Practical Application of Mnemonics for Life-long Use

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#1 8 July, 2014 - 20:54
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Practical Application of Mnemonics for Life-long Use


Hi guys,

This post is mainly for me to write my thoughts and progress "out loud" as I progress with memory. There is a blog section to this site, but I prefer to post this in a more visible setting so that we can all talk and share as we go.

Recently, I've been interested in getting back into memory techniques, but this time to build something that will last for life. I feel that there is value in knowing geography, history, and your friends' telephone numbers all without having to reach for your phone to do so. I am not at all interested in being able to compete, or memorize cards and digits very quickly. What I am building is a self-reliant system that works with all types of knowledge integration that I can piece together for all my years to come.

The Unified Solution

So, to get started, I've built a unified memory palace, where each loci is a category which is a reference to another memory palace. So far, I've got:
1) Address book
2) To-do lists
3) Calculations, procedures, processes
4) Dreams (updated after every sleep)
5) Conversation and social topics
6) American knowledge
7) [No yet locked in] Ancient history

The unified palace, I call my "base palace", and the loci in that palace are "nested palaces". Within the nested palace, further nested palaces are allowed, thus becoming recursive like a branching tree. Some nested palaces in my base palace are very structured, and some are free-form. My address book follows a strict structure, with each entry conforming to the following format:
1) Name (image of the person)
- Top of head is the storage of the first name
- Middle of body is middle name
- Feet is where the last name is stored
2) Birthday
- 2 loci
- YYYYmmDD format with 00-99 PAO then P images
3) Phone numbers
- Nested palace with at least 5 loci
- 10 digit phone number system, with 00-99 PAO then PA images
- Room for 2 numbers and a loci for additional palaces to be attached
4) Miscellaneous information
- Every friend will have things about them that you want to remember
- Nested palace (medium size of approximately 25-35 loci)

Running Out of Space

When any nested palace runs out of room, memory is dynamically allocated by appending a nested palace at the end of the route, so I never have to worry about running out of room. I am always scanning the world around me for memory palaces, and it gives me a new view on remembering the world as I pass through it and create new memories and experiences.

Will it Break?

Now, the question arises:
Have I set the bar too high and dreamed a dream so grand that I will burn myself out attempting to achieve such a feat?

I actually don't think so. The goal I've set is quite pragmatic, as it really isn't a goal, but rather a process that grows organically. There are only 3 things that I have to do up front: lay out the base palace, construct a 0-9 person system and 00-99 PAO system using the major system, and construct an address book data structure. Since I end up doing a lot of my thinking with respect to this base palace, I always end up unintentionally "reviewing" material stored in there, and so review is continual and with minimal effort.

Preliminary Proof of Concept

So far, it all operates just like a set of memory palaces that are somehow linked together. On Sunday I memorized the 50 states of the US (I'm Canadian) in 25 minutes, and now I know the states with perfect recall (http://ironicsans.com/state22.html). Okay, so what? This is basically what the method of loci guarantees, therefore I have much further to go before I can say that this is successful. Here are a few other things I have memorized in the last 3 days:
- The 7 Wonders of the Ancient World
- Art of Conversation (http://www.artofmanliness.com/2010/09/24/the-art-of-conversation/)
- 2 of my dreams (I decided to start dreaming recently)
- A grocery to-do list, and another to-do item (wear a particular shirt today)

Remembering Each Day

As a side note, I'm also half-heartedly attempting Lembran's technique of remembering each day as an image on a mind-calendar (http://mt.artofmemory.com/forums/i-would-like-to-be-able-to-remember-eve...). I can remember each day going back to Friday, June 27th, 2014. It also does not have enough time behind it to verify the correctness of my approach.

Conclusion

What I'm aiming for is a simple set of rules that I can apply daily in order to build a large web of knowledge that guarantees near-perfect recall and quick access times (i.e. memory palaces) over my lifetime for items that I decide to encode during my daily life. Basically I'm in it for the long haul, and so even if my daily intake of knowledge has not increased after employing this system, the daily accumulation of memories over years of use will be very large. In the beginning when I chose to remember something, I would always forget and need to relearn it. Now with the same type of items, I will choose to remember it and know that I can.

9 July, 2014 - 08:16
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I admire the project's scope.

Please describe your memory palaces in more detail. Do you use real-world locations? Other than recursion, how do you organize the loci? What do you use for encoding the PAOs: Dominic? Major? Do you use a SRS for any part of this system?

9 July, 2014 - 19:30
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Hey Jay, thanks for the interest.

Jay Dugger wrote:
Please describe your memory palaces in more detail. Do you use real-world locations?

Currently I'm using 100% real locations. My base palace is the house I grew up in as a child, and the subsequent palaces are my friend's houses from various points in my life. I am always thinking of more locations to add to my list of palaces. Each time I add another (but haven't used it), I survey it to count the number of potential loci. That way, I can more effectively use the palaces I have when I need them (ex. the 50 US states are in a In-N-Out burger joint with lots of seats and tables, and the 7 wonders of the ancient world are in a small, skinny Subway). I plan on using virtual locations (ex. video games, paintings) and locations I haven't visited yet (virtual tours) in the future.

Jay Dugger wrote:
Other than recursion, how do you organize the loci?

I'm not sure exactly what you're asking, but I'll try to answer the best I can. :)

I usually organize my loci as a route, usually left-to-right, but not always, and always bottom floor to top floor. In my base palace, each loci is a nested palace, so right now, they are images of my friends doing something weird and memorable, and that reminds me of their house. This allows me to teleport to their house, and once I'm there, I know what "category" it holds (if I had forgotten). So none of the category data is held in the nested palace image at the base palace level. Usually that data will be held at the first image of the nested palace (ex. my "American Knowledge" palace has the first loci being Abe Lincoln and Ben Franklin blocking the door while 20-story tall radiation-made Washington is looming in the background, about to crush the house with his giant foot. I push Ben and Abe out of the way, and in doing so, Abe blows his brains out as he falls, and Ben electrocutes himself.)

I travel through the palaces just like I would walk through them, but there are times when the route doesn't loop very well, so I have to run past a bunch of images earlier in the chain to get to the next loci. When I review, I sometimes go backwards, or float around and view the palace as a 3-D cutaway so I can view all of the loci at once.

When I'm dealing with single items as a list (ex. states), then I just have one image per loci, but for something like countries and their respective capitals, I use vertical space to add more loci (ex. Brazil is a well-endowed, bare-chested woman with extravagant festival attire on, and under her feet is a bra with silly-string that sprays in my eyes -- Brasilia).

In terms of what I consider what a loci is when I look through a palace, it is usually a corner, a focal point, something special I remember, a seat, a table, a door -- basically anything that gives me clues as to spatial volume (a flat wall would not be memorable at all).

Jay Dugger wrote:
What do you use for encoding the PAOs: Dominic? Major?

I'm about 1/3 through my 00-99 PAO system (I'll link it when I'm finished), however the system I've settled on is the Major system (0 = c,z,s; 1 = t,th,d; ... etc.). I am aiming for each image (P, A, or O) to be 2 syllables, and only one word each. I found that having a system that relied on first and last names was not intuitive (ex. PeaCH = 96 as opposed to Princess Peach = 99). I use fictional and real characters (I love using Final Fantasy characters).

I also have a set of 0-9 character images (single syllable) for numbers that are odd. When I memorize numbers, I plan on filling up the string of images with PAO until I have to use a single digit image (for odd numbers).

Jay Dugger wrote:
Do you use a SRS for any part of this system?

So far I haven't had the need to do any sort of regimented spaced repetition other than what I tend to do naturally: after I memorize, I go through the list, then the next day I check to see if it's still stuck in there. I think once the volume grows, I'll have to figure something out so I don't lose images. :)

16 July, 2014 - 12:58
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Images and Dreams

Every morning I awaken with a past life unthreading itself from me and returning to the nether from whence it came. And every morning, I ask its name before it leaves. I speak of dreams, and of the insight that may be gained from remembering what plays out in your mind as you lay unconscious in your bed. Of all types of memory tasks, I find this task to be the most unstable, but most interesting.

My dreams occur in 3 or more parts, usually somewhat related, like a 3 part theatre performance where the scenes are swapped behind the curtains. If I attempt to encode the image before solidifying the dream in my working memory, the imagery of the mental journey through my memory palace will kill or damage the clarity of the dream. Encoding a dream, or set of dreams, into a single image that will allow clear recall is a task that requires a bit of creativity and effort, which can be hard when I'm groggy and unfocused. :)

I've captured my dreams successfully in the past 7 days. Prior to that, I hadn't "had a dream" (i.e. couldn't remember) in almost a year.

Images, Motivation, and Speed

I started out strong with the focus required to build my unified memory palace, and to ensure that it will scale well as it grows. I continue to work on it at a steady pace now at a meta-level (the structure, organization, gathering of memory palaces, etc.), but filling it with content has become slower. I mainly attribute this to my momentary motivation only lasting so long (which is expected), and my fairly slow ability to create solid images. I have a high standard for creating images, and I like to have them perfect, so I actually expend a lot of mental energy memorizing things. This has led to temporary burnout, where I didn't even want to memorize any more countries and capitals to add to my list. This is a big problem, because spending a long time on each item is not necessary. I know that my brain can go faster, but it is not yet used to it.

Practicing Speed like an Expert

In the same way that you learn how to speed read, I am going to use to speed up my image creation. If I deliberately force myself to memorize a given set of items faster than I am comfortable doing, I'm sure that my brain will end up expending less energy per item than it previously did.

So in order to change my speed in an impactful and long-term way, I'm going to practice like an expert. I'll be setting aside a block of time each day to work specifically on speed, and dedicate my focus wholly to that task. I'll be using a metronome and timer as references. I'll record the beats per minute (bpm), time elapsed, number of items memorized, items/minute, how I felt about the speed, and how my recall was after 1 minute. I thought about using cards for this, but after a while it would become a rote task of using pre-determined images for the cards. I want to increase my speed of image creation on the fly, so I will be memorizing any list that I'm interested in at the time.

3 August, 2014 - 20:39
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Hey, I was very inspired with your post! I'm getting to learn the memory techniques to the same goal that you mentioned. We receive a lot of info now a days and being able to organize our mind is incredible. Thanks for sharing, don't give up. I will try to build something similar and someday I hope to share and help others, just like you are doing.

23 August, 2014 - 10:55
Roi
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How do you memorise your dreams and have you ever thought that writing them down is perhaps a better option? I mean it's already some sort of 5 sense (well, usually just visuals, audio and tactile) extraordinary walkthrough, which our memory captures very well, except dreams don't go to LTM by default. Surely, the simplest path is to describe it in words, which will give more detailed reference, than the unspecific description images give.

23 October, 2014 - 12:46
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Hey everyone!

I haven't posted in quite some time as work got extremely busy, and now I'm back into a very busy school term. I hope to post a bit more frequently as I have been exploring memory and making notes but I haven't made the time to share my thoughts. Since my last post I've generally stopped using my memory palace; however with a quick mental scan through the loci it does remain fully intact.

Recently I've been obsessed with learning languages and playing with Memrise! You can follow me at: http://www.memrise.com/user/j.johnston.guitar94/
I've been learning Serbian, German, Toki Pona, Latin, and a few other languages, as well as doing some of my course work memorization with custom courses. I have a few quick personal findings regarding Memrise:

  • Points are awesome and I'm addicted to getting more points!
  • I love the variety and number of courses available, as I have a sort of project-based ADD
  • It's great for learning about simple differences in a domain, for example learning different breeds of dogs
  • When learning words in a language, using mems (mnemonic images) is absolutely essential in remembering them
  • For me, learning a language solely on Memrise doesn't work because I need to experience real use of the language, like in news articles or radio
  • Memrise is so great for learning arbitrary information needed for school, for example I used it to create a course on Roman Society that helped me score very high on my exam
  • Memrise is horrible for mathematics, except for keeping up on terminology, for example I did not need to use it at all for my Optimization and Numerical Methods course
  • Even though Memrise is bad for math, there still exists a script that renders LaTeX code on the web browser: http://www.memrise.com/thread/1297983/

Until next time! :)

gibramt wrote:
Hey, I was very inspired with your post! I'm getting to learn the memory techniques to the same goal that you mentioned. We receive a lot of info now a days and being able to organize our mind is incredible. Thanks for sharing, don't give up. I will try to build something similar and someday I hope to share and help others, just like you are doing.

Thank you for the encouragement and support. I hope you've been enjoying exploring human memory and remembering cool things! :)

Roi wrote:
How do you memorise your dreams and have you ever thought that writing them down is perhaps a better option? I mean it's already some sort of 5 sense (well, usually just visuals, audio and tactile) extraordinary walkthrough, which our memory captures very well, except dreams don't go to LTM by default. Surely, the simplest path is to describe it in words, which will give more detailed reference, than the unspecific description images give.

Good question! In the past I used to write them down as soon as I woke up, and it's exactly as you've described. You're right that writing dreams down is probably the best way to capture them. When I used to do it, I would be able to get almost all of my dream written out before it could disappear from my memory. I liked doing it, but I fell out of practice. When I started up again, I wanted to see if I could capture them in a memory palace, which would preserve the order and number of the dreams, be accessible without a notebook, and would somewhat represent the linearity of time. The downside for me is that I need to use my imagination to record the dream in the memory palace, and so I end up overwriting the dream. In the end I was always able to capture little pieces of my dreams, but only sometimes did I remember the whole dream.

Have you been remembering and recording your dreams as well, Roi? How do you like to do it, and what is your experience like?

30 December, 2014 - 19:29
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Hi everyone!

Password Security and Mnemonics

The Lazy Man

A few days ago I was sitting in my living room chair absorbing all the glory that is Christmas holiday relaxation, along with my eldest brother who was down for the holidays. He had been pushing me to dual boot my laptop with the lovely Ubuntu distribution of Linux as well as the Windows 7 I was running. I had been meaning to do it for a long time, and so I caved. He had also been pushing a local encrypted password database program, KeePass on me. It had been a long time since I had updated my passwords, and at the time I had been storing them in an encrypted Word doc file. I transferred information for my accounts over to the database, and cleaned out and deregistered from the accounts that were no longer useful to me.

Having never cared for super-secure passwords aside from the standard suggestions of minimal password length and alphanumeric plus symbol characters, I stumbled upon an XKCD comic:

XKCD Comic

Is It Safe?

Now, there is some discussion on whether this type of password is safe, but I think that it is a hell of a lot safer than my previous passwords. Also its memorable quality allows me to more consistently use a unique password for each account.

Now, we can do the calculations ourselves on whether this type of password produces sufficient entropy (randomness) to deter a brute force attack (a series of guesses) on our account or service.

If each word is selected from a list of 2048 words, then each word has a 1 in 2048 chance (probability of 1/2048) of being chosen. Password entropy is calculated using a log scale, where S = log2(N), where N is the collection size from which an element is randomly chosen. In this case, each word has log2(2048) = 11 bits of entropy, giving us 44 bits of entropy with 4 words.

If an attacker doesn't know our words (the most likely case) we calculate the entropy using each character. If we use 4 words of 6 letters each (case insensitive), we have a string of 24 alphabetic characters. Each letter is one of 26 we could choose from, so each letter has log2(26) = 4.7 bits of entropy. Gathered together, that's 112.8 bits of total entropy. This isn't the case, however, because the characters are not truly random (ex. English words often have more occurrence of the letter 'e' than 'x'). Therefore the entropy is somewhere between 44 and 112.8. This is enough entropy for us.

So it's safe! This looks like an opportunity for mnemonics to step in!

A Palace of Keys

Since these passwords are very long (up to 37 or so characters!) but very secure, it seems as if the only limitation is in memory in common use of the password. It is also important to have a unique password for each service that you register with. However, the use of words in your native language means that it is significantly easier to remember any one password. With memory palaces, if one password is easy to remember, then all of them are easy to remember! We can encode each word as an image and link them together in a location along a memory palace.

Now this method involves basically finding a set of semi-common words and randomly selecting them, then adding some sort of numbers and symbols somewhere that is memorable. I took a frequency list of words in the English language and grabbed about 2048 words that were less frequently used. I created a spreadsheet with a random number column along with the word list. Hitting sort produces a set of random words, of which I take the top four as my new password.

For most of my important accounts, I scrapped the old password and generated a new one. I decided to use the fond memories of my high school music room as my Palace of Keys. In each location I placed an image that describes the service or account. My password sequence then sprouts from that image somehow, and each word links to the next in a short story.

3 February, 2015 - 11:04
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Hi everyone!

This post is going to be a short one. In the past few weeks, I've been taking a public speaking course as an 'elective' for my engineering program (I'm graduating soon, Woo!!). The course involves getting to know everyone's names, doing readings and watching videos about language and identity, doing speeches, and giving feedback to other students. I personally love this course because the possibilities are endless when it comes to presenting a part of yourself to an audience. How will you hold their attention? How will you organize your structure so that it ties together like a beautifully weaved narrative? How do you use imagery to paint what you wish your audience to see?

Now, my imagination is restless, and when I unleash it upon speech design I dream up amazing wordscapes. I consider my body language and its effect on my audience, I consider how I want the audience to resonate, and I consider how I can convey what I intend with the most power and emphasis possible. This works remarkably well in the mind, but reproduction of it is an approximation. A part of this approximation is remembering the words that you will be speaking and the gestures you will be painting your words with. Luckily we have ways of doing this! In fact, I feel that this is one of the main factors that allows me to have a speech entirely memorized but spoken like an extemporaneous conversation, as well as being able to do the same speech weeks later.

You cannot focus on the higher-level art of connecting with the inner child of your audience, the primary essence, when you're spending all of your brainpower trying to remember what you are trying to say. When I'm finished constructing a speech, I translate each of my points into an image that describes the essence of the point. I take each of these points and place them along a journey in a memory palace that I use for this class. Then I practice the speech a few times without, then with a timer to ensure I nail the time reliably. In one of my speeches I speak to my love of flowery language:

Line 1: This language loves the luscious lips of the lexicon.
Line 2: And so I scour the seven seas in search of silver saturated souls of the syntactically seductive.
Line 3: The few I find are far from frequent but fill my future with fantastical fables of phonetic facetiousness

And I encoded it like so:

Line 1: A fat dictionary opens its mouth to reveal big, red, luscious lips, and it licks those luscious lips with a big tongue!
Line 2: I scour the cushions of the couch (with seven seas maps on it) and find an action figure that is filling up with silver until it is saturated, and then it pulls a laptop from its ass (suavely) then sexily writes software syntax like Zoolander (the movie).
Line 3: A giant 'F' sits in the dining room chair, oscillating with low frequency back and forth, and coughing up (facetiously) feces on the table onto the character from Fable (the video game)

Ciao and enjoy your week!

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