Sherlock Holmes Memory Palace (BBC)

I saw this article today:
How you can have a memory just like the great Sherlock Holmes

The Memory Palace is a concept reintroduced to the mainstream by BBC series Sherlock Holmes

Has anyone seen the series? I’m curious how memory palaces are portrayed on TV. :slight_smile:

The article is about memory and Joshua Foer (author of Moonwalking with Einstein).

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It’s a bit “minority report” -ish.

You can see for yourself in this clip on youtube:

32s to find 3 words! A bit behind our own holmes “Pridmore”! :wink:

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Get out, I need to go to my mind palace.

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I’m from the UK, and I chuckled when I saw this. If only my mempalaces were as cool as this, instead of a haphazard pastiche of chocolate eating oranges chasing crazy clowns with oversized feet made of banana skins. I lack the refinement of Mr. Holmes…

It’s a fun representation of the idea, portrayed in a bit of a ‘super-hero-esque’ manner, IMO.

I’d recommend the series if it comes out in your local networks - I think it’s broken a few viewing figures over here in the UK, great fun.

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Season 3 Episode 3 has an amazing depiction of memory palaces. I managed to find a clip on youtube here. This is one of three scenes in that episode,and its divided into 15 parts. Here is my blog post about it. I recommend everyone watches that episode.


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Got an email from someone letting me know about Memory Palaces in a certain episode of Sherlock Holmes that I haven’t had a chance to see yet. Here’s what he writes:

"Writing to you in case you’re not a fan of TV series, SHERLOCK, currently showing on BBC in UK.

Last night’s episode (3rd of 3 parts, series 3) the protagonist revealed at the end that he used a memory palace. It was a really great example of it even though his use of same could be deemed to be unethical in the programme!

Briefly story is about Sherlock trying to access the baddy’s vault where he believes he keeps all his information; he uses the information to blackmail people. Eventually at the end of a great programme, Sherlock does a deal to access the vault but is flabbergasted to find it’s not a huge library but a small room with a single chair. Baddy sits in chair and says it’s here he can access all the information he has accumulated just my thinking and tapping into his Memory Palace! "

Can’t wait to see it.

Seems this page gets a lot of views as a result of sherlock holmes bbc. It’s consistently in the popular content for the day, for over a week now. Hopefully some people stick and try memory techniques :slight_smile:

This post brought me to the site and I’ll be sticking around, or trying to anyway. I took interest in the loci method after I saw Holmes use it, and now I use it, it’s great, I do have a question though. Do you use specific routes and palaces for different subjects or no. Because I’m memorizing various important terms in a North American fungi book I am currently reading, however I am in school and can not read it all the time and sometimes during the day I find another piece of info worth memorizing, today it was in history, August 6 the day the nuclear bomb was dropped on hiroshima. So do I just put this on the next loci in my current palace, or do I start a different which I dedicate to important dates? Any help would be appreciated, thanks.

Sherlock is reason why did i start researching memory palaces. Its just the fun way he represents memory palaces that made me so interested in it. I highly recommend you to watch Sherlock, it is very good series :slight_smile:

It’s totally misleading. It gives the picture of him having to search through every place in his memory palace to retrieve the information he is looking for. Because of that it takes a long time for him to find what he is looking for, while in the real world it’s instantaneous because you have a direct link to what you are looking for.

But maybe he has completely forgotten the link and therefore has to search through every place…

Also, from what I saw he seems to have lots of information stored as text, which is not how it’s done for real.

Just to clarify, all his searching did take 3 seconds total, so not that long…and yes, granted it is a television show

Misrepresentations are certainly an important issue, but due to all of the amazing contributions here, anyone who goes in search of Memory Palaces will almost certainly find and have the enlightenment afforded by Sherlock elucidated by countless contribution from the real detectives and experimenters traveling deep into the frontiers of memory.

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.


Actually, in the scenes I saw, it took forever…

Well, I’m fairly certain that Molly said “three seconds until you die” meaning his searching took three second since he did not die, I don’t want to argue, and I do believe it would have taken longer had he been realistically using a palace in real life.


Here is an article about Sherlock’s mind palace. I added my comment, where I pointed out the mistakes the series made.

What’s most interesting about the article though, is “Sherlock Holmes’ brain attic” by the words of A.C.Doyle, which is also thouroughly explained in recent book Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes (however the book doesn’t associate it with memory palace; although it is a very good read, recommend it).

And yet, how A.Conan Doyle describes it:
“I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.

(A Study in Scarlet)”

Now tell me this is not a memory palace, although Doyle might not had a slightest idea what that is.

SPOILER ALERT: Sherlock - The Abominable Bride

(Just aired episode of Sherlock) Sherlock: "Yes? So? It's been five minutes since Mycroft called. What progress have you made since then?" John: "More to the point, what have YOU been doing?" Sherlock: "I've been in my mind palace if course, running an experiment about how I would have solved a crime." Mycroft: (sighs) "Oh Sherlock." Sherlock: "I had all the details fit perfect. I was there, all of it, everything! I was immersed." Mycroft: (sarcastically) "Of course you were." ... M: Do you really think anyone is believing you?... J: No, he can do this, I've seen it. The Mind Palace, it's like a whole world in his head. S: Yes, and I need to get back there. M: The Mind Palace is a memory technique, I know what it can do and I know what it most certainly cannot. S: Maybe there are one or two things that I know that you don't. M: Oh, there are. M: Did you make a list? ... Sherlock tries to evade by making a deduction about M having put on some weight again... M: Stop this! Just stop it! Did you make a list?! S: Of what? M: Everything, Sherlock. Everything you've taken. J: No, it's not that, he goes into a sort of trance. I've seen him do it. PAPER FLUTTERS M: We have an agreement, my brother and I, ever since that day. (John GASPING) M: Wherever I find him, whatever back alley or doss-house.....there will always be a list. J: He couldn't have taken all that in the last five minutes. M: He was high before he got on the plane. J: He didn't seem high. M: Nobody deceives like an addict. S: I'm not an addict, I'm a user. I alleviate boredom and occasionally heighten my thought processes.

So, the writers try to explain the rapid speed of Sherlock’s thought and imagination while he is in his mind palace by saying these are the effects of the drugs.

I like about Mycroft making a distinction about memory palaces, which’s purpose is memory aid, and the thing that Sherlock is doing, which is something much more and overexaggerated.

Loved the episode though, all characters were extremely funny this time.

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