Hi all, it has now been 1-2 years since I lasted posted in this forum. Just would like to give an update about the progress of me trying to use memory palaces as the sole way of learning/memorizing.
Just a bit of background about myself first. It is now about 1.5 year since I graduated medical school and currently working in hospital. I initially hold a degree in mathematics (with major focus in pure maths) and later changed career and started medicine. My strength has always been logical reasoning, I have never incorrectly answered a maths/physics question during my senior high school years and have straight high distinctions in all 3rd and 4th year university maths courses. However, I have TERRIBLE memory, really really terrible memory, I would say my memory is on par with a gold fish.
During my final years of studying medicine, I have been struggling badly, failed multiple times, as by the time I am in my 3rd/4th year in medicine, my knowledge is not much better than a 1st year student (I have literally forgotten everything that I have learnt). If it is not because of coming across memory palace, I wouldn’t have graduated, and would have dropped out of medicine. Since my memory is really poor, the only way for me to study is to COMPLETELY rely on memory palace. That is, I learn everything (that i deem important) in medical school using memory palace.
The purpose of this post is to answer some of the questions and uncertainties that I faced when I was a medical student and hope to help anyone who might be in the same situation as I was.
1) Whether it is possible to rely completely on memory palaces to learn a subject?
ANS: A definite yes, in my case I have applied it to learning medicine, but I don’t see it not applicable to other fields of study.
2) How many memory palaces is required?
ANS: I have about 1000 memory palaces in total.
3) How many loci in each memory palace?
ANS: Just from my experience, I find the optimal length is about 30 - 40 loci per memory palace (reasons below).
4) Choosing big palaces ( > 50 loci) vs small palaces (<= 50 loci)
ANS: Smaller palaces are much more efficient I find, especially during problem solving, you wouldn’t want to walk through a palace with 200 loci for example to find your answer. Not only is smaller palace more efficient in terms of problem solving (i.e. faster retrieval times), it is also beneficial for long term learning. The purpose of memory palace is such that the information is hold in the brain long enough for the information to be converted into long term memory. In other words, I see memory palace as a temporary holder of information in the brain such that the brain has enough time to assimilate and digest the information and form long term memories. And for this process to happen, smaller palaces I find are assimilated/digested much faster than bigger palaces. Here is an analogy to my reasoning as why:
The arrows in the picture shows brain trying to assimilate the information stored in the memory palace into long term memories. We can see that small palaces (as depicted by the smaller sphere) have greater surface area to volume ratio, so therefore are assimilated faster.
5) How to make smaller palaces?
ANS: Information arranging is the key. For example, rather than having a big memory palace for remembering everything about chest pain. It is better to break it down, i.e. having a separate palace for each of the subcategories (see # below) and sub-subcategories (see ^ below).
- Causes# (Myocardial infarction, pulmonary embolism, aortic dissection, etc)
- Immediate management#
Myocardial infarction management^
Pulmonary embolism management^
Aortic dissection management^
6) How to pick good memory palaces?
ANS: Below is what I find to be characteristics of good memory palaces:
i) Should be places that are interesting, not mundane, have unique characteristics that differ it from other places. These palaces generally sticks longer, more efficient to recall, and not easily mixed up.
For example, I find using friend A’s house, then friend B’s house, then friend C’s house is a bad idea. Very soon, your brain will get confused whether this is for example the chair in friend A’s house or friend B’s house.
ii) The place should have enough hooks, ideally 10 - 15 hooks, such that each hook can be used to memorize 1 - 2 things.
iii) This is not a must. But ideally the entire place (with all its hook) should all be in one visual field. See everything at once, rather than having to move through the palace, is much more efficient when it comes to recalling and problem solving.
7) How to have many memory palaces?
ANS: First let me summarize above, a good memory palace is one that is unique, plenty hooks and can be captured all in the same picture. To have enough of these palaces, one has to keep an eye to look for these places in day to day life. For example, I will suddenly pause an anime to take a screen shot of a place that I find suitable, take a screenshot when I am playing video games, take my camera out when I find an appropriate movie scene, take my camera out when I walk past something interesting. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix, but I assure you if you keep an eye to look out for places, you should not run out of palaces.
8) Will memory palaces solve all my learning issues instantly? Will I have be studying less?
ANS: No, it won’t. Making memory palaces take a lot of effort. Much time is spent in picking the right place, organizing your information, attaching information to the loci/hooks. To study the same amount of material, using memory palace will probably take double to triple the time. I personally have dedicated 2 full years in making memory palaces, spending 5+ hours a day. Not that you should do the same, but I have personally skipped all lectures (because I find I will forget anyway) and just attended tutorials and practical sessions (because they are compulsory) and dedicate all my remaining time to forming memory palaces. But I assure you, it pays off at the end, you will be able to revise things triple/quadruple quicker than others and use much less effort^^
Anyway, thank you for reading this very long post. I hope some of you will find it helpful.