The memory palace, perhaps better known as “the Method of Loci”, is the oldest mnemonic technique dating back to the ancient civilization of Rome. It’s development is generally accredited to Simonides of Ceos, who stumbled upon the observation that the human mind recalled locations and imagery far more readily than other mental devices. There is more history to it than all that, but for the sake of time, we will leave it at that.
The Method of Loci is the reference of memory to spatial mind maps. A good way to test the technique is by simply doing it – take a shopping list for example:
- Ice Cream
In order to remember this list in accordance with the method, you need to create a mind palace. It is recommended to start with the room you know best, a bedroom, bathroom, or office for instance. Before you can effectively memorize the list, your room must be recalled to near perfection. You need to be able to walk through the room and note every object in the room in a methodical order that should be followed every time you use the technique. In my memory palace for example, I always walk in through the front door, take an immediate left and observe each and every picture, painting and piece of furniture in the room, traveling clockwise, then continue on to the next room and do the same thing.
Back to the exercise. As you walk into your room, place a mental image of a bushel of potatoes, baked ones, complete with all of your favorite toppings; melted butter, dripping cheddar cheese, freshly cooked bacon bits sprinkled over the molten cheese. Take a bite of one of the steaming fresh morsels. Note the taste, texture, and intoxicating aroma. As you walk through the door, still munching on that heavenly bite of loaded potatoes, you must step around them to get to the next image – Ice cream on the first wall – the wall is covered with frozen ice cream, that thanks to the magic of imagination, will not melt until you shovel a generous portion of your favorite flavor into your mouth. It is cold, delicious, and visually appealing. As you pass the table however, you are greeted by a toxic stench – there are mounds of rotting, moldy cheese on the table, dripping off of it, the putrid green sludge dribbling onto your bare foot, squishing between your toes. The stench is unbearable, nearly causing you to vomit – you move on to the next piece of furniture/wall/room… Continue through the exercise in this manner, creating images that appeal to at least three of your senses, always to the extreme, whether delicious bliss or rotten revulsion. Once you are finished, you will be able to recall each item with ease, as you walk through the room and recall the images you have created.
Keep in mind that the more you practice this exercise, the more efficient you become at it, and also the more rooms you can add for recalling more items. Many people have devoted entire castles, literal palaces, and famous buildings to memory for the purpose of memorizing large quantities of information. This method is highly effective in recalling lists, numbers, speeches, poetry, bible verses, historical documents, plays, and more. It is really up to your imagination what you can do with it, though most ancient Romans (Including famous orators Cicero and Quintilian) and subsequent civilizations typically used it as a rhetoric device.
Note: It is good to understand that explaining this technique takes far more time than it does to practice it. Most people I taught this method to initially thought it an inefficient practice, but realized the benefits after trying it. You should be able to memorize lists of 15 – 30 items in 5 minutes or less, to give one example of its efficiency.