The Art of Memorizing Text Verbatim

Hello,
I am in the process of memorizing the entire New Testament and I just wanted to share my approach to memorizing extended texts verbatim.

Memory Palace Construction and Loci

I take the approach of Alex Mullen and create memory palaces as I am memorizing rather than constructing them in advance in a detailed fashion as to reduce the amount of mental energy. Typically, one is instructed to put 1 verse in each locus and to have 5 loci per room so one could navigate through loci and if were called to recite a particular verse they could easily find the number because each room consists of 5 loci. I think this approach is fitting for poetry with shorter lines like La Divina Commedia but it is more difficult with approaching other types of texts like the Bible. Personally, I have found disadvantages in this approach when it comes to memorizing certain religious texts or poems that have longer lines. If the mnemonist puts more than 3 images in a locus I find that the location becomes too crowded and if you are not careful you can reduce the speed of recall if you do not have strong and orderly linkage between images. Evidence for the problem of overcrowding may be seen where memory athletes have reported to put a black card pair in the next locus with a mental note if a particular locus becomes too crowded in the Shadow System.

In order to solve this problem of overcrowded loci I use the Major System in conjunction with the Memory Palace. So, to create images for verse 4 of James chapter 1 I may need several loci to accomplish the task. Therefore, when verse 4 starts I include the image for 004 (Scissor) in that location. So even though verse 4 may start at locus 13 I will know that it verse 4 because I have included 004 (Scissor) in that particular location. So, I am still able to jump around verses and easily recite them forwards and backwards.

Division of Lines and Image Construction

I have found breaking the verse into small chunks to be more effective. For example, if have the verse “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” I will divide the verse as the following.

Division 1: "If any of you lacks wisdom
Division 2: “let him ask God”
Division 3: “who gives generously”
Division 4: “to all without reproach”
Division 5: “and it will be given him.”

I would NOT divide it into two larger chunks such as the following:
Division 1: “If any of you lacks wisdom let him ask God who gives generously”
Division 2: “to all without reproach and it will be given him”

I would NOT have one verse in a locus with multiple images connected with a sequential story.
Image(s): “If any one of you lacks wisdom let him ask God who gives generously to all without reproach and it will be given him”

I would divide them into smaller parts as demonstrated in the first example. I have borrowed this approach from Hugh of St. Victor who taught his students techniques for memorizing the Psalter. I have found that having one image per locus to be much easier to remember than multiple images and exerts less mental energy. I am also able to quickly navigate the text and even recite it backwards more easily because there are smaller chunks. I am capable of saying, “generously gives who” just as much as “who gives generously.”

Memorization Process: Outline and Shadowing

Memorizing the New Testament takes a long time so I cannot take too long memorizing a verse so I do what I call “Outline and Shadowing”, which is a two step process. In drawing, artists make an outline of the figure and then shadow to make it more realistic. In the same manner, I outline the text with quick memorization, approaching each chunk with the same speed as I would with the Random Words event. I visualize the first association that comes to mind and treat it as a memory competition. After I have created all the images, I go back to each chunk and shadow with deeper visualization by strengthening and adding more sensory details such as color, taste, touch and smell.

Use of Loci: Mental Space and Navigation

When approach long and extended texts one needs a lot of loci and there is the temptation to cram images in locations and creating unnatural and non-intuitive journeys. I try to make sure that the objects are medium-large and I do not zoom in on a desk to create a locus on the alarm clock, pen cup or drawer. I simply use the desk itself which is medium sized. I have found that when I use medium-large objects I am able to more quickly navigate through passages and there are less confusion in terms of the direction of the journey. I try to have the same-general direction: counter-clock-wise, always moving in the same direction and I do not zig-zag across loci but I try to make it as an intuitive movement as possible.

One may make the argument, well don’t you need hundreds of palaces to memorize the entire New Testament? Why not zoom in and use more loci on objects within a room? I would argue that having more mental-space two to five-steps is more advantageous in terms of the amount of mental energy that is exerted and it makes for quicker navigation and recall. It is one thing memorizing a book, it is another thing memorizing 20 + books. The key to memorizing long passages is perseverance so I try to make the journeys as “stress-free” and “easy” as possible. So, I continually collect palaces. I try to make a list of 10 places per week, even visiting downtown restaurants or traveling for the sole purpose of gathering palaces.

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I got a few Psalms memorized (in Hebrew, where they rhyme and meter). You’ve inspired me to pick up the project again!

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Who is Alex Mullet? Would you like to share the link pls? Thanks

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@rebcabin,
I’d be interested in hearing your progress on the Psalms and what works for you.

I used a LOT of technique to learn Hebrew vocabulary. For the Psalms themselves, the rhymes and meters are so compelling that I don’t need technique beyond repetition.

On vocabulary, tor example, the root het-shin-khaf means “darkness” and the root shin-khaf-het means “forget” (ironically). For another, bet-shin-lamed means “cook by boiling” and lamed-bet-shin means “to wear clothes,” so my association is that we wash clothes by “boiling” them (the Hebrew word for “wash,” khaf-bet-samech" isn’t so easily related). Also, there is a ridiculous number of English cognates (real or imaginary; but who cares!) Example, we “cook” in a vessel, which is like bet-shin-lamed; we “trek” on a road, which is dalet-rosh-khaf; something “big” is “grand,” like gimel-dalet-lamed (if you swap dalet-lamed and subst ell sound for arr sound [Worf’s Law might permit that]).

Over the years, I accumulated many such associations.

I’ll keep you-all posted as I memorize a few more.

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Thank you for sharing your approach to memorizing verbatim!

I’d like to hear (read) an example of what kind of pictures do you make for your example:

Thank you in advance!

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I actually changed by approach and now put 1 verse in 1 locus but I have 5 loci per room. I experimented with different approaches but I like the organization of groups of 5’s. I have one palace for each chapter and I connect all the houses together like townhouses to complete the book.

@RonaldJohnson, I found that when I let the chapters self-organize that five was an average number. Five being an exact number helps confirm images with a special image like that of a hand used in medieval times. Do you use any stories to link the chapters like I do (I posted a new version in my repo)?

@rebcabin, would you have a document with those associations all written down? That seems like a great aid. And after listening to the spoken and sung Psalms, which do you prefer? I’m still at a beginner level in Hebrew.

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Ok, nice. I will check it out. I use a story to link the memory palaces together. Chapter 1 is Memory Palace 1, Chapter 2 is Memory Palace 2 and so on. The 5th locus always end with a door and I enter into the next palace. I also use a similar technique with the hand at the 5th locus and the cross at the 10th but instead I use the Major System for 5, 10, 15 and so on. All the houses I use are owned by people that remind me of the book I’m memorizing. So, if I’m memorizing James, I would choose a theme such as “doer of the word” and then I would choose houses of people that have exemplified godliness and have been “doers of the word.”

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4 posts were split to a new topic: Hebrew Mnemonics

Very Interesting Thread! Thanks for sharing!

I am making slow and steady progress in a similar effort to memorize the Psalms.
I used a carefully constructed journey of buildings starting in my home town, and moving building by building, shop by shop, street by street, until I had well over 150 buildings ready.

I use a slightly more complex PAO system to label the buildings with the chapter and the number of verses. For example, the local Pizza is chapter 7, so it is covered in Wax. There are 17 verses, so I have Diego from Ice Age at the door doing memorable things.

I simply use 20 verses per location. Most of the Psalms have fewer than 20 verses, but when there are more than 20, I just use more buildings. I place 5 images on each wall of the insides of the building. So I mentally enter the Pizza Place, then I turn and look at the wall. The verses go clockwise from Top Left, Top Right, Bottom Right, Bottom Left, and Center.

This avoids problems with the furniture and aisles moving around all the time.

As far as details getting too cramped, that has not been a problem for me. I simply visualize the content of longer verses stacking up, and I can mentally extend the stack into outer space if I so desire, anchored to the home spot on the wall.

Next I proceed to the Left Wall, and do the next 5 verses…

I have a growing list in my outline software of my visual vocabulary which is like a reference tool for me with 2600+ words and 100’s of phrases.

I have Memory Palaces for other Books, such as Colossians, John, etc., although I’m not necessarily trying for the entire book in those cases. I have the Memory Palaces built in such a way that there are blank spots predetermined for all the verses, but I’m only filling in the ones I want most to have memorized.
I find it helpful to come up with a standard visual to differentiate phrases such as “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” versus “From God and From Our Lord,” and the many other variations. This reduces the effort in many places of remembering which variation of the phrases and many other similar such issues that come up.

Also, because I’m technically not using the Memory Palaces to their full potential, I can leverage them for many other things. I use the outside walls for Electrical Engineering formulae. I use the floor and ceilings to memorize many random things such as Poems I like, Lists I need, etc.

I even use all the outside surrounding areas and features for other things.

The Memory Journey I built has actually well over 1000 buildings that can ultimately be used in this way. As I train my older kids to drive, I have them bring me to these places so I can make clearer notes on which features and in what sequence I want everything to work…

I have given myself until 2030 to have everything fully memorized, which includes Psalms, Proverbs and a dozen other books that are special to me.

Best Regards and God Bless,
Mike

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@mikesplan, thanks for sharing your way of memorizing the Psalms! It’s very interesting and close to what I’ve been working on but I’m still unsure about mine. I’d like to have a generic system not tied to specific blocks of buildings so others could benefit from it. I’m working my way through the NT in selected verses right now. But I did just get an illuminated psalter of sorts to see if I wanted to try the monk’s methods. I tend to like your palaces.

I put together a list of substitute words with a few suggestions from a few other people and put it on my github site in the Bible memorization folder. If you feel like sharing yours, I would eventually compile it into one list and put it out there. Anything you would like to share would be enthusiastically accepted.

And one last thing, it would be very interesting if you could post a chunk of your visualizations for any passage to see how detailed and related the imagery is. For instance, do you see Diego taking refuge from King Saul in the pizza palace once you get by the wax coating?

Feel free to peruse the other documents online if you want and give feedback. I like your style.

@thinkaboutthebible
Thank you also for sharing the link. I hope to have time to dig in a bit next week.

I have tried many different solutions over the years, but the Memory Palace techniques which I mostly learned from Anthony Metivier have worked the best. For me, it takes all the friction away from memorizing things and storing them in long term buckets.

As for how detailed things get, it depends on how much muscle memory I have for that verse. For example, John 3:16 requires no imagery because most people have that in heart even if they never sat in a church :).
For verses that are less “memorable,” I rely on the imagery more heavily.

An example is Colossians 1:1-2.
Here we have an introduction, and it is so similar to other Paul intros, that it would be easy to make errors in remembering them verbatim.

So, in my mind, I see the parking spot outside of a vacation home dedicated to Colossians as 1:1.
I don’t need to put a peg there to remember that it is 1:1.
I just know it is, because I designed every room and area to have 5 verses.

Here are the Visuals:
Paul (my friend Paul from childhood),
eating an apple (an apostle) which was given to him by Johnny Cash (Jesus Christ)
Suddenly, he is swallowed by a specific whale I think of (by the will)
Morgan Freeman is on the whale (of God) - Morgan is my peg for the simple term of God, when there are not other attributes in the phrase.
Tim the tool man is trying to help save Paul along with my brother (And Timothy our brother)

Vs 2 is in the next parking spot, working toward the house. Location 2 of 5 in the driveway area.
Two gigantic ants (to the saints) with fistfuls of ink (faithful in) which they are painting on Chris Tucker (I use him for the term “Christ” by itself)

A greasy yoyo gets flung onto a giant pizza. (Grace to you and Peace),
Morgan again shows up and puts on a golf jacket (Golf Jacket is a weird way I have of remembering the exact term “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”)
Because most of my images are so unique to me, I don’t really tend to share them.

These images all play out like a vignette, and I haven’t thought about them in a few months, yet they are memorable enough to pull up readily. I’ll need to review them several times to convert things into long term and get to where I don’t need the images as a crutch, but I’m not in a rush…

The Preparation:
It takes me some time to plan the memory palace for important projects to me. I think through the flow, the details needed, the content, then needed visuals… All of this was in the teachings I gained from Metivier’s stuff years ago. Now it is second nature to me.

I will typically sit down with the goal of getting 4-5 more verses visualized and stored into their preplanned locations. I take notes and put it in an Outline software, to help me with review, until it is really internalized.

Strategy to Avoid Burnout
Once I know where every verse will go, such as I have done for Psalms and the Book of John, as well as a bunch of other topics, then I can pick which high priority items to do first. I can literally skip several chapters and verses, and decide to then encode a bunch of verses. Some time later, maybe even years later, I will encode the “missing” verses or content into their preplanned spots.

Language
I do the same thing with Common Words (I have a long ways to go with this).
I have 24 Palaces, One for A, B, C… Some letters are combined. There are ~2700 most common words. Each word is alphabetically placed. I use these for several things. First, to then have a visual image. For example, the word “What,” is Dr Watson. Above him, floating is the word “Que” = Q from 007 (which is Spanish). Underneath is Italian. This is done in my mind. I am slowly filling these in…

My Modified PAO System PACOP
This is where I may have gone off the deep end. I developed a 0-9 and 00-99 PAO system which has specific rules. A Person (which is an actual human of some kind), does an Action, on an Object, but they are then inside of a bigger object which I call a container. Finally, I assign a Pet (which can be any animated character or actual pet). Additionally, I made all of the Persons “male.” I can add in a female down the road if I want to. This way, I can encode in one location up to 10 digits where a Person Acts on an Object in a Container with a Pet.
I follow the Major System on these.

For the Psalms, there are so many Memory Locations, that I use the Containers on each location as a way to quickly jump to the right palace… I use the Pet as a way to tell me how many verses are in that chapter.

So, there is a lot of prep that has occurred. It took me ages to get the PACOPe system (I added the periodic table of elements to the end, although these aren’t fully memorized yet).
I planned the routes, picked favorite passages, worked on visuals for common words, visuals for specific bible phrases…

It is all so slow!!! However, the painful part is almost done, and I’m finding I can now encode the real content with such freedom, because I know I have everything planned out and won’t need to change the layouts, the visuals, etc. Of course, I enhance them when some image isn’t triggering my memory enough…

Any way, thanks for asking.
I find some people like these things, like mental puzzles, and others don’t…

I’m doing this so that, God willing, I may have 1000’s of passages memorized into my later years.

Best Regards,
Mike

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By the way, this same approach helps with every topic I’m interested in memorizing, from the Constitution, to Poems, to countless formulae, Presidents Details, Countries, Highways and Routes of America, etc., etc.
To me, it is fun, if a bit painfully slow.
I’m almost at the fun part where all the prep is done and I can just encode away without thinking.
I gained a lot from Lynne Kelley’s books as well as Dr Metivier.
After reading many other books and watching countless videos, I would say they are the only 2 resources you need for long term “big Projects.” Unless you are doing things for competition, then obviously that is a different set of puzzles to solve.

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It’s great to see that you’ve developed such a full system to use for scripture and so much else. Thanks for describing it all. And yes, I’m one of those people who like puzzles.

The container part of your PACOPe seems to be your locus or in my system the terrain, all of which is the position or background of a good method of loci system. But I’ve never heard of anyone using a pet in their image yet. I might try that out.

God bless your scripture work and I hope to see you on the forum more often.

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I’m not sure if anyone else answered that already, but here’s a link:

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