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
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
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
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
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 !