Analysis of visual memory systems

To all the analytic, structured, critical thinkers and any computer nerds here,

I’m a teacher. I trained technical people in software analysis, design, programming, testing, and UML modeling for about the last 20 years and enjoy being able to explain difficult business processes that use complex data structures the best possible way. It’s really only the last few years that I felt like I could do it well.

After revisiting memory systems three years ago in order to help me memorize Bible verses, I realized that I was trying to program my brain. But I didn’t have a computer language, no data models, no good software requirements, no rule tables, and it seemed like a gigantic undertaking. My memory did things I didn’t understand but I knew it was trying to talk to me.

So, two years ago, I started documenting memory systems the way that I knew using requirements gathering (thank you to everyone on this :artofmemory: forum!), data modeling, problem definition, language definition, process models and whatever shed light on these magical ways we learn to amend our natural memories.

If the medieval Catholic Church and the Puritans only knew about these magical artificial memories we have now we call a computer. One of my favorite quotes about advanced systems is from Arthur C. Clarke:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

So it’s been my passion to formalize this memory magic to tame it, measure the complexity of systems, and understand which systems would work the best for my intent. After two years of writing about what my brain does with these, I think it’s still got a lot of holes so I can use your help now. My Bible verse memorization is doing great. But I just don’t know what to do with the 35,000 words I’ve written.

So I can share pieces for feedback if anyone is interested here to help refine what I think works and see if it holds up under scrutiny by the professionals and whether everyone understands it. I’ll take suggestions for what would help people and explain the diagramming and terms I’ve chosen. Here’s a poll to get started so I know what is most interesting for people. I like a poll with up to three choices:

  • Standard term definitions and data types
  • Process definition
  • Encoding systems
    (words, letters, digits, people)
  • Traversal systems
    (stories, object, list)
  • Image enhancement
  • Peg systems
  • Key storage systems
    (objects, palaces, journeys)
  • Storage type
    (top-down vs. bottom-up)
  • Verbatim text memorization
  • Graphic models
  • Mapping by rules

0 voters

Thanks for helping me out.


Your study is fascinating. And I really wish you all the best.

Selfishly, I want to know the best way for Bible memorization through text/verbatim techniques.


Thanks for your generosity in choosing to share your theories. Even though I have no background in computer science, I personally like to see this whole body of knowledge on memory as technologies for the information-processing machines that our brains are.

I’m interested on knowing about your views on the processes involved in memorization through mnemonics and their parallels with your field of work. Looking forward to your posts!


A quick thought on the differences between songline, method of loci, and memory palaces in my system of categorization to see if people concur.

They are all key storage systems with slight differences so it’s easy to mix them up when in use. I’ve waffled back and forth several times.

Key storage system – a preplanned structure for locations optionally using backgrounds and traversal methods.

Songline - my general term is journey which is traversed by a story or a type of peg system. A walk along a prescribed path is an ordered set of specific locations or a peg system where image keys can be stored.

Memory palace - I tend to see this as a synonym of the method of loci. But my idea of a locus is more like a background as translated in the Rhetorica ad Herennium instead of a distinct position. I use memory palaces without a traversal method to store multiple image keys and just look around to see what’s there limiting the image keys to around five to seven.

When identifying positions in a room/locus/background to store multiple image keys, that background becomes a memory object with positions for image keys bound to a traversal method to guarantee complete path coverage (any software testers out there?). Several different objects or stories can be added to reuse the same background. This two-level nesting is what can be called image aggregation (any software designers out there?) and extend your objects as much as you need.

Some memory palaces are pre-planned or created as a top-down system for reuse purposes and cleaned out before the next use. Utilitarian and dull. I like to create bottom-up palaces where the images create the backgrounds and I can create sequences of backgrounds by story to traverse my palace. This is how I structured the Bible (book=palace, groups of chapters = background, chapter = memory object in background, verse = image key associated with memory object).

Songlines are journeys with aggregations of memory objects it seems. I’m going to read @LynneKelly’s book when it arrives to get more clear on that.


@laurianH, it was the study of the Bible that led me to learn how to memorize with mnemonic systems. But without a background of systems analysis, I would have been hopelessly lost. The very first part which would be in my category of data types in the initial survey above, has to be first. In business analysis, it’s called stating the problem correctly. It’s said that a problem well stated is half solved.

Are you interested in knowing specific verses, specific categories of verses, trying to do whole chapters, prepare for memory verse competitions, or something else? I’ll suggest some memory techniques for you as we go and you can post your successes. God bless you.


I look forward to your input @fdsaavedra As a medical student, you may find that the medical body of knowledge will blend with data processing terms much more in the future. I really don’t see our brains as information processing machines but having the ability to use information processing techniques to extend our artificial memories. We seem to have a built-in God-given sense of basic ethics that a machine can’t have.

Science certainly has understood the biochemistry of memory much more lately but I might describe our brain as more of a physical interface to our mind and mnemonic systems as a visual interface language to our mind. If I were to write a book, it might be called Memory systems - a language for the imagination.


Thanks for your reply. Primarily, whole chapters and then specific categories particularly promises I could use whilst preaching

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Thanks to all the folks who voted in the poll. I learned some things and was surprised by a few things. For those people who are interersted in verbatim text memorization, I’ve created a topic concerning Bible verse memorization called System 7711 Bible memorization.

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The poll’s number one choice was for encoding systems. Here’s a listing of the types that I’ve read about and examples with the same value to encode for each resulting in a mostly different encoded image. If you have other types, let me know and I’ll add them to my list.

Single word encoding systems

Each system use the same example of Washington, which is either George, the state, or the district.

By tautology

  1. First president
  2. Apple state
  3. US capital

By key syllable

  1. washing machine / washboard
  2. heavy washing machine / washboard
  3. heavy washing machine

By related sound

  1. washing stone
  2. watch a ton
  3. war shin town

By related party

  1. Martha Washington
  2. Washington Football Team (formerly known as the Redskins)
  3. The Washington Post

By related actions

  1. A subject washing clothes by hand.
  2. A subject chopping a cherry tree.
  3. A subject crossing a river while standing up. (Crossing the Delaware)

By related objects

  1. Cherry tree
  2. Wooden teeth
  3. One dollar bill

By related locations

  1. Washington memorial in DC
  2. Seattle Space Needle
  3. In a boat in the middle of the Delaware

By other qualities

  1. Sound of clacking wooden teeth
  2. Sound of snapping a dollar bill
  3. Taste of crisp apple.

Multiple word encoding systems

These systems use more than one non-encoded value to create an image. This is not the same as using two image keys combined to create a new key though.

By first letter

My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas (planets)

By acronym

J. Jason, DJ - FM-AM (months of the year)


Wow, this has come at the best possible time. I’m compiling mnemonic techniques and principles and this type of precise analysis and ordering is just what I needed.

I’ll be looking forward eagerly to your future posts. I’m also following your verbatim Bible thread.

Cheers, from your newest fan!

I’m sad that bottom-up organization is so far down the poll list! Do you think you’ll get around to expounding upon that idea, or know a good resource that explains it?


found a bit more in your reply here:

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Thanks for watching and reviewing my work. I need other analyst types to help confirm and critique.

I’ve never seen any information on bottom-up vs. top-down methods of constructing palaces. I have seen a mention of having image keys already situated in the background vs. placing your own image keys there, but without noting how important it is for long-term retention and structuring. I’ll give you a brief summary here to get you started if you are planning to use it or just want to know the differences as it relates to my progression in using memory palaces.

In the first few system iterations I tried, in the top-down construction style, where I took a pre-built palace filled with number-peg objects and populated it with stories of Bible verse encoded images, I found it created many bizarre and uncomfortable images, which tended to be unstable over time and created a need for too much review. Another side effect was that, I would say, the objects themselves were very unfriendly with each other without any type of association to their roommates. :grimacing:

The bottom-up construction style resulted from wanting to structure the Bible chapters better into smaller chunks for following the psychological rule of chunking, also known as Miller’s law. I had used common pegs for chapter numbers to help traverse the book in order. Instead, I revisited all the 261 chapters of the New Testament to see if it was feasable to encode them into unique images by way of the book palace context. (Matthew is a Math University building and Matthew 12 is now a dean’s office using the Major system)

I had to extend my list of Major system peg words as much as possible for options to select from that fit the theme of the book. My chart has somewhere between 10 and 30 peg words to select from. That exercise in peg word discovery gave me a mental traversal method for reviewing all the options but after a while I found that the familiarity with the selected peg was getting better.

Then I noticed that my peg words were able to be connected to a background that suggested itself. This is the bottom-up construction method. Some peg words were swapped for better relevancy based on that background. Matthew 12, the dean’s office, is in the administrative area of the math building. Matthew 13 is a team meeting in that area that I participate in.

The backgrounds are easy to traverse with a story as I move through the student commons area, the admin area, the classroom, a buiness partnership area, and the exterior of the building. Even the backgrounds, once detailed out in my imagination suggested improvements to my book image. For the smaller books in the NT, the book was the background.

I hope this shows you why my preference is for the bottom-up method that comes with more analysis, in my case, about three years. Without the time necessary for preparing the palace after the familiarization stage because you’ve chosen a value of competition in your strategy phase, you have to skip over that and emphasize the steps of the preparation phase using a top-down palace.

If I can help with any other details, let me know and your suggestions will always be welcomed.

Edit June '21 - Bottom-up construction I now refer to as a creating and learning purpose or dynamic system for knowledge since it occurs first and does not have a definite end or goal. This is a short-term recall or competition system. Top-down construction is now a using and teaching purpose or a repeatable system (concrete or realized are the software design words) where a system overlays known information for long-term recall.


Not sure what you are doing but interested in what you have done! Thanks!

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Reading through your replies, it seems that your palaces have 2 additional layers of association. You chose a location based on a substitution word of the book (matthew=math building, peter = church, 1peter = low church, 2 peter = high church) and again chose compartments(rooms) based on major system pegs sub words (12=deans office, 2=inn, 3=Mother Superior[ma]). Three questions: do you teleport through the different locations: Does the deans office(12) have a portal to the team meeting room (13).?
Can you be a little more specific about how “the book was the background”
Do you generate any virtual palaces in your head or otherwise to match the substitute words, or do you find you know enough places to match the books?

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Good questions, @Mountainmystic. Here’s a few answers and I’ll work up a model for better clarity.

The book forms the general background of the grouped chapter backgrounds (loci if you use the MoL) unless there aren’t enough chapters. But the keys in the background are the chapters. The traversal system (teleportation) is based on a story between the chapter keys which follow numeric order. In the last half of my admin area background story, I know the Dean is the first person I see, who then is leading the team meeting, who gets angry and knocks over his water (14) and people scramble to get paper towels (15) to wipe it up.

There’s many chapters in Matthew because so applying Miller’s law for chunking, I created several backgrounds in Matthew’s palace. If the book doesn’t seem to warrant a background because of seven or so chapters, then the book image itself is the background.

I pre-planned all the palace backgrounds and object keys with as much relevancy as I could using a bottom-up construction method, and create a story for each verse number and verse word sequence. There’s more than enough room for all the verse image objects.

Nobody was really interested in my graphic models but I find them extremely useful in understanding what my mind is doing. I’ll post the model here for my System 7711 of Bible memorization and see if anyone wants to figure it out.

I hope this clarified how I built these memory palaces. It was an incremental project over three years that reminds me of the house that Jack built.


I know no one voted for modeling of systems but take a look at this model of my System 7711 for Bible verse memorization and see if it changes your mind. I use standard software modeling symbols as much as possible. Examples are off to the right.

  • Rectangles are data types,
  • ellipses are systems,
  • solid diamonds indicate composition (thing is a part of diamond end thing)

I’ll be walking through the process of memorization using the model in the topic System 7711 Bible memorization with whoever wants to try it.


I see the source of my confusion now! Wonderful graphic, I would have asked for it first had I known it was so clear. I think most if not all of my confusion revolves around the word “background”.
I typically ascribe the term palace or journey to the set of loci, where each loci hold a single digit number of stored items(if my apartment was a palace, my bed which holds 3 shapes on the bed stand and 2 on the bed posts would be a loci). Backgrounds entered in between these here when I wasn’t sure where they were before.
Palace name-background(locus)-palace key/object-verse content…is the convent the palace and the background the inn, then say a table in the inn a loci?

I think a walkthrough may clarify this and some other questions I’m withholding. Maybe I’m just catching on a little slowly…could I bother you to walk me through a brief portion? I’m dying to see it in action!


I’d be interested in your response when you have read Songlines. I see songlines as multilayered with an integrated knowledge system - all sorts of genres of knowledge intermeshed through highly emotive stories - incorporating song, dance, narrative and art - and a really emotional link to Country. They work much like a memory palace, but far more complex than any other examples I have seen. They are on a massively large scale - criss-crossing the entire continent. Then again, an individual’s knowledge associated with the songline is built up over an entire lifetime!

I am involved with a multidisciplinary large scale study at the University of Melbourne examining not only the effectiveness of songlines / memory palaces / method of loci in education, but also asking the very questions raised here - are they all the same thing? The honours student I am co-supervising is doing a detailed literature review for Honours and then the team hopefully will go on to a large-scale study with university students using various techniques as she goes onto higher degrees. Long term, I am afraid! There are academics from educational psychology and other disciplines involved as well as our Indigenous colleagues. Having listened to the debate in our meetings, I am not willing to commit to ideas on the difference (if any) any more - I need to follow through the research. Such good fun!



@Mountainmystic, confusion was my friend as I was sorting out how other people used palaces. I finally had to apply the system and listen to my intuition to arrive at a result that seemed to be in line with the classical use of them.

The structure on the diagram would map your examples like so:

  • 2 Peter = Convent = palace name and background (locus) (only three chapters)
  • the inn at the convent = 2 Peter Chapter 2 (a traversable object, not a locus)
  • images around the inn = verse numbers converted via Major system to images associated with positions on the traversable object traversed by a story or a journey.

Feel free to ask other questions with other examples to see if it is catching on with you. I’ll be updating more information soon.


@LynneKelly, I’d be honored to give you feedback on Songlines. The book will be arriving next week but I got a Kindle version so I could dig in sooner. I’m doing my own “literature review” and have piled up a few of the great references I’ve seen discussed here by @Josh and others. Moonwalking with Einstein is about 2/3 done and I couldn’t put down Ultralearning today seeing how much good psychology research is discussed when incorporating mnemonic systems into pedagogy and learning.

It’s a shame I couldn’t have been born in Australia. It seems like so many Native American memory systems might have been disrupted by the forcible relocation of the tribes. I’ll be looking for information on them in the future.