A good advice for beginners who started building memory palaces after watching Sherlock S3E3: don’t build your palaces the way Magnussen did.
I agree, it’s cool to see Magnussen’s Appledore Vaults. But the depiction of it is misleading: it is just a library.
1. Instead of files, Magnussen should see vivid pictures (or memory palaces) on his shelves.
Magnussen has only one big room (one Massive Memory Palace) with many shelves. The shelves are filled with files and occasionally with some random objects. The files on a shelf are very tightly packed on top of/next to each other.
Now, if Magnussen just sees ordinary files as they are depicted on S3E3, then remembering which files in which order were on this shelf would be a real problem for him. I mean, how are you going to make a story of twenty files on the same shelf. I could visualize: “This black file jumped up and started flirting with the green file next to him, this old and fragile file gets horny and starts masturbating, an another black file jumps up covers the old file with his papers, in order to hide the masturbating file from public eyes.” Then there is another green file on the other shelf and five in the back of the library. And there are hundreds of old files. So after a while you get very confused: which one of these old files was masturbating (because they all look the same)? And you start forgetting the stories.
When mnemonist remembers the order of the books/files in a library he doesn’t see books on the shelves. Intead of seeing a book/file he would see a memory palace/journey the file represents lying on that shelf or a vivid image that represents the file/palace. And the images on the shelf would be linked into a story. Because each file has a different image, you won’t confuse them.
Example: instead of Mary’s file in the drawer there is sniper-gun combined with Mary’s head on top of its gun-pipe. On top of Mary there is Sherlock-hat hybrid and in the next closet John-walking-stick. Story: Mary-gun shoots holes into the Sherlock-hat and John-walking-stick bangs against Sherlock’s head through the holes. Each hybrid (Mary-gun, Sherlock-hat, John-stick) represent its file.
2. Using shelves is also a bad idea. Instead of shelf there would be a memory palace (eg a street) where you put the images representing the files.
Example: Mary-gun, Sherlock-hat and John-stick are placed on Baker Street. Baker street is the top shelf of a closet in Magnussen’s Vault.
3. Files aren’t good for storing information. Memory palaces are.
In the end of the S3E3 we see how Magnussen opens Mary’s file. It contains many pictures depicting Mary in different situations and some text. Remembering the content of all the files would be like memorizing thousands of different photo albums. Better: each picture should have its locus in the memory palace the file represents. And unless Magnussen has photographic memory, he can’t remember text by just visualizing that text being in his file.
Example: Sherlock-hat takes Magnussen to Baker Street 221B, where he has stored all information about Sherlock Holmes.
P.S. There was a historical guy in J.Foer’s “Moonwalking with Einstein”, who made a registry of his memory palaces and built a big mental library, where he put his memory palaces in alphabetical order. I am pretty sure he didn’t see books and scrolls on his shelves, but memory palaces instead.