The Brain and Mind Palaces
August 17, 2017 by Matt
In preparation for Oregon Eclipse, Guerilla Science spoke with Shai Azoulai, neuroscientist at University of California, San Diego. We talked about how our minds work and ways to develop them.
What is a Mind Palace?
If you’ve ever watched the shows Sherlock Holmes, Sneaky Pete, or The Mentalist, you may have heard the term. At mention, you’re taken through a some type of flashback or imagination sequence.
But what is it? If you’ve watched these shows, it could just be a narrative device that the protagonist(s) use to recall bits of information that make them seem almost super-human. On the other hand, it could be real-life skill that the protagonist(s) developed to recall bits of information that make them seem super-human…
Where does the concept originate from?
The concept of the Mind (or memory) Palace was originally created by the Greeks ~500 BC. They referred to it as ‘the Method of Loci’ (loci being Latin for places). It was a tool that was developed to help orators remember the order and the content of their talking points.
How does it work and how do I make one?
A Mind Palace is as complex as you decide to make it. Back in the day, if an orator wanted to remember a speech, this is how they’d do it:
First, create and/or determine a structure…
Something that can/could exist in the real world
Then, become familiar with how it’s built.
This could either be something that’s familiar or something you draw up on your own. But the idea here is to become familiar with
Determine what to remember
Key points, anecdotes, structure, etc.
Determine how to remember
For the orator, they look to create mnemonics for the parts of the speech. If they wanted to remember to use the phrase ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’, inside their structure they could place an unfinished replica of the colosseum.
Optional: Determine an order to remember it (also known as ‘The Journey Method’)
This part could be a little more tricky. After the figuring out the mnemonics the orator makes the attempt to line up them up in a way that makes sense relative to the speech that they’re giving. This is called a ‘Journey Method’. This is a route that is walked along, where key items along that mental path trigger what you’re trying to remember.
Why does it work?
According to Shai Azoulai — neuroscientist for University of California, San Diego — it seems to be the case that over time the brain has evolved to a point where it’s become very good at solving problems. Our brains have evolved to problem solve for survival, both in a physiological (skull encasing your brain) and environmental (where do I get my next meal?) sense.
So what does this have to do with a super awesome memory technique that can basically turns anyone into a walking-talking table of contents?
Well, if the brain gives us the ability to remember where we find things physically in the real world, what’s stopping us from having the ability to remember where we find things mentally in an imaginary world?
Shai Azoulai is joining Guerilla Science at Oregon Eclipse 2017 where he will be presenting “A User’s Guide to the Human Mind”.