Thursday, March 5, 2015

Mind Palace - Conversion

So far, we've talked about the basic framework for a mind-palace, and the general idea behind setting one up. Today, we're going to examine what goes in to actually internalizing information in a really concrete way. In order to do that, I thought I'd take you through one of my pet-projects that I work on when I'm bored - memorizing Pi.

NOTE: This is advanced. If you cannot use your mind palace to remember a shopping list, a list of 20 random words, AND the order of songs on your favorite album first, DO THAT FIRST. THIS IS YOUR ONLY WARNING. Everything after this will assume you are at a level where you are capable of the above tasks or better.

Now, since Pi is an infinite non-repeating decimal, you'll never actually be able to get it memorized by virtue of the fact that there's always one more number you haven't stored away (for more information, please Google "Pi"). This element of futility makes Pi an excellent way to "score" your mnemonic prowess. You'll never actually complete the job, but you'll have a number to point to - you'll be able to say, "I've stored X digits of Pi in my mind palace, and I know them backwards and forwards." For me, that number is currently 78. Nothing crazy, but then, I'm not trying to win any competitions.

In order to memorize something like Pi, which (after you get passed the 3 and decimal point bit) is just a series of numbers, you're going to need to figure out a few things in advance.
  • Chunk Size :
    • You're obviously not going to make one gigantic image by just combining all of the numbers together. This is a bad idea for two reasons. The first is that, depending on how you set it up, your image might change dramatically with every new number you add. The second is that even if you didn't hit the first problem, eventually your image would be so complex that you'd be better off just trying to remember the numbers in another way (perhaps a song?).
    • So what we're going to do is "chunk" the number up into manageable pieces that we can memorize and add to a list. If you're a world champion mnemonist, you may end up using a system that has 9 digit chunks. The system I use has 6 digit chunks (I'll explain why in a bit). If you're a total beginner, you can chunk 1 digit at a time too (of course, if you're a total beginner, perhaps memorizing Pi shouldn't be your first exercise).
  • Conversion Method:
    • We need to find a way to convert the data we want to remember (strings of numbers) into something our brain can more readily process (sensory-enriched images). So they question is, how do we convert a 6-digit string into an image?
    • Enter the PAO System (Person, Action, Object). The PAO system is one of the more popular systems for encoding any data that can be "chunked" into 3's. Essentially, we convert the first chunk into an image, the second into an action, and the third into an object to create a little scene which we can place into one of the loci in our mind palace.
    • But wait, above I said that I use chunks of six digits at a time. Still true. We're just going to use the PAO system to break it down further into chunks of 2. So for the purposes of this memorization exercise, the smallest mnemonic unit we'll be using is a 2-digit number. Sound fair?
  • Setup:
    • The setup required to create a successful PAO system is a tad daunting. For a 2-digit PAO system, basically you need to think of 100 people - numbered 00-99 - each one of these people has a unique action and object that is associated ONLY with them. They don't have to combine to create a sensible image as long as you can use any one to get back to the number associated with the person.
      • Ex1:     14 - Albus Dumbledore, Blackening His Hand, Elder Wand
      • Ex2:     15 - Albert Einstein, Writing Equations, Chalkboard
      • Ex3:     92 - Napolean Bonaparte, Posing For A Painting, White Flag
    • The above examples make use of a technique called the Dominic System, which you can feel free to Google at your leisure. Essentially it maps numbers onto letters, turning all 2 digit numbers into sets of initials, which you can use to associate people with numbers.
    • This is not the only way - feel free to use direct association as well (Ex: "01" could be George Washington).
    • From there, all you need to know is the location of the number in the chunk. We'll get there.
Now, once you've got all the legwork done, you're ready to actually memorize the data (I know, so excited).
  • Conversion Itself:
    • For this, we'll use as our example the very first numbers in Pi. It begins, for those of you who do not know, as 3.141592653589793.......
    • STEP 1: Chunk by 6 - Since I already know Pi begins with a 3 and a decimal point, we'll start just to the right of the decimal. This results in a 6-digit chunk of "141592."
    • STEP 2: Apply the PAO - The PAO System breaks down our chunk into 3 pieces, resulting in "14 / 15 / 92" where the 14 is the person, the 15 is the action, and the 92 is the object.
    • So "14 / 15 / 92" becomes "Albus Dumbledore / Writing Equations / White Flag."
    • From there, all you have to do is create a little scene out of the above phrases. For me, it's an image of Albus Dumbledore furiously scribbling equations onto a large white flag, accidentally tearing it in places from his efforts.
Then, take that image you created and place it in your mind palace. Finally, just repeat the conversion step for every successive chunk of 6 numbers and add the resulting image to the next location in your mind palace.

As always, if you have any questions, need some clarification, or just want to add a suggestion, please feel free to leave a comment (or on Tumblr, just PM me). Happy memorizing!

2 comments:

  1. Not actually relevant, but I wanted to share: "Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately ascribed to incompetence." - Napolean

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    Replies
    1. Dr. House and Mr. Holmes would be proud.

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