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally. er, I mean, Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction. See how the first memorable phrase starts with the first letters of the words in the second?
Mnemonics are a psychological trick where you remember something by associating it with something novel, which your brain expects to do. The more associations (and the stranger), the better you can remember it. They're named after Mnemosyne, the Greek goddess of memory (and apparently, arbitrary spelling. Pronounced "Nem-o-seen.")
Okay, so what kind of stars exist? Oh be a fine girl, kiss me. Ouch. Hey, I'm not literally hitting on you, it's the mnemonic. Lists their orders from hottest to coldest. Our sun's a G. Specifically, G2V, a little cooler than the average G, main sequence.
Okay, music. Those lines stand for notes, but which ones? Well, in the treble clef, "every good boy does fine." In the base clef, "Grizzly bears don't fly airplanes." Oh, and sharps appear in a particular order too: "Father Charles goes down and ends battles." (Flats are in the opposite order, if you'd care to write a mnemonic for that.)
In chemistry, equations always obey OIL-RIG. That is, oxidation is loss (of electrons), reduction is gain. Redox!
Mechanics. Which way do I turn the screw again? Righty tighty. So therefore, lefty loosy.
Electronics? They're color coded: "Bright Boys Rave Over Young Girls But Veto Getting Wed."
Biology? All life is elaborately classified. "Kings Play Chess On Fine Grained Sand." (Although the last two, Genus and Species, are unique enough to identify pretty much anything in existence.)
And if this isn't circular enough, remember this poem and all your circles will be correct:
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.

(Which, if you count the letters in each word, becomes Pi, to 31 digits, which is accurate enough for any dimensions of a circle the size of the universe, accurate to the width of a hydrogen atom. Trying to be more accurate than that in engineering is just being pedantic.)
Why do mnemonics work? Well, our brains are designed to keep novel and well connected information. any of these facts by themselves would just be discarded, but this gives a startling and well connected way of remembering, and any one component can bring the entire chain to mind. Also, because of a quirk of psychology, a dirty one works way better than a clean one.


Pawl Bearing said...

"Mason Work" is another mnemonioc to remember the order of hardness of ASTM mortars
M is the hardest
followed by S, N, O and
the least strength (for soft brick) is K

Anonymous said...

Where did you go? Is it possible to breeze a couple of civil engineering ideas by you? Love your blog--found it a couple months ago; about the time you stopped writing, I guess! (Happy working!?) Thanks for being, Taj

Professor Preposterous said...

Yes, Taj, I'd love to hear your civil engineering ideas. My @gawab email address is currently broken, so I'll have to email you. I've also gotten a few writings, so you can expect updates today and tomorrow.

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