What is the Method of Loci?
Mnemonic devices are little tricks that help you memorize important information. The Method of Loci is one of the most popular and well-known techniques that dates way back to ancient Greece. In Latin, Loci means is means location, or place. Many times you’ll hear the Method of Loci referred to as the memory palace. In a nutshell, the method works by linking something you need to remember to a location or place that is familiar to you.
The Method of Loci is rich with history and a fascinating way to go about recalling essential things such as material for presentations or tests. Keep reading to learn more.
The Role of Rhetoric in Ancient Greece and Rome
An unknown author published a book, Rhetorica ad Herennium in 80s B.C. that is the first text published in history that discusses the art of memorization. The document defines memory as, “the firm retention in the mind of the matter, words, and arrangement. Delivery is the graceful regulation of voice, countenance, and gesture.” This definition set the bar for rhetoric in ancient Greece and Rome. If you a public figure giving a speech, you had to do so by memory. Society looked down on those who followed notes while giving an address. Speeches are more powerful and effective when the speaker shows their confidence by relying on their memory and looking at the public square in the eye. Today, society has tools like powerpoint to lean on while giving a presentation. However, the ancient belief of how to deliver a speech still holds. Those who do it from memory have a stronger impact.
Memory palace and dementia patients
Many older people see a reduction in their memory function or, worse yet, dementia. Over the years, studies by scientists have set out to discover a way to help people strengthen their memory centers in the brain. As the memory palace is one of the most well known mnemonic techniques, it made sense to see how it played a role with the elderly. In 2003, a team of scientists from Sweden tested the memory of people in their twenties to people in their sixties using the Method of Lodi. The group was asked to memorize a list of words. All of the younger volunteers remembered roughly four or more words. Unfortunately, for their elderly patients, only half were able to remember the words.
In 2012, something changed with the success rate of elderly patients remember things better using the memory palace. In this study, a group of scientists from Canada tested three groups against one another. One using the traditional memory palace method, another used a virtual reality environment, and the last group didn’t use any specific method. The two groups that used the memory palace outperformed the third group. The virtual reality group did better than the group who used the traditional way. The concept of using software to help memory captured the attention of Scientific American. They conclude, “By using software that creates many diverse environments, the elderly may be able to tailor the richness and theme of each space to both their learning ability and to what they wish to remember.” This new information is good news for families with loved ones suffering from memory decline or loss.
In 1929, neuropsychologist Alexander Luria met a man with the impossible memory, Solomon Shereshevsk. Shereshevsk was a reporter with an unusual talent. Shereshevsk’s editor is the one who sent him to see Luria after he confronted Shereshevsk one day, asking why he did not take notes when doing assignments. Shereshevsk explained that he didn’t need to because he was able to remember things easily. Skeptical, the editor picked up the paper and read aloud to Shereshevsk. He then asked Shereshevsk to repeat what he just read, which he did so with ease.
Curious, Luria began to run some tests. The New Yorker was just as curious as Luria and wrote about Shereshevsk in their piece, The Mystery of S., the Man with an Impossible Memory. Author Reed Johnson explains one test Luria conducted. Shereshevsk listened as Luria read off lists of random numbers and words. Luria then asked Shereshevsk to repeat them. Fifteen years later the two met again, and surprisingly enough, Shereshevsk could still remember the words and numbers he initially read. All of this is documented in Luria’s case study, The Mind of a Mnemonist.
Since Shereshevsk, other memory wizards have made headlines all over the globe. In the 2009 German Memory Championship, memory master Boris Konrad took home the gold using the memory palace technique. This year a new memory champ from India, Sagar Vuchi, rose to fame when he broke the Guinness record for memorizing a sequence of 52 objects in one minute.
Fictional portrayals of the Method of Loci
The method of Loci appears in both Greek mythologies as well as TV shows! Greek myths were originally an oral tradition that required an excellent memory to continue to pass these stories from generation to generation. The goddess Mnemosyne, named appropriately, was the personification of memory and the inventress of language and words. As the story goes, she was one of the 12 children of Uranus and Gaia. The Greeks also believed that Mnemosyne is the mother of the Muses. Mnemosyne was an essential figure in Greece as she represented the difference between man and animal.
In recent years, the memory palace showed up on the BBC/Masterpiece program, Sherlock.
The popular series used the memory palace in its season finale as viewers got to see a new way of remembering and solving mysteries. Like many others, you can learn how you to create a memory palace. Creating a memory palace can help you comprehend what you read so that you can ace your next test or nail it at your next business presentation.
Learn more today and sign up for our online course, Advanced Comprehension & Memory. Exams always seem to be right around the corner, and you’ll be glad you learned this mnemonic method!