Human Memory

Sherlock's Mind Palace

Let’s get you going so the usage of this infamous technique will become less mysterious.

Ponder the idea that people walking around you have a mind palace like Sherlock. Or one like Sherlock’s nemesis’s mind palace. Sherlock's mind palace is something most have seen but might not have ‘bookmarked’ it.

The astonishing mind palace of Sherlock Holmes, for example, is created out of well-known environments with many specific objects inside i.e., loci. To memorize something, the subject mentally navigates through a loci path to form a vivid link between the desired information and the specific loci. To retrieve the needed memories, the subject simply re-imagines walking through a Mind Palace's particular environment.

"Get out, I need to go to my mind palace," Sherlock exclaims suddenly, and Watson and the female doctor leave the room. Sherlock himself dramatically closes his eyes and then seems to fly around in a spectacular inner world where thousands of memory fragments and bits of information he has saved from previous investigations pass him by at supersonic speeds. He shifts away, twists, and turns the puzzle pieces until he finally finds what he is looking for, and everything falls into place. The case is solved!

If you've seen this episode of the BBC's popular TV series Sherlock, you've probably smiled at the whimsical idea of ​​the screenwriters to let genius Sherlock have access to some kind of superhuman memory navigation system inside his own brain. However, the fact is that this particular aspect of history is not made up, but a very real tool that anyone can learn how to use.

By chance, if you visit the World Memory Championships, you will witness an entire room full of people behaving more or less like Sherlock. Before writing down the thousands of numbers or playing cards that they have memorized, they often close their eyes and move their hands as if guiding themselves through an invisible maze, real only to their inner eye. It is also precisely this that enables them to remember as much as they do. But what then is a  mind palace, and how can you match Sherlock's enormous memory ability? A mind palace is simply a place that you know pretty well and can imagine yourself in. The most common starting point is your own house or the house you grew up in. Then you can continue with your local neighborhood and, in the long run, your entire hometown. To store facts and memories in your palace, you simply imagine what you want to remember – coded into images – in different locations along the way.

Let's create a small memory palace to get you going! We’ll start with your home. I assume you have the following things where you live: a front door, a hall rug, a bed, a toilet chair, a kitchen table, an oven, and a refrigerator.

Imagine that you are standing outside your front door. If you don’t have a letter slot, visualize that you do have it. Then imagine that you previously ordered a chicken pizza. Since you were not at home, the pizza delivery man stuck the pizza halfway through the letterbox. You try to pull it out, but it's stuck.

Then move mentally in through the door and to the hall rug. Picture a large matchbox in the middle of it. When you open it, you discover that Pikachu is hiding inside, ready to ignite any match at any time with an electric shockwave.

You feel a little confused about what’s happened so far, so you go to your bed, only to discover that it’s already occupied. None other than Jesus lies there, fast asleep, surrounded by a heavenly light.

You decide to leave him alone and take a wee instead, but as soon as you sit down on the toilet chair, you feel something sting one of your buttocks. When you look, you realize that a ferocious gladiator is curled up down in the toilet seat. Help! As fast as you can, you move over to the kitchen. Here you’re met by an even worse surprise. Someone poured a large tank of petroleum all over your kitchen table and set it on fire!

Simultaneously, as you become anxious about this, you scent a fantastic smell from the oven. It smells so good that you completely forget that the petroleum table is burning and open the oven door to peek in there instead. Inside is a fantastic cake, shaped precisely like the Taj Mahal! Incredible! You take a small piece with you and then move over to…

…the refrigerator, which when you open, turns out to be a magic gate leading to China! When you take a step into the fridge, you step straight up onto the Great Wall of China, which then continues as far as the eye can see, way beyond lunch boxes and milk packages.

How did it feel? Strange? That’s quite irrelevant! Let us instead see how much of this you now remember! Try answering the questions below:

1. What was stuck in your letter slot?
2. What did you see on your hall rug?
3. Who was lying in your bed?
4. Who huddled up in the toilet?
5. What was your kitchen table covered in?
6. What did you find in the oven?
7. To what did the refrigerator lead?

Correct answers: 1. Chicken pizza, 2. Matchbox with Pikachu, 3. Jesus, 4. Gladiator, 5. Petroleum, 6. Taj Mahal cake, 7. The Great Wall of China

Not bad! 

Hopefully, you recalled them quite easily, and in that case, you can now proudly say that you know the Seven Wonders of the World in order from west to east:

Chicken Pizza = Chichén Itzá (Mayan City in Mexico)

Matchbox with Pikachu = Machu Picchu (Inca city in Peru)

Jesus = Statue of Christ in Rio de Janeiro

Gladiator = Colosseum in Rome

Petroleum = Petra (city carved out of the rocks in Jordan)

Taj Mahal Cake = The Taj Mahal (Monument in India)

The Great Wall of China = The Great Wall of China

And this is just the beginning. With a little practice, you can use exactly this technique to remember hundreds or even thousands of things! Who knows, maybe you're the next Sherlock Holmes?


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