How to Build a Memory Palace - SuperStruct Instructables Series

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Introduction: How to Build a Memory Palace - SuperStruct Instructables Series

Hello, and welcome to this Instructable. In the following pages, we'll take a look at the basics of how to use a branch of the "method of ''loci''" to store information in your memory as efficiently as possible for short and/or long periods of time - to be more exact, we'll focus on "memory palaces".

I've been studying memory palaces for about twelve years now, mainly because my own memory has been degrading ever since my late teens. I'm not quite sure of the origins of memory palaces and in all honesty, there has been so much written on the subject for such a long time that sorting pure fantasy from plausible theories would be quite the epic task. Still, the most common legendary origin about these makes for an interesting reading and if you live in an area of the world where one can access offline, validated versions of Wikipedia I definitely suggest you take a look at the relevant articles when you'll be done reading this Instructable, or even before continuing. Go ahead ! We'll be waiting for you.

...

Are you done ? Well then welcome back ! Don't spoil the other readers with what you've found and let them discover these stories on their own - but let us continue. As I was saying earlier, I've had my own, personal reasons to study and develop memory palaces but in this day and age, there are at least 4 reasons to study this "Art of Memory " :

- Storing important amounts of data in a memory palace makes it unavailable to hackers, griefers and loss by digital media degradation ;

- Using memory palaces to store data instead of computers doesn't use any electricity, therefore saves energy ;

- In the same way, since you're not using a computer or any kind of analog or digital media to carry the data stored in your memory palace you're least likely to lose it during a climate exile or an eventual looting ;

- Finally, the information stored in a memory palace is also available on the spot without requiring access to a wired or wireless Internet access.

In the light of these 4 scenarii, building memory palaces addresses Generation Exile, Outlaw Planet and Power Struggle superthreats. And without further ado let's move on to the next step : creating your first memory palace and giving it persistence.

*No I didn't go crazy - this Instructable is the second in a series of Instructables related to the Institute for the Future's Alternate Reality Game Superstruct. Set in 2019, this game places players in a world threatened by five major ills - failing and/or hacked communication and computer networks, a severed food chain, devastating climate catastrophes that force populations to migrate, epidemics of Respiratory Distress Syndrom and a world struggling to survive without oil. If you think you're up to the challenge or would like to explore this world more, check the main site and join us !

Step 1: Creating Your Memory Palace, and Giving It Persistence

Creating a memory palace is not the most complicated of things. You can take your pick between creating one completely from scratch, or using a place you are very familiar with as a memory palace, all that matters is for you to be able to recall it very vividly, which is the hardest part. Either way, we're going to apply the same techniques to actually give it more persistence in your mind.

Drawing your memory palace
Whether you're going to invent one from scratch or use an existing building you're familiar with already, a very good way to start making this building more persistent is to sit down and draw it on a piece of paper. That doesn't really mean you have to draw what it would look like to walk through the palace (unless you're so artistically inclined) ; instead, you can just draw an accurate two-dimensional map of it, room after corridor after room. Once this is done and you're satisfied with the result, you can assign a function to each of these rooms : one will be a bedroom, one will be a dining room, another a drawing room, and so on and so forth. That's when using a pre-existing building makes things easier to remember, but then that might also mean less freedom !

Once you've assigned a function to each room, you can add in the furniture ! The goal is to make things as life-like, easy to remember and realistic as possible, so don't hesitate if you want to be original (without necessarily going all out : a room with furniture doesn't mean a cluttered room). Don't worry, I'm not pulling your leg : everything'll have its role to play later on.

Walking down your memory palace
Walking down a memory palace means imagining yourself walking through it the way you would in real life. That might not be very easy at first, and you might find yourself losing focus after a certain amount of time. Keep at it until you can walk through all the rooms completely, and once you can achieve that, do it some more. Don't forget to visualize the rooms with as many details as you canhandle, without going overboard with sound, lighting and smell : you might want to keep things simple at this stage, and over time you'll be able to add more details as you need them.

If you're clear on that stage, then we can move on to "memory hooks" and hooking up memories in your palace !

Step 2: Memory Hooks, and Hooking Up Memories

A few paragraphs ago, I told you that furniture and decoration would play a role in recalling information. That's for now ! Everything you've added in the rooms so far is going to be used as what is called "memory hooks".

Simply put, memory hooks are all those imaginary items that you set up in the rooms, and that we'll use to store and connect to memories : a table with a particular shape, a picture or a painting hung on the wall depicting whatever you like, the pattern of a couch's fabric and/or someone sitting on it are only a few examples of what you can do to "hook up" memories in your palace. Let's take a look at two potential uses of memory hooks up close.

Example one - Storing numbers codes
And how are we going to do that, mind you ? Not being too litteral while remaining simple is a very good start. To give you an idea, let's suppose you have to remember the PIN code to unlock your cell phone - I always have a hard time remembering numbers. Let's say the code is 1439 : a good way you could hook up that code in your memory palace would be having your cell phone on a small wood table in the entrance of your palace, with a post-it note drawing the shape your fingers draw when punching in the code to open the garage door. So much more

Example two - organizing information
The place themselves, with their functions, can also help you remembering what kind of information you're storing there. For example, all the passwords, phone numbers and codes I need to remember are hooked up in a replica of my hometown's central post office - I always loved the beauty of that place built a long time ago - while all the cryptography algorithms and facts I know are stored in...a gothic crypt.
In the end, hooking up memories doesn't have to make sense in general : what matters is that it makes sense to you in a very personal way which you'll be more likely to remember.

These two examples above are just what they are - examples of what works for me ; try your own representation methods and see what works for you.

Step 3: Keeping Your Memory Palace in Shape

Just like all buildings when they are forgotten, memory palaces can fall down and collapse too - even moreso since they're not made of material much more solid than the electricity that fires between your neurons. So how can you keep your palaces in shape ? There aren't many around this but here are a few pointers.

Use it !
if you don't use your memory palace, it's just not going to stay and move from your short-term memory to your long-term memory (where it'll have more chances to endure)
Expand it ! Using your memory palace to store more information means that you'll have to walk through it, a good occasion to give it more persistence, but also that you'll need to continue expanding it eventually as you run out of space. Building new buildings alongside new ones is a good way to make your memory palace feel new, fun and exciting again, along with giving these new buildings more persistence.

Write/draw/talk about it !
A memory palace is a very good occasion to use your imagination and get creative, and might help you make interesting connections between memories and look at problems in a different way. Careful ! If you're going to write/draw/talk about your memory palaces and someone should stumble upon your notes or data, they might be able to figure out what kind of information you stored, which is not too serious when you've lost notes about your grandmother's birthday, but gets more dangerous when you lose notes about your bank account number and password. Which is why you should hook memories up in a way that makes sense to you, and you alone !

Once again, these are just two ways to keep your memory palace in shape : how about recording a video of a building you're using to store memories, or recording yourself as you go through your palace ? Give it a shot and see if it works better for you.

Step 4: Conclusion and Reference

As a final note, let me thank you for sticking with me through this Instructable - I hope what you've read there will come in handy should you decide to move past the perplexity zone and try to give it a shot !

Here's a selection of links I've stumbled upon while researching on the method of loci and memory palaces for this Instructable :

- A WikiHow article about building memory palaces ;

- An article from intellectual productivity-oriented blog Litemind ;

- FlickR user avaDarlene has a series of art pieces built to be used as memory palaces in her FlickR gallery.

As per usual, should you find more interesting resources online or in your libraries about memory palaces and original mnemonics, please share in the comments ! Should you post a mistake in these pages, do send me a message so I can make the necessary corrections as soon as possible. Thanks for your time !

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Hello, thanks everybody for the information sharing :)

I'm a medical student trying to adapt the method of loci for the use of medecine. Although I already find some interesting techniques, I still have a few questions I haven't been able to tackle alone yet. Hope you might be able to help :)

- Once the information coded into images and stocked in your mind palace, you obviously need to revise it from time to time. My question is : is-it required to perform an active revision (you take a paper and write down from the scratch the stuff you stocked), or a passive revision (just reviewing the written list of fact you stocked, or reviewing pictures of your mind palace) is enough ?

- What's your revision frequency for the best retention ? (I have the feeling that with mind palace, the quality of the retention is far superior to a regular study (ie revising day 1, day 3, day 7, month 1, month 6, year 1 etc, cf Emminghaus forgetting curve).

- Do you need to write down the mnemotechnics pathway or stories you created, or where you put items in your mind palace? I mean, when you created 10 pathway a day, you begin to forget everything rather fast if you do not write down what you create. However, this is a cruel waste of time, so I would like to know if some of you have different opinions about it.

Thanks for the help,

Thomas

Hi,
How do you assign mathematical expression to a memory palace where there are multiple variables associated with single formula and to be remembered as a whole?

Hello!

I have a question concerning a memory palace, (and i do apologize if it is confusing or a little bit of a stupid question)

firstly, do you have to be able to memorize it as if you are actually in a simulator and can vividly see the objets you chose? (for example, on BBC Sherlock Magnussen is walking through a 'library' and envisions himself opening cabinets as if his eyes are open and he is actually standing in that room, thats how realistic his 'vision' is) is this necessary or can you just memories the setting/object without picturing yourself walking up to it? (like memorizing just the objected connected info)

i am able to picture it, however not very vividly, if you understand what i mean? It is hard to describe how I picture things unfortunately!

(again sorry if that first question didn't make total sense, or if it was a silly question)

Thanks!

Hi DiaryCatT! I am that way too. I'm not a pro at it, but I just wanted to say that I can relate. As you go into your mind palace more often, you should be able to visualize things more and more vividly overtime I think. I know what you're saying about the whole visualization thing. I tend to see things less vividly also and I am not able to see every single detail in my palace yet, but I have the general idea of what's there. Also, in the BBC Sherlock, they're obviously experts at mind palacing, ? but of course there's no way to show the less vivid imaging through a show that they film with real people and places and such. So, I dot think anyone's palace could be quite that realistic. That would be really hard. I, myself usually just picture the images in the room in front of me rather than actually interacting with them, which I'd like to do eventually. I'm hoping to get better and better overtime and I'm still learning and had the same question you did. I'd love to see the author's reply. Good luck!

Hey!

I'm new to this so I'm not sure if my question is valid exactly but I'll ask anyway. Can a memory palace be used to store something visual? Like remembering a movie that you watched? or a video clip? Now, I know its very hard to remember a movie visually but then how will it work in this case?
Thanks!

Hi njerath, personally it's worked for me in the past because movies are "just" another set of visual information but the important part is, did it work for you? Maybe you can tell us, if you tried. And if you haven't yet, for it and tell us all the same!

Hi, my Mum recently died and we had to clear out her home which was really difficult,but as it got emptier I started to visualise how it used to look and began to practice going in to the house as it used to be, This to me is comforting as I know I can visit when I want to and also a good way of excercising memory,I think I may use the technique for other things as well.

Hey Frances, I'm glad this technique helped you in hard times.

I've a suggestion for the memory hooks for the numbers system. First, the Google crumb: look up the Major System.

What you do is convert numbers to letters according to a simple code. Then you have filler letters-these are the vowels plus h, y, q, w.

The letters are then used to come up with a word-an object or anything you can visualise is required. Concepts like love, hate etc do not work well.

An example will help here. I want to recall 4912 - Rope Tin is what I get from this. The letters here are 4 - R, 9-P, 1-T, 2-N .

0 - s, z

1 - t,d

2 - n

3 - m

4 - r

5 - l

6 - j,ch

7 - l,g (hard G)

8 - f,v

9 - p,b

Thanks for the heads up about this system, Richard :) I hadn't heard of it, and I can how interesting it is to combine two mnemonic systems together for better results, if it works for you! Everyone else, you can learn more about the Mnemonic Major System at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mnemonic_major_syste... - let us know what you think!