"Ancient Australian Aboriginal Memory Tool Superior to ‘Memory Palace’ Learning"

Damn. I think the rules were 32 items, 1 minute seeing and then a pause of a short time, then right them down. I think they had to increase the number of items to get them to miss items as well. i just wondered what they had practiced or done on a regular enough basis to do that. Maybe they just naturally journey when faced with that situation.
I think you have hit the nail on the head for me, the problem with the study for me is that they are not using the techniques right and that they have amazing practitioners to learn the techniques from.
I think it would have been more interesting for them to have designed a memory palace around the human skeleton and then for the third group to have applied the Aboriginal view or experience to that. Maybe splitting the third group into 3 so you could have a once a week run through and a once a day run through with at least once a week touching an actual skeleton to do it. Then every month you increase the information tied to each bone.
This is sort of what I am trying to do with a PAO, Sem Memory palace or palaces and journeys so I am trying to create a memory palace full of retrievable and useable information which can also port key to more information.
Who won the FA cup in 1957? Is second floor, horse wing, and Lt Dan’s desk. Look at the FA cup peg and get the answer Aston Villa. Which links to the journey place of Andy Grey giving Alex Ferguson a good kicking to the light of a candle while a swan does the snoop dance.

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There are future studies coming, @Minotaur. To really do them well, they need fMRI and other technologies involved to help image what’s happening in the brain during recall.

Of course, it’s not science that tends to sell the masses on using these techniques. It’s our stories and sharing.

@Exploit, I believe part of the way the Aboriginal technique works is that there’s no such thing as “place alone.”

As Tyson explained it to me and in his book, Sand Talk, time and place are always interwoven, which is part of, but not exclusive to the logic of the Songline.

I don’t know where people get their ideas from, but a Memory Palace based purely on space is a very light way of using the technique. I suppose it’s possible to use “space alone,” but I wouldn’t even know how. Every remembered location has a story and all kinds of multi sensory aspects to draw upon.


The Natural Navigator (Tristan Gooley) is worth a look as it is how these people would have seen the world. We live in a world of clock and compass while they lived by a circle, wind and light.
I also wonder what other surviving memory methods there are out there like maybe the Story Knife from Alaska?

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One of the most interesting things I am getting from the Natural Navigator is the fact of moving through the world using as many senses as possible. In the modern world we live in a visual world from signs to screens however they used to be able to move through the world by the feel of the ground, sound of the birds and smell of lavender. I am going to do some of my favourite local journeys once a month and record my sense memory at each loci.

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I had a look at the paper, and the description of the method made no mention of any attempt at preventing bias (double blind procedure or anything in that direction). It was as if the researchers did not know that a psychology experiment, which this is, can easily be ruined by careless design that neglects to prevent bias and so on.

A single experiment in psychology carries about as much weight with me as a single unsupported public assertion by a single academic psychologist. There needs to be replication before it means anything, as far as I am concerned.

As you correctly pointed out, the results could be due to a difference in the quality of instructions given. I would add that the paper’s description said a whiteboard was used to explain the memory palace method, but nothing was said about who was using that whiteboard.

The paper says nothing about any attempt to ensure that the students were prevented from finding out that the alleged Aboriginal method was an Aboriginal method. There is every chance that simply being told that the method is an Aboriginal one would stimulate interest and motivation, and this alone could cause the difference in results.

As you say, it is unclear how the Aboriginal method is not a type of memory palace. No attempt at an explanation of how being outside makes it not a memory palace.

I never heard anyone suggest (“encourage” was the vague word used in the paper) using one’s childhood home as a memory palace. That also, on its own ,could be enough to cause the difference in results. Why not the normal memory palace method of using your current home, or your route to work? It’s as if the researchers wanted to handicap the memory palace.

Unfortunately, in psychology, whether the results are palatable to other psychology researchers is more important than correct experimental procedure. An experiment is only as valid as its least valid part, just as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. This paper seems to have been written by someone who either is not aware of this, or does not care.

Also, where is the evidence that this is an ancient Australian aboriginal memory tool and not one devised in recent times, e.g. a variant of the memory palace (invented by the ancient Greeks, as far as I know)?

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Perhaps you would find the interview interesting.

I know everyone likes randomized control trials (RCT) but they are not always appropriate. And even when they could be, as an initial check on a idea (to see if there is any signal/noise), it doesn’t always make sense to start with an an expensive RCT when a simpler alternative works.

Also… for a moment, let’s put aside double blind experiments. Can you imagine just a single-blind experiment? How could you design this so the test subjects don’t know they are receiving a instructions aboriginal method vs method of loci?

Was what I wrote. I knew that it could be tricky to implement double blind procedure.

But you could screen out any subjects that knew about the “Aboriginal” method, and present each method as simply “a mnemonic method”, without saying anything where it originated.

Other ways that one could attempt to compare like with like would be to use the same rock garden for both methods, or no rock garden for either of them.

By the way, is a specially built rock garden or something similar needed for the use of the “Aboriginal” method? If so, that is quite a drawback to it.

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To try to go a little way towards a double blind experiment, how about the teacher or teachers of the two methods the same, and themselves don’t know anything about the origin of the methods, and motivated with some sort of monetary or other incentive to teach both to the best of their ability.

Or how about the subjects are presented with written instructions for each method, that are written by trainers who don’t know anything about the origin of the methods, with both subjects and trainers (who kind of would also be subjects?) being randomly assigned to their groups? The instructions could be handed out in sealed envelopes. So, on second thoughts, maybe a double blind procedure would not be as tricky to implement as I thought.

Another measure that might help would be to do the experiment in a country that doesn’t know or care much about Australian politics.

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My actual argument was that they are using the Journey method and not the memory palace. I am getting very confused in what is the difference between the 2 methods. For me the memory palace is a loci with lots of pegs to place items to remember. The journey is a series of loci used as single pegs mainly in the order of a journey.

No, my limited understanding is that it works with any journey. It more about the journey having a time and sense of the place. Also I think the Aboriginal history is the only one to have survived keeping in mind it is a spoken history using this method. I am not sure there is another group of people who have their spoken word memory methods to survive.

Now to watch the video.

Dr. Lynne Kelly has a new book! Moved around my list, memory code in front of Sand Talk after Natural Navigator. Memory Craft in the basket, would really like a physical copy so will have to wait.

If you look at my post, you can see that I was replying to bjoern.gumboldt, not you.

Do you mean that Memory Craft is a new book, or the more recent Songlines: the power and promise?

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Please be aware that Tyson Yunkaporta considers the study discussed here as a preliminary study to explore the concepts and methods - nothing more. The media took it further than he wanted to!

Tyson, now at Deakin University, is part of a major study being headed by Associate Professor Meredith McKague, (Cognitive/Human Experimental Psychology) at the University of Melbourne and her Indigenous colleagues and associated departments there, along with me (LaTrobe University) and possibly two other Australian Universities, bringing in the various expertises suggested above. We are also talking to an international research team.

The study will involve 25 university students this year to test methodology, and possibly thousands of students next year. It will take years to evaluate.

A rigorous study cannot just take anyone’s personal definition of the method of loci, of memory palaces and of mnemonic journeys. We are working through the academic literature and major books on those topics at the moment. We are then using the research on songlines, as done by Tyson and also by other Aboriginal groups, including the National Museum of Australia’s Indigenous Knowledges Centre. The latter is headed by Margo Neale, my Aboriginal co-author on Songlines: the power and promise.

So please give us a few years to answer some of the criticisms / questions above. Fun times ahead!



Hi everyone,

Are there any books about this Aboriginal method and how to do it?



I was not sure which order they are in however I was on about Memory Craft. I was not sure about Songlines because there is no description on Amazon. I am currently at least a chapter into Memory Code, oh my god so good.
I think meepster needs to re-read it because I have so many questions about our myths and folk tales now looking through the lens of your work.
For example, if you go back far enough is it a specific sort of snake in the garden of Eden or what was the Norse thinking about Mistletoe from the Loki/Balder myth?
Also I now wonder about church labyrinths because you do have to wonder… You look at that spiral…
I do know wonder what was going on with Ogham script or runes on stones or anything else as well. More importantly I wonder how close to the tales or sagas you can actually get or is there a massive issue of lots lost in the writing down. Have editors done to much damage for us to recover this info? Could there be a tale or tales out there that holds the secret of the lost Celtic martial art?
I also wonder if you could use a sort of rosary to remember things? 00 is a big bead then four small beads and then a medium bead on up to 99.


I think Tyson might need to rethink what he says about the students just being too good already as (Not sure if you can see it in Oz) I have been watching some British Celebrities use memory methods on a Channel 4 show called “Can I Improve My Memory?” and the answer seems to be yes you really can.
I think we all look forward to more studies and any insights to improving our skills.

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There a few comments I disagree with Tyson on - but that is all good - we will be talking a lot over the next few months. Thank you for this note!


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So many wonderful questions and so many threads I would love to follow up, but there are not enough years left in my life. Hopefully, others will do it.

I don’t have any doubt that past editors did a huge disservice to any chance of recovering lots of this data. An example quoted in my Songlines book:

The Inuit had tried to share their stories right from the first contact. The missionaries had a different agenda. Typical is the comment from 1767 in The History of Greenland, published by the Brethren’s Society for the Furtherance of the Gospel Among the Heathen. After quoting a few stories at a very superficial level, missionary David Cranz wrote:

“But enough of those absurd stories, which indeed none but the weakest heads harbour even in Greenland. Nay it seems to me that the Greenlanders, who have art enough to veil their craftiness with the curtain of stupidity, have often repaid the relations of the Europeans with such romantic tales, to see how far their sense and credulity reaches, or perhaps to make themselves agreeable to them.” (Cranz 1767, I:233).

Fortunately, some were more receptive. As early as 1900, anthropologist Franz Boas became deeply impressed by the Baffin Land and Hudson Bay Eskimos and their detailed knowledge of the environment. He recognised that a key to understanding their worldview was to look at the place-names they gave to define their geography.

And so, straight into memory palaces - naming locations - knowledge stored in vivid stories linked to Country. People on memory forums will see that link in a way that most others won’t!

I glimpsed that in my brief scan of the Roman myths referencing the surrounding hills so often, but again, I think the significance of the original stories may be well lost. Another theme I’d love to follow up.

I’d love to hear your ideas further on this idea, Minotaur if you do any specific research and hypothesise. Tag me if you do!


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Hi Stephos,

To the best of my knowledge, the only books explaining the methods from the point of view of Aboriginal Songlines are mine. I detail how to do it in both Memory Craft and Songlines: the power and promise. Keen to know of other books if you find them.



Hi Professor Kelly,

Thank you & Regards