Learning through Literature: Sherlock Holmes' Memory Palace

We often use literature, television, movies, and other media to escape from the world around us either for entertainment, a sense of safety, or for other, more personal reasons, but can you learn something at the same time?  Indeed you can!  Behold the first installment in an ongoing series here entitled “Learning through Literature” where literature (as expressed in a variety of media) teaches lessons beyond its plot line.

BBC.Masterpiece Sherlock

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories have captured my imagination for years, which is why I was weary of the latest TV show on CBS entitled “Elementary.”  Quite frankly, it looked cheesy (though I haven’t yet seen it, so I’ll keep an open mind).  Masterpiece Theater’s BBC-produced version, on the other hand, looked absolutely brilliant (click here for my review of the show).  Not only did I instantly become addicted (“hooked,””interested,” and words like “ensnared” sound far too diminutive), but I feel smarter for having watched it!  First, let’s talk about Sherlock’s “Memory Palace” which is revealed in Season 2, Episode 2: “The Hounds of Baskervilles.”

The “Memory Palace” or the “Method of Loci” originated in the times of Ancient Greece as a means of storing information mentally by picturing a building.  You first select a building that you can easily picture (i.e. your childhood home, your school, a library).  It should be a building with many rooms, so that each room can hold a certain category of information.  In order to begin storing information within your memory palace, envision yourself walking a specific path through the building, making sure to always follow this path when you enter your palace .  For the facts you wish to recall, picture images as mnemonic devices to help you remember.  If you want to remember all of the actors in “The Expendables,” for example, you could go to the garage and picture car which would remind you of the car in “The Transporter” with Jason Statham.

As it turns out, I am not the only one fascinated by this concept.  In fact, there are many articles that have been written on exactly this.

When exactly can you use this technique?  We all need to remember important facts such as the names of new people we meet, facts for a test, directions to a location, the list goes on.  Next time, instead of just trying to beat these facts into your mind through repeated exposure (which still works), take a walk through your own personal memory palace like the famous Sherlock Holmes.

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