Remembering concepts or other non list like information

Hello all, I am fairly new to all this so forgive the novice question. I have been following the free ebook and reading kevin horsleys book on the subject.
My primary interest is not in recalling long list like information. Instead my interest is in better medium to long term recollection of things like “Scientific concepts” or insights gleaned from reading non fiction books. In addition to a smattering of dates and facts.
While I have had some success with these using image association and the method of loci, I fear that these methods may not be suited to remember non-list like information.
Am I mistaken ? Or is the point to master these techniques to the end of being able to capture more and more abstract information with them?


You could put the concepts into a list.

If you post specific examples, people here could brainstorm some ways to approach it.

Memory --even if it is about abstract concepts-- needs something specific and concrete to stick. This is not a “memory trick”, thit is the way we were made. That is why we learn definitions, because even if we understood the first time we came in contact with a concept, in order to “understand again”, we need to bring the definition to our working memory to “understand again”. Different thing is when something became a habit and unconsciously we use some way of thinking to see things, like when we sum, or multiply without thinking about it.

In a class I am teaching now, I made a list of phrases: definitions, quotations from authors, or some data. Every week I add two or three items to the list. I asked the students to create a memory palace or mansion with rooms, and then to assign each item in a list to a room. Every week we have a small test, and sometimes I say: “write down phrases 4, 5 and 11”, or “write all the phrases.” I do not even need to tell them the questions, they know them (at least those who study). It is not always so smooth, but it works fantastically well.
From my perspective, the teacher should not do this work, it is the work of the students (at least in higher education). The students should be able to get from what they read the main ideas and concepts, and organize the information. I am doing it because they do not know yet how to do it.

So, going back to your question, unless you have advanced habits of reading and studying, it is necessary to select which “scientific concepts” or “insights” you want to learn, by underlining, copying in another place, etc. This analysis is needed. If after that, you choose to use loci, or spaced repetition, or other methods to commit them to long term memory is a second step. But, I think, you cannot omit the first step.


My apologies for being vague about the specifics. I do understand what you both are saying about specifics and I agree that boiling concepts down into easily remembered anchors is probably the best way to go about it. I just need to get better at using loci or spaced repetition along with image association and the like.

While I see the problem with the generality of my question. I can perhaps phrase it slightly differently. In terms of a problem I encounter in my life that I am trying to solve.

I like to read a lot of non fiction science books some well known examples would be “The blind watchmaker” or “A brief history of the universe” and I have noticed a regular pattern with this kind of reading.

Read book > Have mind blown > Forget almost everything about book except for three or five small bits of information.

My intent with learning memory techniques is to solve this problem in a general manner. I want to keep reading these kinds of books on a variety of subjects and retain more and more of what I read.
This is why I was a little vague about the contents of what I specifically wish to remember.

Still I think Liams advice does hold. Perhaps boiling my insights down and then creating anchors to remember them by then using loci and spaced repetition is the way to go.

I would definitely welcome any other insights as well…

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lol “A brief history of the universe” lol … I obviously need help to remember things better :smiley:

There are other ways. Each time you take the book to read, check the table of content to situate yourself in the book. After each chapter or part stop to think and reflect about the content of those pages.

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I mark things that I want to look at again by underlining them and writing in the margins. Then I dog-ear the page so I can go back later. If you want to use a memory palace or peg list for things in the book, something like that would be a quick way to make lists from the material.

If there is something interesting on both sides of the page, then I fold back the dog ear a second time like this:


If the book is on Kindle, there is a highlighting feature. I use yellow for general highlights and blue for vocabulary words that I don’t know or that I just like. Those can be exported at The highlights will have the colors next to them like this:

Kindle notes

How was the book? I have The Ancestor’s Tale, The Extended Phenotype, and The Greatest Show on Earth on my to-read bookshelf but haven’t started them yet. I was on a biology reading spree for a while but then took a break to read about political history/philosophy and a bit of fiction.


That’s an interesting system, thanks for sharing. I’ve taken to writing the parts that I find worthy of remembering after I finish the section or chapter. Then I use that text as a kind of list for revision while anchoring what I write to a memory palace.


I quite liked it, the first time I read it was ages ago when I didn’t really properly understand evolution. That book gave me a true understanding and appreciation of the concept.
There’s obviously more to the book, but the way in which evolution was explained in the book sticks with me to this day.

Which biology books did you end up reading ? Any you would recommend ?

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A couple of interesting ones are I Contain Multitudes and The Selfish Gene. Robert Sapolsky is interesting. For anyone who wants an intro to how evolution works there’s a good book called What Evolution Is by Ernst Mayr.

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Interesting , I’ll definitely check out “I contain multitudes”
Kinda reminds me of this video :

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Good video. “What is a human?” and “what is an individual?” are interesting questions.

Everything previously mentioned I back it up.

I add: visualize. Indeed, I made myself the compromise of using my imagination to understand concepts, if I’m not using it or if I found it difficult to visualize, I did not understood it, so what’s the point of remembering the words? So, whenever you use your imagination for memorization distinguish that, these images not always reflect your understanding.

Consider this definition of a cognitive bias:

“The Forer or Barnum effect: the observation that individuals will give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically for them, but are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people.”

You could memorize it with a set of images that can be not related to the idea, images simply to attach a series of words or the paragraph:

Image > chunk of text

Magnifying glass: > the observation that
User icon: > individuals
Target range: > will give high accuracy ratings
Stack of papers with faces: > to descriptions of their personality
Magician hat: > that supposedly are tailored specifically for them
Soup of letters with figurines dancing on: > but are in fact vague and general enough
A hand throwing figurines (people): > to apply to a wide range of people

With these images, either in a link system or memory palace, you’d have the text memorized. Does this means that you understood? No. But you, however, instead of memorizing the text, visualize your understanding of the idea, even look up for more information and create more accurate images for the idea itself (this is more necessary for sciences and where accuracy is needed).

Also, when learning anything about anything, we live in a world where paper and pencils are cheap. Get them. Write what’s important. Enrich or not the concept with another resource. Visualize or imagine however you can your understanding and then memorize.