Not everyone has the same ability to retain knowledge. However, there are ways to improve memory.
One of the best known techniques for achieving this goal is what is called the memory palace.. We will devote this article to the analysis of this method, knowing the characteristics that make it different from others and where its effectiveness apparently lies.
What is the memory palace. Definition and history
The memory palace, also known as the loci method, the spirit palace technique or the memory journey, is a resource for increasing retention capacity, the basis of which is the mental generation of a spatial scenario known to the subject, which will serve as a guide to facilitate memory.
While this may sound like a modern, cutting edge method, the truth is that this system is one of the oldest known mnemonic methods. Its origin is between the 6th century and the 5th century BC. The one who makes it known is none other than Cicero, jurist, writer and general personality of the Roman Empire.
Cicero learned the palace system from memory from another author, Simonides of Ceos, a poet of classical Greece., which, without knowing it, developed a method of remembering through a fortuitous event. Simonides was with Scopas, a rich man who had found him to write him a poem in his honor and tell it to his guests.
However, when Simónides finished, Scopas was not satisfied, as he alleged that in the text other personalities were mentioned more (mythological) than himself, who was the protagonist, which is why he decided to pay him only half of what had been agreed. on, placing Simonides to get the rest of the money in the houses of the other characters mentioned in the poem.
But, just as I left the place, there was an earthquake, which reduced this house and other houses in the area to rubble. When it came to who had died in the house of Scopas, the work of Simonides was of great value, thanks to the Palace of Memory.. How was this possible? Thanks to the way Simonides stored the memories.
This man was able to identify all the bodies found because he remembered the exact position occupied by each of the people present in Scopas’ house. Thus, using the palace of memory, all he had to do was mentally walk through the stay he had gone to some time before, and locate all those present one by one.
This is the origin of the so-called loci method, which also receives this name because, in Latin, the term loci means “places”, and refers to the use of the spatial reference, that is to say at the precise place, like a system to be memorized in a simpler and more detailed way.
Recovery of the method in the Middle Ages
But this was not the only historical moment when the Palace of Memory has been used. Several centuries later, already placing us in the Middle Ages, were various groups of monks, whose task was to preserve different parts of the Bible in order to tell these scriptures later without having to read them.
Even the theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas mentioned this methodology and recommended it as one of the means to study, meditate, and achieve the goal Christians had in godliness.. He is not the only one who has revitalized the use of the Loci method. Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit missionary, used this system in an attempt to transfer knowledge of Christianity to the countries of the East.
In fact, it was Ricci himself who baptized this methodology with the expression palace of memory. Later, towards the end of the 15th century, astronomer Giordano Bruno tried to use the zodiacal constellations as spatial regions with which to memorize concepts.
However, not everyone approved of the use of the Memory Palace. For some authorities, this way of creating knowledge was not in accordance with what the divine mandates ordered. This was the case with Protestant extremists in England, known as the Puritans, whose arguments were supported by Erasmus of Rotterdam.
For another long season, the Palace of Memory fell into disuse. But it was in the 19th century that it recovered and began to be applied gradually, reaching its maximum popularity in the United States, throughout the 20th century. In fact, this was the methodology used by the winners of the 1997 American Memorial Championship.
How the Palace of Memory works
We already know the history of the memory palace or the loci method. We will now delve into the elements on which it bases its effectiveness as a mnemonic rule. The system is as follows: the person you want to remember a number of things, the first thing you need to do is choose a space that you know well, for example a house or the room in a building.
These images are lodged in long-term memory, so they are quality memories. The person will take a mental journey through this place establishing a series of milestones, or places, that is, places. At each of these points, you will try to visualize one of the elements that you hear to remember, by seeing it physically there.
The next step will of course be memory reclamation. For this reason, the subject will once again make the journey through the mental images of the place which had served as his guide. As you walk through the living room or the space mentioned, you will stop in front of each of the places. In each of these places, he will “observe” the element he had memorized.
This is how he takes advantage of all the potential offered by the memory palace system. If sufficiently trained, it can be used to memorize long strings of items. Obviously, the individual abilities that each subject has as a basis will also make a difference.
In this sense, we find world champions of memory like Clemens Mayer, who came to use a mental journey with 300 stops in which he distributed 1040 numbers to be able to recover them after 30 minutes of memorization. Dominic O’Brien used this technique to be proclaimed world champion in memory no less than eight times.
Another master of mnemonics, Gary Shang, was able to memorize more than 65,000 decimal places of the number pi, pushing the virtues of the memory palace to the extreme.. This feat, of course, is within the grasp of very few, no matter how well mastered the loci method is.
Memory Palace training in six weeks
In the 2021 study conducted by the team of researchers led by Wagner, the Palace of Memory is used to test the performance that a group of people might experience in front of people who specialize in using different mnemonic rules. .
In a first phase, the authors focused on the group of mental athletes, studying the methods used by these individuals, who in some cases were among the top 50 people in the world in memory capacity records, so we are talking about the most competent people in this discipline.
Regarding individuals with average memorization abilities, two groups were formed, one to which a six-week training was applied to different methods to facilitate memory through images, among which was the memory palace. . The other was the control group, which did not receive this training.
The interest of the study lay in the application of the MRI technique to observe what was happening in the brains of these people as they retrieved the memories they had encoded using this methodology. The activation of the lateral prefrontal cortex gradually decreased throughout the process.
On another side, an activity was observed in particular at the level of the hippocampus and the neocortex during the phase of consolidation of memories through the memory palace. The study was extended for 4 months so that the long-term results could be reviewed. Research allows know graphically the brain processes underlying this method of memory.
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