Method of Loci
The method of loci is a method of memorizing information by placing each item to be remembered at a point along an imaginary journey. The information can then be recalled in a specific order by retracing the same route through the imaginary journey. Loci is the plural for of the Latin word, locus, meaning place or location. The method of loci is also called the Journey Method by Dominic O'Brien, and the imaginary journeys are often referred to as Memory Palaces or Memory Journeys. See also Mind Palace, the term used in the TV show, Sherlock.
The earliest surviving mentions of the method of loci appear in the Rhetorica ad Herennium, Cicero's De Oratore, and Quintilian's Institutio Oratoria. Roman legend attributed the method to a Greek poet, Simonides of Ceos, who discovered the technique while identifying bodies in the wreckage of a collapsed building that he had been sitting in just moments before.
Records of the technique only go back to Simonides in the 6th Century BCE, but it is possible, and even likely, that it is much older. Other mnemonic techniques that involve spacial relationship include Songlines and Lukasas.
Create the Memory Journey
Create a mental journey along a well-known route, for example, through your house. The first 10 loci, or locations, of the journey might be:
- your bedroom, on your bed
- your bedroom, in your closet
- other bedroom
- living room
- dining room
- front porch
These 10 locations are your first "memory palace". You will always travel through your memory palace in the same order.
Memorize the Items
Then, take a list of ten items that you want to memorize, and imagine each item in one locus, or location, of your memory palace. For example, you could try memorizing the following shopping list:
- bar of soap
- dish soap
- hot sauce
Using the sample memory palace above, you would place the corn in the first locus of the memory palace, which is in your bedroom on your bed. You could exaggerate the corn cob by making it a large corn cob sleeping in your bed.
Then, place the second item in the list in the second location of the memory palace and so on.
Recall the Items
To recall the items, just mentally retrace your route through the memory palace and you should be able to retrieve the data.
If you want to store the memorized information for a longer period of time, use repetition and go through the memory palace a few times per day until it sticks.
After you try it with 10 items and can recite them forwards and backwards in order, try expanding your memory palace to 30 locations and see if you can do the same with 30 items.
Quotes about the technique
- The oldest known description of the method of loci is in the Rhetorica ad Herennium, written sometime around 90 BCE.
- Cicero's De Oratore mentioned the method of loci.
- Read what Quintilian had to say about the method of loci.