I have an average memory. And quite frankly I’ve never really thought or cared too much about it. It seemed like another one of those things which in the long run didn’t matter. As long as I can understand something, it is better than just rote memorization. And I still believe that, what has changed is my attitude towards memories.
After reading Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer, an amazing mixture of investigative journalism and the story of one man’s journey from average journalist to top US Memory Champion, the most interesting idea I came away with was not the techniques that top memory champions use (although that is quite interesting in its own right) but rather the idea that memories are who we are. Subjective experience make us who we are and our memories of the past are the only things that are really intact throughout one’s life. Sure memories fade and get fuzzy but it seems to me that a fuzzy recollection of the past is the one thing that truly defines me more than physical appearance or possessions. This makes me believe that memories and therefore memorization are much more important than I have given it credit for.
Modernity has made memorization less of a priority for many of us with the advent of inventions like the book, the internet, and the smart phone but I believe it is nonetheless interesting to learn memorization techniques as well.
The main insight in the method of loci is realizing that the human mind is much better at remembering spacial and sensual memories rather than arbitrary digits or words or facts. The method of loci is essentially converting those types of abstract ideas into visual images that one places in “memory palaces” which are usually things like familiar buildings. The visual image is even more memorable if it is vulgar, appealing to more than one sense, or otherworldly.