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  • Writer's pictureDAVE MOORE

Memory Palace – Hannibal Lecter

In the book and TV Series (not the movies) Hannibal, Thomas Harris mentions Hannibal Lecters \’Memory Palace\’. He goes on to describe the rooms, alcoves and recesses that house the memories of Hannibal and also the rooms that are locked, in other words the rooms he must not enter. Memories that have been locked away.

As mentioned in an earlier post, this method of memory is ancient and here is an overview I found of the Loci system for mnemonics.


The word \’loci\’, commonly pronounced as \’LOW sigh\’, comes from the Latin word meaning place or location. The Loci mnemonic system uses locations as memory aids. This technique involves associating items that you have to remember with places that are well known to you such as your house, neighborhood, or parts of your body.

Choosing a series of images To use the Loci system you must first memorize a series of images of familiar locations in a natural logical order. It is easiest if you choose a location you are already familiar with and just decide on an order that you will use. This set of images is used each time you use the loci system.

It isn\’t important what images you choose as long as you can visualize them clearly and recall them easily. These images can be of your house — both elements of the outside yard in inside the house. You can also use elements from a walk through your neighborhood, parts of your body, parts of your car, or places from where you work.

You can further increase the number of locations by using different parts of each place — for example, the living room may be considered one place, and it may be further divided into things you find in your living room such as a TV, a window, a door, and a couch, each of which can be used as a location in your system. However, make sure you can recall each location as being distinct from the others.

Memorizing information with the Loci mnemonic system After you have chosen a series of images from a familiar place you can then associate the items you want to remember with each image from the series. Make sure the associations are made using the proper visual memory principles.

To memorize even more information you can associate more than one item with each location. You could even apply the link or story techniques on each location.

Recalling information Once the information you want to remember has been encoded it is easy to recall — just think through each location and recall the item associated with the corresponding image.

Improving on the technique This system, like the link and story mnemonic systems, requires you step through each item even if you only want to access, say, the tenth item. One way to improve on this as discussed in Your Memory : How It Works and How to Improve It is to associate a unique image on every fifth location such as a hand with five fingers on the fifth location, a 10 dollar bill on the tenth location, and so on. This way, you can skip every five images until you get to the image you want.

A way to access an item at a specific numbered location in a list using the loci system is to combine it  with the link system. For example, if you have 100 items, make a list of 10 items for each place in your loci system. To find item 64 on the list, traverse 6 items in your loci then 4 items in the link list there.

Advantages of the Loci mnemonic technique The Loci system overcomes some of the drawbacks of the link and story mnemonic systems. With the link and story systems, if you forget one item you risk forgetting all subsequent items. The Loci system overcomes this problem because you can always skip to the next location if you forget the association at any location.

Applications of the Loci mnemonic technique The Loci system can be used for the same things as the link and story mnemonic systems. However, the Loci system also lends itself to other applications. For example, the Loci system can be used to remember ideas that you can\’t write down at the time such as things you have to buy or remember to do. Just associate the idea to a location and access it later when the time is more appropriate. This requires that you access your loci system to see if there is something there you remembered, but usually we remember that we have to remember something, we just don\’t always remember what it is. You can get into the habit of reviewing your loci at key points during the day, such as in the morning and in the evening.

The Loci system idea can also be used to associate a memory with a specific location. For example, if it is important for you to remember to take something with you when you leave the house, associate the item with the front door. This way, when you next see your front door, you will think of the item you need to take. The same idea works for remembering something as you are falling asleep. Just associate what you want to remember with brushing your teeth or some other aspect of your morning routine. This will increase the likelihood of remembering what you want the following morning.

Overcoming limitations One of the problems with the Loci system is that interference can happen when using the same set of images for several lists. However, it is still less of a problem than if you tried to remember several lists of things without a system. Interference is less of a problem if the information is remembered for only a short time or if there is several days between remembering lists. Putting in a new list weakens the old list.

To reduce interference you can have different Loci systems and use each system for different kinds of information, different courses you are studying, or remembering things on different days of the week.

Another way to reduce interference is to use the link mnemonic system at each location of the Loci system. For any given location in the Loci system the item associated with the location will belong to one list, the second item, which can be linked to the first item, belongs to a second list. A third item can be linked to the second item for a third list, and so on.

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