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Current times are the times of distraction – primarily driven by round-the-clock information and content generation mills and the ubiquity of delivery methods of the same, largely attribute to the proliferation of user-friendly smart devices. A significant casualty of this deluge of information and data is the attention span. This article from 2018, states that the human attention span has reduced to 8 seconds from 12 seconds in 2000. As it turns out, human attention span is shorter than a goldfish.
Continuous information delivery pushes one in a continuous ‘catch up’ mode. The one major casualty of this information overload is the ability to memorise and recall things.
While so many people around me, along with me, struggle to retain things in their memory, I am fascinated with the ability of some ‘seemingly gifted’ people to share a very detailed and precise description of something complex or something very old. The level of detail in their memory recall is astonishing.
At the same time, there are some more gifted people who are not only able to remember all the 10,000 digits of pi, but also give the right answer in digits for a randomly chosen location in the number pi.
Its just amazing.
For long I had been attributing the sharpness of memory on traditional wisdom of lightning thr brain cell by ‘eating almonds’. While this is still true, but I recently ran into this article on ‘Wired’ with the title ‘How to hack your brain to remember almost anything’, which introduced me to some of the memory booster techniques.
The one technique that is truly interesting is the ‘Method of Loci’, also known as ‘Memory Palace’ or ‘Mind Palace’.
Mind Palace has been extensively adopted in ‘The Holmes of Sherlock‘ in the popular BBC series to describe astute ability of the lead character in solving multiple crimes in the city.
Famous movie ‘Inception’ also explored the Memory palace concept as well.
This is a very old technique and the definition for this as per the research paper “The Virtual Memory Palace” is below:
“The concept is based on an ancient Greek memorization technique, the “Memory Palace”. It is said to have its origin at about 500 B.C. At that time, there were not as many possibilities to write down stories and scientific knowledge as today. As a consequence mental techniques were developed to store and memorize information, based on the assumption that orderly arrangement is essential for good memory. One of these techniques (originally described in the treatise Ad Herennium of an unknown Greek author) starts with the imagination of a large building (i.e. a “palace”). While mentally walking though the buildings, symbols of items to remember are placed in various locations. In addition, every symbol is associated with a particular (ideally surprising or at least unconventional) behaviour or event. It enhances the remembrance rate by focusing attention. Since human memory, as well as human perception, is primarily focused on visual aspects, the repeated imagination of this building and a virtual walk through it supports the remembrance of all the items placed in it. As these are easier to remember than just a list of words or data, this technique helps to remember the information associated with the respective symbol. In addition, storing a particular path through the “Memory Palace” reduces the risk of leaving out an important piece of information along an argumentative concept (or a story). “
In very simple words, Mind Palace is a technique based on imagination where the subject places items to remember at different locations in a scenery of familiarity. The scenery for familiarity could begin with home, expand to neighbourhood and sometimes to cities.
So how does one achieve it. Here are the 5 simple steps to use this method to increase the capacity of your brain to memorise. Build you own memory palace or in other words leverage method of loci to remember almost anything.
STEP 1: Identify the place that you want are familiar with. You need to ‘be there’ in your mind when the memory palace is fully built. Typical examples for places of familiarity are –
- Your home
- Your office
- Your neighbourhood
- Your city etc
STEP 2: Find a methodical way to scan the place.
- Some people scan the place from left to right
- Then they find some distinctive features
- Use a layout of the place such as actual plan layout or architectural drawing of the room or an image to scan
- This will help in identifying the special slots for placing the objects and information to remember later
STEP 3: Memorise the Palace by mentally walking through it.
- It is important to walk through the entire palace in your mind.
- This is an impressional technique.
- It trains the mind to continuously capture the slots where information has to be placed.
- Its important to follow the same sequence repeatedly so that brain get appropriately trained and this becomes a habit for it
STEP 4: Place the memoirs in the appropriate sections of the palace. This is a very important step of association. It is important to do the associations as vividly and uniquely as possible. By all means, place the object vividly to relate to the information to be recalled.
- Pyramids for number 3 as it has 3 sides
- Duck for number 2 as it has the shape of the neck as number 2
- A Neon sign on the roof top to remember Neon in a period table
With more maturity with practice you can have more vivid memory walks. Lets assume you are memorising a fantasy tale about a superhero. To capture and associate the details of the superhero, imagine he or she is standing next to you at the from door. This is assuming that your memory palace is your home. This now is a permanent impression and you will never forget the superhero or the placement at the door as the starting point of your memory. Every time the superhero is recalled your mind will immediately find the her or him standing next to you at your front door.
STEP 5: Rehearse multiple times till you are comfortable with the memory palace, the distinct features, the associated items and the flow.
Here is a nice example of how it works –
It is interesting to see how this also helps to open new faculties in the brain and make one build a stronger cognitive and retention power. Mind Palace has been a subject of study for a long time with multiple researchers finding more and more new ways to help people adopt it.
For the power of the technique, it has found adoption in the technology world with the advent of Virtual Reality (VR).
Some initial work was done in 2006 with the research paper ‘The Virtual Memory Palace’ by E. Fassbender and W. Heiden. The explored the creation of a virtual 3D model of a palace and placed special icons in each. 15 subjects from various demographics were then experimented with on the model to see the effectiveness of the technique in memory retention and recall. The experiment was successful.
This research and the technique has been marred with technology to being work on some problems that are affecting the world. Below are a few examples –
- MIND PALACE VR is building tech based products to help people suffering from Dementia.
- An Ed Tech project Macunx VR that would aid people with languages, anatomy, laws, periodic tables, historical events etc learning had 395% response to its kickstarter campaign.
- 6DoF VR experiment is exploring the mind palace technique for helping with understanding of emotional landscape of a breakup.
Its clear that the technique has lot of potential to not only help people in improving their memory and their remembrance of things but also has use cases with technological adoption to solve some real world problems.
I hope you learned something new with this article. Do share your feedback by writing back!