I recently watched a TED Talk featuring Joshua Foer, a science writer, book author and winner of the U.S. Memory Championship. His topic? A memory technique called the “memory palace” that anyone can employ to remember even the longest strings of information.
As a neurosurgeon, I’m fascinated by the interplay between the brain, a physical organ, and memory, which is a process of recovering information. So I watched this TED Talk with great interest, and found his technique intriguing.
The idea behind his “memory palace” technique is to convert the information you want to remember into something wild and strange (and, as such, memorable) so that you get a wild and strange visualization in your head. This wild and strange visualization works to trigger your memory when you need to recall the information. All this is housed in a building that you “enter” when you need to remember something, hence the term a memory “palace.”
If you want to remember a woman’s name as Abby, for example, imagine a bee stinging her eye. (Abby = a “bee,” if you didn’t get it.) Take it a step further and picture her reaction from said bee sting, and perhaps her face with a swollen eye. If you want to remember a man’s name as Bill, imagine him with a duckbill for a mouth. The more visual stimuli you can associate with whatever it is you’re trying to remember, the easier it will be to recall that information.
The idea is to engage more deeply with the information you’re trying to remember, and to associate it with as many things as possible. The more context you can build around it, the easier it will be to commit it to memory.
But don’t take my word for it; view Joshua’s TED Talk to see exactly how it works and try it out for yourself.
While the “memory palace” technique is surely useful, it brings up something else about our increasingly distracted life that I can’t help but worry about. As Joshua wrote in the Huffington Post, “If attention and engagement are the secret to remembering, then that raises an interesting question. How much of our lives – our already short lives – are we comfortable losing because we’re buried in our smartphones, or not paying attention to the human being across from us, or because we’re simply too lazy to try to engage deeply with the world around us?”
That’s certainly something to remember.
Mind your health,
Dr. Keith Black