Thursday, January 31, 2013

Memory Palaces - Memory Techniques

Memory palaces take much of the rote out of learning. Arguably, they are one of the most useful memory techniques. The best way to convince yourself that this is true is to try the technique out for yourself.

Counting The Doors In Your House

Take a moment and answer this question:

How many doors are in your house (or some other building that you are familiar with)?

Stop, and take as long as you need to tally up your answer.

Finished? Chances are, you didn't have the answer to this question memorized. Thus, you probably went through your house in your mind and counted the number of doors.

The fact that you were able to explore and visualize your house in your mind shows that you are capable of memorizing incredibly complex material about locations. The memory palace technique takes advantage of this amazing ability of the human mind.

The Memory Palace Technique Demonstrated

The best way to learn the memory palace technique is with an example. For this example, you are going to be memorizing the following five items in order: icicle, jar of jam, leaf, egg, and desk. Before you do this, you need to pick out five loci (distinct locations) in or around your house. For the sake of example, let's say those locations are the mailbox, the front door, the bathroom sink, the roof, and the backyard.

First, imagine an icicle in front of your mailbox. The more ridiculous you make the scene, the easier it will be to remember. Perhaps your mailbox has become encased in a giant icicle and the mailman is trying to thaw it out with a flamethrower. Whatever you visualize, make sure that you really see it in your mind.

Second, place a jar of jam at your front door. Perhaps, you no longer have a front door. Instead, there is a giant jar of jam sitting where your door would have been, guarding the entrance. Once again, make sure you visualize what this would look like. Really see it.

Now walk in your front door and head to a bathroom in your house. Place a leaf in the bathroom sink. Make up a ridiculous situation. Perhaps the faucet is on, but leaves are coming out of it instead of water.

Next, go up to the roof of your house. Place an egg on your roof. Imagine something absurd. Perhaps your roof has been pelted with hundreds of eggs as a prank.

Finally, place a desk in your backyard. Once again, create an exaggerated, ridiculous image.

Now it's time to test yourself. Can you remember what you placed at your front door? What was the fourth item that you placed? Where did you place the leaf? What was the fifth item? Where is the icicle?

If you did a good job visualizing what you placed, you should have been able to answer those questions fairly easily. In fact, without any farther review, you will be able to answer some of those questions a few days from now.

So you've done it. Using the memory palace technique, you've memorized a list of five items in order. Although there are more efficient ways to memorize a list of five items in order, using the memory palace technique is definitely more effective than learning it through rote memorization.

The Usefulness of Memory Palaces

At this point, you might be impressed that your mind is capable of memorizing a list of objects like this, but you might not yet see how to apply the technique to anything practical. Notice, however, that a person could use this same technique to memorize some of the books of the Old Testament in order: Icicle/Isaiah, Jam/Jeremiah, Leaf/Lamentations, Egg/Ezekiel, Desk/Daniel.

There are an endless number of ways to memorize practical information using memory palaces. It just take some planning and creativity.

Note that in the example in this post, you created a "journey" through a memory palace. In other, words, you started at the first location and went through your palace in a certain order. Going on a journey like this is useful if the order of what you're learning is important, but if you are not concerned about the order of what you're memorizing, it isn't necessary to go on a journey (although it could be helpful for organizational purposes). In short, the simple use of vivid images placed in any sort of memorable location— in any configuration— will be effective.

There are a lot of different "palaces" that you can use; you don't have to limit yourself to locations you have personally visited. Using an artificial location that you know well from a movie or video game also works (and if you're really creative, you can construct an original location or building in your mind).

More Memory Palace Examples

If you are looking for more examples of the memory palace technique in action, take a look at the two posts below:

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