On Building a Mind Palace

Last week I wrote in length about my favorite show on TV: Sherlock. My obsession with the detective is not quite over, as today’s article looks at what I learned from the detective. I also have a Youtube video on the Arthur Conan Doyle stories planned before I finally accept the fact that Sherlock is back on a hiatus of undetermined length.

What I learned about on Sherlock and what I found endlessly fascinating is a memory technique Sherlock Holmes uses when he tries to remember something crucially important hidden somewhere in the depths of his mind. On the show, it is called “Mind Palace”, while the term used on Wikipedia is “Method of Loci”. The word Loci does not have anything to do with the tumblr/Internet icon Loki played by Tom Hiddleston in the Marvel universe movies, who coincendentally shares a lot of the fans of Benedict Cumberbatch. Instead, it derives from the Latin word for location. The method is not only used on the show, but also by various memory contest champions.

I would love to show you show how Mr. Holmes uses his Mind Palace as I find them the most interesting and visually stunning scenes on the show, but I can’t do it without spoiling the show for anyone. Feel free to search for them at your own risk.

So, how exactly does the method of loci work? In short, you memorize the setting of a specific location. When you’re clear on how your mind palace (or whatever you choose your location to be) looks like, you can start associating things you want to commit to your long-term memory with these locations. Should you need to retrieve the information, you can visualize walking through your mind palace to the specific spot and memory.

Obviously, I’m not a trained specialist. Thankfully, I’m not a hyperintelligent detective with possession of state secrets, so I can share a bit of the process I’ve been going through the last days to design my memory palace.

I started out with imagining a forest. First, I tried to bind memories, names and faces to branches of trees, which would then have been interwoven with each other. Soon enough I discovered that my knowledge of trees was limited and I wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. As a device for remembering things, it would have failed almost immediately.

The second idea I had worked a lot better and serves as the basis for my mind palace (even though the palace is more of a shack right now). I started out with imagining a classroom with an infinite amount of rows. Then I started placing acquaintances at the desks. People I meet on a regular basis are in the first few rows, as I need access to that information regularly. People I see once in a while are seated a bit further back. Then I stuff their desks with information I’d like to know about them such as maybe their favorite book or movie.

After I starting filling up the classroom (which will probably take the longest to fill), I decided to expand the school by imagining different areas. Since I love movies, I thought of the cinema Metropol in Zurich and started placing movie posters at the walls. For instance, right next to the entrance is the poster of Gravity and some of the key info I remembered from seeing it and its IMDB page. Alfonso Cuaron directs and writes, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star, Ed Harris provides the voice and as a fun fact that the movie is exactly as long as the ISS takes to circle the Earth.

I did a similar thing formy sports interests, even though I’m not as far with that yet. For sports, I go back to the football pitch of my old high school and picture the sports stars sitting on the bleachers. It hasn’t worked perfectly yet, but I’m working on refining the details and on expanding my capacity for memories.

Obviously, I’ve just started to use this technique and have filled my locations with superficial knowledge that I’ve read or heard fairly recently. In the future however I’m sure I’ll be able to commit more experiences and facts to my long-term memory in a clearer and more efficient way.

If you have any comments or questions, please let me know in the comments or on Twitter! As always, please like, share and subscribe. See you on Thursday.

Sincerely yours,


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