Memory hooks and why they matter


I define a memory hook as everything that you use to retrieve a memory from the database in your brain.

Picture VS video

Imagine a memory contest held in Hollywood with competing teams consisting of actors, directors and movie critics. In this contest, more likely than not, at least one event will be something like looking at snapshots taken from movies and answering questions like:

  • what movie is this?
  • what happens after this snapshot?

The organizers of this event may realise, that the first question is easy enough for at least some of the competitors, but the second question just seems to difficult; so they decide to replace the snapshot with a 10 seconds video of the movie, making the second question significantly easier.

Memory asymmetry

Imagine using a 2 digit standard memory palace system to memorise a bunch of numbers, just for the fun of it. Also, imagine that youy are very sleepy, so you are likely to be in the following scenario: front door of my house, what in the name of Zeus did I put there? Nothing comes to mind, so you try your secondary method, counting from 00 to whatever 2 digit number is the right one. And very often, as soon as you visualise the object that represents the correct 2 digit number, you recognise it as the one you put at your front door.

This asymetry (see: Asymmetrical memory connection) can also be described as the difference between the quality of two memoryhooks:

  1. object: being a memoryhook for the location it has been placed;
  2. location; being a memoryhook for an object that has been placed in this location.

In my estimation, the first memoryhook is more powerful.

The juggling reverse memory palace

Please imagine the following scenario: there is a fireman axe stuck in your front door, you take it out and you teleport to your bedroom, you trow the axe on your bed and a pillow jumps up and you grap it and you teleport to your kitchen and you squeeze the pillow in one of the kitchen drawers, but there is a pair of scissors in the drawer that you have to grap in order for the pillow to fit and you finally teleport to the bathroom and you stick the scissors in the bathroom mirror.

No try to fill in the … but don’t look at what comes after the … before you have filled it in.

there is a fireman axe stuck in your front door, you take it out and you teleport … and a pillow jumps up and you grap it and you teleport …but there is a pair of scissors in the drawer that you have to grap in order for the pillow to fit and you finally teleport …

The above test is a very realistic example of my latest version of the reverse memory palace:

  • 100 numbered locations;
  • in every location there is a (starting/deault) object (in the previous version this object was merely associated with the location);
  • Objects are moved around from location to location (like the balls in the hands of a juggler taking over each others place) in accordance with the to be memorised sequence of numbers;
  • A starting object (latest favorite for this role is the Incredible Hulk) is placed at the first location.

This version of the reverse memory palace is designed in such a way, that the power of the memoryhook is maximised by creating a video that only requires an answer to the question “where did I place this object?” for it’s continuation.

Final improvement of system (getting rid of linguistics)

I’m also working on a way to make the connection between the 2 digit numbers and the locations more powerful in a way that resembles the ability of “flash anzan”/“mental abbacus” users, in that they are capable of making speed calculations while having a conversation at the same time. In my latest version, I used my New memory system for fast translation of numbers (so for example: 22 35 89 = noe mas fag), but I feel that is not very compatible with the mental juggling of the newest reverse memory palace. I replace this linguistical method with a visual/sensual method, in which I simply place the numbers in the memory palace like real 2 dimensional objects.

2 examples:

  • 33: coffee machine in office hallway; the two 3’s are placed under tension in the opening of the machine where the plastic cups come out like the spring coils of a car;
  • 99: on top of the diving board in the swimming pool; they are sort of bouncing up and down.
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I found the reverse : If given the location I remember the object much more effectively than when given the object.

This is true, I find this has to do with the ability to recognise what you have seen/what was there rather than the object reminding you of the location. For example there was an old record posted somewhere on this forum where the record setter recognised around 1000 words in one go (able to recognise whether they have or have not seen those). Compared to learning a few words and recalling them from your memory just being able to identify whether you have seen something in this way or not is a lot more memorable. You may for example flick through a book at a very fast rate, you would be able to differentiate this book from 10 other books still, even if you can recall near nothing.

On this comment, the first time I ever saw the shaper system, I looked through the first 100 numbers and I pretty much was able to recall them instantly. I think the secret to strong recall lays there in some form. It was just extremely and absurdly memorable.

Conceptually when I think about why the shaper number system is so recognisable I feel very swayed to say it is because of the linking (processed stimuli is part of memory so directly hooks to recall the memory) as a kind of thing.


I agree completely with this.

My guess is that most people that have issues recalling simply use the location as a backdrop and would place the same image no matter what.

I would argue, that even the likes of Ben Pridmore and Alex Mullen have issues with recalling; the main difference between them and most of the "hobby"memorisers is the speed at which these issues occur.

So let’s look at one of the examples you gave:

Location 1 - a mailbox:
a giant rat planting an American flag as a stamp on an envelope before sending it

By lowering the amount of time you have for making this and other connections, you will fail at some time interval (let say 0,5 seconds, just a guess) in aswering the question: what object/animal did I place at the mailbox? The question than arrises: will you also fail at the same time interval in aswering the reverse question: where did I place the rat?

It is clear what my guess is, but I would like to make it also very clear, that I have no evidence, other than my own experience.

Can I ask you which of the following statements using your rat-mailbox example you think is most likely to be the case for memorisers ?:

  • where did I place the rat is easier, than what did I place at the mailbox;
  • what did I place … is easier;
  • no difference between these 2.

That’s a very interesting observation. If this is the case for most memorisers (I hope more forum members will share their experience regarding location -> object VS object-> location ability), than the reverse memory palace may not be very usefull for them.

The only other person, (as far as I can remember) that has shared his experience with this asymmetry is SilvioB who in a response to the Asymmetrical memory connection seemed to share my view, that going from object to location is easier. A part of his response was:

So for example; where did I put “freedom of artistic expression”? My mind instantly jumps to the memory palace that I have for the Swiss Constitution and I see B.A. Baracus painting a statue of liberty. Which gives me the information I was looking for

In reaction to the "counting from 00 to …"you said:

Nagime: This is true, I find this has to do with the ability to recognise what you have seen/what was there rather than the object reminding you of the location.

That is very strong explanation, which makes the example I gave (counting from 00 to …) less convincing. Perhaps a better example would be the memorisation of a single deck of cards and than trying to recreate the order by going from location to location or the second way by going from card to card.

So, let me say in conclusion, that this asymmetry appears to be very powerful for me, but I am more than anything interested in finding out if and how (which of the 2 ways is easier) this asymmetry is for other memorisers.

Perhaps a somewhat more convincing anecdotal (but if you recognise the anecdote, than it’s becomes a bit more) evidence: you can’t remember putting a lion at you front door, but a couple of locations later, you do remember putting a lion on your bed. And as soon as you see the lion on your bed, you also see a lion in front of your door so clearly, that you wander why you could not see it when you where looking at the door. It seems in this anecdote, that “the lion (on the bed)” has triggered “the lion at the door” in a way that the “door” was not able to do.

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I think this can go both ways quite easily depending on how you encode things for others. The only real problem I would find with this is if you have for example an object being an axe in 120 locations. My objects would often ‘reoccur’ but my place would always be unique. Besides this, there isn’t really any absolute reason to use one over the other. I am also saying this based on the fact that for me reusing an object more often makes it a bit harder to recall the sequence when I don’t use something like 4 x [object].

Some perception differences exist though on the side of Location V Object:
When you are using locations, portals or teleportation makes it extremely difficult to recall the next location.
Having the object interact with the location makes it more memorable, e.g the scissors scraping the drawer vs the scissors just being there.
Having not too many objects makes it easier to recall them in place (I personally find having a bit more than 1 is better than having 1 for recall too).

This said I can kind of also see periods where it would be more memorable to have a reverse memory palace. For example if I am using a real life location like a highway, it would be many times more memorable for me recalling the location by the objects than the reverse, if portals are included this is also again the case.

This is very convincing.

To clarify:

X to remember X ; X being the object
Y to remember Y ; Y being the location
Y to remember X ; X being the object, Y being the location
X to remember Y ; Y being the location, X being the object

You want to state originally that X to remember Y > Y to remember X

The example is saying at Y1 you can’t recall X1, at Y3 you can recall X1, when you recall X1 you recall X1 is at Y1.

Since its not quite of the form X to remember Y but rather X at Y3 to remember X at Y1, you may argue that it is easier to recall whatever you want to recall when you are given what you want to recall at some other link. If you were to draw a network of this you would have the exact same structure ‘recalled’ from one path but not from the other, and as a result of recalling this, it fills in or reactivates/primes what it needs to , in order for you to recall it from the original path. This does somewhat match up with research on memory.

When I put it like this it seems that the original point is different? Perhaps rather it is saying that if you are given a list of objects you recall the locations those objects are at better than if you are given a list of locations and what objects are at those locations. The difference here is that you need to be able to remember the objects which is difficult, whereas remembering the location from location is kind of easier. If of course the objects are linked to each other this gives your point a lot more weight to it. Well, in this case I actually would say it is very difficult to decide because logically you may use the linking method to link objects and you wouldn’t link objects on a white background but random locations which may serve as a memory palace in its own right. When you do this it may indeed be more memorable than the reverse, but in this sense the equivalent is creating a memory palace and objects at the same time which is virtually the same thing but instead of linking objects together you are linking locations together.

If given time to either e.g premaking a location and premaking objects, if you can recall sequences of premade objects to 1000 without premade locations (rather new locations) vs recalling a sequence of premade locations to 1000 new objects.

I believe I have successfully made this a lot more critical than I would have needed to, but on the above evaluation, this confirms that more or less both approaches work very well.

I would say my initial point on ‘120 of the same object vs 120 different locations’,. That said there are too many properties you can have as stated the object interact with the location. Thinking about this however makes me question why not both? You can have both a reverse and normal memory palace in a journey, interchangeably even.The realisation here is that I actually do this sometimes at least in theory. For example I may go out of the window and land on a floor in my visualisation, in theory a window being an object just has teleported me out to the floor? I feel like I have just completely lost the distinction between a reverse and non-reverse memory palace.

To further confuse things.
I mean after-all you can have a room in a house it would be a object of the house, so is a object in a room not a location in a room?

The question becomes if you have a ball and place 3 objects on a ball is this ball functional as a location? If I visualise a ball and put a spoon of sugar stuck to it then a tomato and a small kitten, then I place this ball on a floor in the sky. Lets have the kitten restlessly scratch the ball, the spoon spin and the tomato melt then return back to normal. I can recall a tomato, spoon of sugar and kitten, if I zoom in, it looks like a normal location, albeit very similar ground.

So is a location in a location more memorable than a location in a location? Yes.

I find if the current location links to the next its much easier to remember it. Suddenly everything clicks.

When I timed using the sharper system on a stopwatch I got around 0.40 seconds, though this was only for a single encoded image, 2 encodes quickly shot up the time. So maybe the benchmark is taken from one such estimate? Or perhaps verbal speed, which was closer to this?

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The 0,5 seconds is nothing more than a way to make the “failing at some time interval” more concrete; it is not a bench mark for memorising a 100 digit number or a deck of cards. Does it really matter for the argument, whether this theoretical time interval matches your actual ability? Would it be a crime if I started a post on some runners forum with “let say you can run a marathon in 2:15:00 and you want to go faster…”?

does “hobby” start? There’s probably 500 - 1,000 people in the world that can memorize a deck of cards in under a minute… “hobby”… or does that fall under “the likes of”?

I am simply using the word “hobby” to differentiate the very best and the rest, like in the difference between a “professional marathon runner” and “recreational marathon runner”; there is no value judgement made by me at all and the deviding line between the two categories is also completely irrelevant for the argument I was trying to make.

With your input the memory asymmetry poll is now 2:1 in favour of “what did I place … is easier”.

Thanks for your reply.

Your reply is a testament of some deep thinking. It reinforces (besides the other other things you explain in you reply) how difficult it is to compare to systems in a honest way; so many factors to consider to make it a fair comparison.

When you are using locations, portals or teleportation makes it extremely difficult to recall the next location.
Having the object interact with the location makes it more memorable, e.g the scissors scraping the drawer vs the scissors just being there.

I’m not sure what you have in mind with this statement. In the juggling reverse memory palace the next location is triggered (hopefully) by the movie that ends with grabbing an object from the previous location; clearly in the standard method the next location is obvious, but the tradeoff is also obviously that you need to remember the object. As far as the interaction: I don 't really focus on an autonomous object-location interaction, but more on myself putting (throwing/pushing/spinning/rolling, etc.) the object in the location. So in the scissors to mirror example, I would grab thgem from the kitchen drawer and teleport/jump to the bathroom and jam them into the mirror with force.


Sorry this statement was meant for the traditional approach not the reverse memory palace(because it isn’t true when you refer to the reverse memory palace [object location wise]).

Isn’t this statement just:

By lowering the amount of time you have for making this and other connections, you will fail at some time interval lets say this interval was 0.5 seconds to make it easier to visualise?

Then you are saying :

I mean sure 0.5 may be not the best number to visualise with but, isn’t that besides the point?

I don’t understand how you think that this running calculation example is any way simular to an argument or thought that I presented.

I seem to have mistaken your “rat” example for a 2 digit translation that is simply placed in a location (the mailbox). I further just imagined that you look at one 2 digit number and try to put in your memory as fast as possible and than after some distraction you see if you can still remember it. The 0,5 seconds doesn’t appear to be to fast to imagine. Just to make it very clear; i’m not claiming that if you manage this 0,5 seconds test, you can automatically memorise 1.000 digits in 500 seconds.

That is precisely my point.

I would imagine, that when you start a sentence with "let say… :

  • you run a 100 meter in 10 seconds;
  • you can bench 300 pounds;
  • you are monkey living on the moon.

… it doesn’t matter if you are not a monkey, for whatever argument that follows to be valid and understandable.

I feel that Mental Cal interprets what I write in a completely different way, than how I meant it.

Maybe my understanding of the English language is not as good as yours, but I just don’t feel that saying “pretend that you are…” is supposed to be taken as a statement, that in fact you are…

In Dutch: stel jij bent (are) een aap op de maan…

We don’t say: stel jij was (were) een aap op de maan…

because than we are talking about a hypothetical situation in the past. But it’s still hypothetical.

Erik in response to Nagime: I feel that Mental Cal interprets what I write in a completely different way, than how I meant it.

and you responded:

See previous reply… and that is also all I said in my very first reply already. Use the location itself for context (in your image) and you will be able to recall from the location as trigger.

My statement was about the “let say 0,5 seconds…” and you interpretation of it. Your previous response is not about this at all.

…that’s how we ended up you dividing things into “the best and the rest” and using absurd benchmarks.

This dividing was used by me as a reaction to your focus on people who do not have good memory skills for connecting objects to locations; My point was the complete opposite of what you make of it, as I was stressing that from the perspective of the theory I was discussing the only difference between the 2 groups is the time interval at which they fail to memorise. I have to admit, that I don’t understand how you go from a theoretical 0,5 seconds (with little to no specifications) to interpreting it as a “benchmark”. Like, I don’t even know what this word means in this context. I understand the phrase"MC Donalds is the benchmark in the fastfood sector", but that meaning doesn’t make sense to me in our conversation.

So, roll back the whole thing… you wanted to know if this was an issue (object vs location) and I gave you an example of how to make it a non-issue.

Again, you talk of an “issue” which I interpret as a “problem”, but I wasn’t talking about a problem, but about a difference in quality of memory hooks (object vs location).

This whole sentence is in the past tense, making it an unfair example; Furthermore, I would say that this is more old Dutch than present Dutch; non of my friends/coworkers talk like that.

This is a more (present tense) common Dutch sentence:
Hij praat over de bankoverval alsof het een zondagsuitje is.

Adding a few comments to this overall.

Personally, I think sentiment is more meaningful than wording. You weren’t trying to make fun of world records by estimating 0.5 seconds both in wording and sentiment.

Abstract considerations are still useful.

Ctrl + enter and my keyboard are not really compatible on this website.

Is a hand held model of a house an object or a location? As such, is size the difference of an object and a location? Finally, I can go back to the 13-year-old me reading that ‘everything is an object in programming’ and get some odd form of confirmation.

I appreciate your evaluation of this thread. I think we share the opinion, that this is getting in all kinds of surreal directions.

In situations like this I feel torn between two possible responses:

  1. react to every misinterpretation (regardless of who’s fault it is) or criticism;
  2. leave the thread for what it is.

I guess I chose the first response in this case, but I feel like “what is even the point”, but I also feel that at least the conversation appeared to be somewhat civilised.

I have had another “incident” on this forum in which I responded to a proposed memory system by another forum member. I reacted in a very honest, but also funny (at least that how it was meant) way. To make a long story short: it didn’t land very well with the original poster. It seemed like everything I said in the following responses was making things worse.

So, I’m counting my blessings with this one.


Ironically the most ‘of high replies’ I tend to partake in tend to be in ‘these kinds of incidents’. Even this post has 27+1 replies.

Sometimes it gives me the impression that aggravating someone is the easiest way to have more replies. Generally, when you have made a comment that isn’t taken well, it just goes downhill from there, almost like first impressions. Sometimes years later when the person has forgotten about it they are much nicer to you.

I don’t really think most people’s ways of life are so different that they can’t understand one another. In most cases it tends to be some misunderstanding, I think in this case even it might have partly been a misunderstanding among other things.


On the topic of memory hooks however, if you have seen the shaper system, how would you theorise its function in the sense that you can remember it much more easily compared to training an image system?

I think the kind of logic that causes the shaper system to be more memorable and trained on start should be applicable to other things.


Well, I have some things to say about this system, so let’s start somewhere.

It is my impression, that the name giver of this sytem thinks it is original (I have not read the whole thread, so I could be wrong). I don’t think it is. I have already made a 2 digit shape based system 10 years ago and I don’t think I came up with the idea myself. My version didn’t work really well, because I had problems with differentiating between left and right. So for example"38" was a snowman (8) with a broomstick (3), but “83” was something else (don’t remember what), but it also looks like a snowman. Also “01” and “10” created a problem as only one was a baseball bat and baseball, but they both look like this. I have to admit, that some of the images of the shaper system are better than what I came up with (I only spend 2 hours creating my version of this system), but also some of the sharper images feel not very intuitive to me.

There is also the problem of seeing multiple things in a number. So in the shaper system the “11” is drumsticks, but when you accidentally see a skier, you have to teach yourself, that it’ s not a skier.

I do tend to believe there is a major advantage in such a system, in that it completely gets rid of language. I feel that language in memorising numbers and in mental aritmetic slows everything down and makes it more difficult to do other things at the same time. I feel this even more after my experience with my own version of the number to sound method; it’s really difficult to combine this pronounciating with the mental gymnastics that one is supposed to do in a (reverse) memory palace to memorise numbers.

I’m probably somewhat biased, but I believe that a more powerful standard (number to object translation) shape based system exist, which is very simular to the way I intend to use the numbers in my juggling reverse memory palace method; making a mental image in which the 2 digits and the objects are connected in a way that is memorable. Some of my locations are basically objects in a fixed place, so I think they serve as a good example. Just to be clear: I don’t visualise the numbers in any other way than numbers (also no rotation like that of the “3” to make it look like an “m”), even though they may take on the identity of (or act like) objects in some abstract way.
11. stairs: the “11” is 2 pins stuck in the stairs;
17 mirror in elevator: the “1” is placed in the middle of the mirror and the “7” is placed in the upper right corner, matching the corner so to speak;
44. pallet with paper in the warehouse; they are pinned (just like “11”) in a box of paper.

I imagine (could be wrong) that most people think that for something to be memorable it has to be meaningful, in that for example a number has to resemble an object in some way. In my experience, letting go of this assumption allows your intuition to develop regarding how to place numbers in a memorable way.

The right placing of numbers requires patience in my experience. Put in a different way: if you give yourself a couple of days to come up with the right placing for each number/object combination, you will win in the long run, because they will be much more powerful. As a related topic, I would like to mention, that I have tried with some succes to memorise numbers in a memory palace as nothing more than (single digit) numbers. I managed 100 digits in 4 minutes, without any specific training. I think this simple method has the potential to be really fast for the obvious reason, that you don’t have to translate anything.

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