The Datum is the Locus: turning numbers into loci

For the last few years, I have worked on techniques that I find helpful in retaining data for longer durations. One of my interests is a way to turn data into loci. The other day I came up with a method for building a small memory palace out of single digit numbers. The technique still needs a bit of tweaking, but I thought I would explain the idea here in case anybody would like to try it out and improve on it. One simple use might be to remember phone numbers.

To start with, I have created some loose categories of things you might find in a home or other space:
0 - ottomans, papasans, round rug, round coffee table

1 - tree or tall plant, towel or trouser holder
2 - pet dog, cat, lion (live, statuette)
3 - divan, love seat, sofa
4 - side table, trunk, chest, dinner table
5 - fireplace, heater, Franklin, wood stove
6 - rocking chair, lazy boy, armchair, wheelchair
7 - awning, umbrella, poster bed with curtains, drapes, netting
8 - door, shelf, cabinet, closet
9 - lamp, lighting, lantern

If you examine the list, you may notice some correspondence between each number and the shape of some of the items in the category. For example, the number 1 suggests some tall straight things, like a tall plant or tree (such as might be found inside a house or other living space). The number 2 looks to me like a pet or animal, so I extended the category to include many such things, including statues of animals. Hopefully, you can grasp how I came about my categories, even if you do not find my choices are a good match for how you imagine things. You can always modify the categories to suit yourself. The main thing is to be able to generate a useful selection of items that can be easily used as loci.

If you were trying to memorize your friend Mary’s phone number, you might begin by pretending you are building a cottage or home for her. Let’s suppose her phone number is: 312-6568.

You might start by imagining a room with a love seat along one wall and a tall plant to its right. Immediately to the right of the plant is a statue of a lion near the corner of the same wall. Along the adjacent wall, to the right of the statue there is a cozy armchair, then a beautiful fire place. To the right of the fireplace, near the next corner, is a rocking chair. Then, finally, along the next wall, just a short distance from the rocking chair is a door that leads to a nearby room.

So, now you should be able to visualize the space as if it were a room you have actually seen. And, if you remember the list above linking numbers to categories of loci, you should be able to recall the phone number. 3 (love seat) 1 (tall plant) 2 (lion statue) - 6 (armchair) 5 (fireplace) 6 (rocking chair) 8 (door).

You can help cement the image by embellishing the memory palace by adding color to the walls, or mentally placing ornaments, windows, paintings, etc. But, most important is to imagine your friend Mary living in this space and, if you can, make the place seem to suit Mary. The more you imagine her actually doing things at each of the loci, the easier it will be to recall her phone number.

But the real bonus is that, once you have locked her phone number in place using this method, you can then re-use this memory palace to store other factoids about Mary. If you wish to remember her sister-in-law’s name, you could put it somewhere in Mary’s cottage. Doing so will make it easy to find information about Mary and will also reinforce your memory of her phone number because each time you store and retrieve some other piece of information, you have to recall, and thus reinforce, the original phone number.

Anyway, hopefully somebody will find this technique interesting. I have other methods for Turning data into loci, but this is my newest. I hope somebody finds it as fun and useful as I do.




Nice method! I like your ideas of creating a palace from the data. It seems as your example would work with number digits to create a mini palace which is a great method for creating a palace on the fly.

I’ve done something similar to your method myself. I’ve used my persons and his/her belongings to create 5 loci room for each, totalling 500 loci palace from 100 characters.

It’ll be interesting to see what other methods you use.
I am always on the lookout for new and easier methods for creating palaces.

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I’m so relieved… as I was getting closer to the end of the post my brain started going “but the obvious, the obvious…” I think this is the best part (rather than a just a bonus) of the method you are describing.

The most common pitfall with this approach I can imagine, is somebody not making use of your aforementioned categories, just using one piece of furnature for each number. That would make the apartments very repetitive and lead to mixups down the road.

I think it makes sense to stick to single digits in this case too and just have multiple images per digit rather than going 2-digit to increase diversity my making it 100 object, because that would cut their number, and thus the number of locations you can use later on, in half.

As far as virtual memory palaces, definitely one that makes use of the fact that you are free to set it up as you please… using that to your advantage and make the journey points themselves part of the information encoding, rather than just a backdrop for the information you want to store, is very creative.

I’m doing something similar in this post, where I break up a big palace into various smaller ones and let the palace itself stand for some piece of information:

Have you considered usages other than phone numbers with this approach? Seems it wouldn’t be just limited to that… and phone numbers do change, so maybe using somebody’s date of birth (a constant value) and then place their phone number in one of the locations might be a more robust method. Otherwise, every time somebody gets a new phone number you gotta make them move to a new place.

If I started to combine that idea with my reverse lookup method I’ve linked… you could have a virtual town where each apartment is on a street that is determined by the month, so then you’d always know who’s birthday is coming up this month, by walking down that virtual street.

Nice post!