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This Ancient Roman Technique Provides a Clever Way to Remember Long Numbers
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This Ancient Roman Technique Provides a Clever Way to Remember Long Numbers

I personally enjoy the occasional visits to my bank, because that is when I get the opportunity to impress the executive by saying my 16 digits long account without checking my phone, or a paper. We live in an age in which we are dumping most of our memories to external agencies. Many of us can't even recall the phone numbers of our parents, spouse or closest friends.

Joshua Foer, in his best-selling book 'Moonwalking with Einstein' says, " The externalization of memory not only changed how people think; it also led to a profound shift in the very notion of what it means to be intelligent. Internal memory became devalued. Erudition evolved from possessing information internally to knowing how and where to find it in the labyrinthine world of external memory...But as our culture has transformed from one that was fundamentally based on internal memories to one that is fundamentally based on memories stored outside the brain, what are the implications for ourselves and our society".

However, new ideas arise only when we can make new connections from existing ideas in our memory. The ability to remember like Sherlock Holmes will thus aid us to solve problems like him as well. For all those who want to remember more, here is a mnemonic system that was originated in Ancient Rome and used by the memory champions across the world to remember long strings of numbers.

Method of Loci

The method of loci, or memory palace, is a method of memory enhancement which uses visualizations with the use of spatial memory, familiar information about one's environment, to quickly and efficiently recall information. This method was first mentioned in 'Rhetorica ad Herennium' by Roman orator and senator Cicero.

The items to be remembered in this mnemonic system are mentally associated with specific physical locations and the method relies on memorized spatial relationships to establish, order, and recollect memorial content.

"According to a legend, the discovery occurred at a banquet in Thessaly in ancient Rome, which poet Simonides attended in order to present a lyric poem written in praise of the host. He was called outside shortly after his performance, and during his absence the roof of the banqueting hall suddenly collapsed, crushing the other diners, and mangling many of their corpses beyond recognition", says Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy . However, Simonides found that he was able to identify the bodies by using his visual memory image of the people sitting around the banqueting table, which enabled him to identify the corpses according to where they were found.

We recall things better when they are associated with a specific location, as this provided huge survival benefits from an evolutionary point of view. Someone who can remember the location of a stream or a food source had a better chance of survival and reproduction back then. A study titled 'Decoding Neuronal Ensembles in the Human Hippocampus' points out that hat the hippocampus, the core of a neural memory system, provide an objective spatial framework within which the items and events of an organism's experience are located and interrelated. So how can we use this for remembering long numbers and other information

Step 1: Create your loci

Let's start with a location. Choose a place very familiar to you: it can be your bedroom, study or your daily route to work. Now, create hooks for the things you want to remember. If you want to remember a 10-digit number, you have to create 5 hooks. In my case, I used my bank as the location and the counters and tables in order from the entry as hooks. You can use furniture and paintings in a room, or landmarks and buildings in a route as hooks.

Step 2: Create 'associations' for numbers from 0-9

The next step is to give each number from 0-9 three associations -an object, a person or living thing, and an action. In my personal case number 0 is associated with egg (object), Winston Churchill (person) and crying (action). Similarly, number 1 is associated with a pencil, rhino, and sleeping, while number 3 has an auto rickshaw, Hilary Clinton and running.

Step 3: Create a story

The third and final step is to create a sequence of actions or images on each hook by combining two associations such as a person, and an action. Let's say my hypothetical 10-digit bank account number start with '0 0', and my first location hook is the door to the bank. In the story I create, the first thing will be Winston Churchill crying in front of the door.

What if the next two number are 1 and 3, the second hook in my bank is the teller's cage- I created an image of a rhino running inside that cage. What if the numbers were 3 and 3 instead of 1 and 3, then I would have made Hilary Clinton sitting on an auto rickshaw.

Once you created a sequence for every hook, all you have to do is take an imaginary walk from the first hook to last visiting these weird stories in mind.

The application of Loci method isn't limited to remembering the deck of cards, or bank accounts. In fact, you can create an elaborate memory palace or vault, like the Appledore of Sherlock villain Magnuson. By combining many loci to remember everything from theories, facts to to-dos. However, let's take one step a time and start with information like phone numbers and bank accounts.

(Image Credit: Pixabay)


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