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  1. Active recall
  2. Alzheimer's disease
  3. Amnesia
  4. Anamonic
  5. Anterograde amnesia
  6. Atkinson-Shiffrin memory model
  7. Attention versus memory in prefrontal cortex
  8. Baddeley's Model of Working Memory
  9. Barnes maze
  10. Binding problem
  11. Body memory
  12. Cellular memory
  13. Choice-supportive bias
  14. Chunking
  15. Clive Wearing
  16. Commentarii
  17. Confabulation
  18. Cue-dependent forgetting
  19. Decay theory
  20. Declarative memory
  21. Eidetic memory
  22. Electracy
  23. Emotion and memory
  24. Encoding
  25. Engram
  26. Episodic memory
  27. Executive system
  28. Exosomatic memory
  29. Explicit memory
  30. Exposure effect
  31. Eyewitness memory reconstruction
  32. False memory
  33. False Memory Syndrome Foundation
  34. Flashbulb memory
  35. Forgetting
  36. Forgetting curve
  37. Functional fixedness
  38. Hindsight bias
  39. HM
  40. Human memory process
  41. Hyperthymesia
  42. Iconic memory
  43. Interference theory
  44. Involuntary memory
  45. Korsakoff's syndrome
  46. Lacunar amnesia
  47. Limbic system
  48. Linkword
  49. List of memory biases
  50. Long-term memory
  51. Long-term potentiation
  52. Lost in the mall technique
  53. Memory
  54. Memory and aging
  55. MemoryArchive
  56. Memory consolidation
  57. Memory distrust syndrome
  58. Memory inhibition
  59. Memory span
  60. Method of loci
  61. Mind map
  62. Mnemonic
  63. Mnemonic acronym system
  64. Mnemonic dominic system
  65. Mnemonic link system
  66. Mnemonic major system
  67. Mnemonic peg system
  68. Mnemonic room system
  69. Mnemonic verses
  70. Mnemonist
  71. Philip Staufen
  72. Phonological loop
  73. Picture superiority effect
  74. Piphilology
  75. Positivity effect
  76. Procedural memory
  77. Prospective memory
  78. Recollection
  79. Repressed memory
  80. Retrograde amnesia
  81. Retrospective memory
  82. Rosy retrospection
  83. Self-referential encoding
  84. Sensory memory
  85. Seven Meta Patterns
  86. Shass pollak
  87. Short-term memory
  88. Source amnesia
  89. Spaced repetition
  90. SuperMemo
  91. Synthetic memory
  92. Tally sticks
  93. Testing effect
  94. Tetris effect
  95. The Courage to Heal
  96. The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two
  97. Tip of the tongue
  98. Visual memory
  99. Visual short term memory
  100. Visuospatial sketchpad
  101. VTrain
  102. Working memory


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Method of loci

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Art of memory redirects here. For the multimedia company, see Art of Memory (company).

The method of loci or Ars memoriae (art of memory) is a technique for remembering that has been practiced since Classical times. It is a kind of mnemonic link system based on places (loci, or locations), used most often in cases where long lists of items must be remembered in order. It was taught for many centuries as a part of the curriculum in schools as part of Rhetoric. It enabled an orator to easily remember a sermon or speech. There are many techniques involving a method of loci; indeed in medieval schools, as in Aristotle (Topics, Bk. 8), 'ars memoriae' was considered to be equally a part of Dialectic (reasoning) as of Rhetoric.

Loci as architecture and the "memory palace"

In ancient advice, the loci were physical locations, usually in a familiar large public building, such as a market or a church. To utilize the method, one walked through the building several times, viewing distinct places within it, in the same order each time. After a few repetitions of this, one should be able to remember and visualize each of the places in order reliably. To memorize a speech, one breaks it up into pieces, each of which is symbolized by vivid imagined objects or symbols. In the mind's eye, one then places each of these images into the loci. They can then be recalled in order by imagining that one is walking through the building again, visiting each of the loci in order, and viewing each of the images that were placed in the loci, thereby recalling each piece of the speech in order. In the Middle Ages, this ancient method was changed, probably under the influence of Jewish meditational traditions, to envisioning the structures described in the Bible, all idealized: the Tabernacle of Exodus, the Temple of Solomon, the visionary Temple of Ezekiel the prophet, the Heavenly City of the Apocalypse. Such visionary architecture strongly influenced the actual building programs of medieval monasteries, pilgrimage churches, and cathedrals (Carruthers, 1998).

In all mnemonic arts, advice is given that the mental places should be well lit, clearly set out in a particular order, at moderate intervals apart. The more architectural elaborations of rooms, passages and niches it has the better — in the sixteenth century, the sequence of architectural loci was sometimes called a "Memory Palace." But the loci were also to be grouped or "chunked" in "brief" sets of items, no more than what the mind's eye can encompass in one glance: this is the medieval equivalent of we now call "working memory" (Carruthers, 1990, Dudai 2002). Loci can actually be used to remember more than one set of ordered things. The images may be replaced by new ones--the loci are the "wax tablet" or "page" on which one writes the images, as one can write with a stylus onto a more permanent surface. The characteristics of the images one uses are very important. They should be unusual, vivid and striking, and it is good if they have emotional content as well. Humorous, obscene or sacrilegious ones (as they may seem to us) are often used. The goal is to make a uniquely memorable picture (Frances Yates 1966, Small 1997).

Because one can readily imagine moving through a memory structure starting at some arbitrary point, one can easily recall the list starting from any point in it, and even recall it easily in reverse order. Prodigious memory feats have been attributed to this method. The art of memory is an art of composition, not an aid to rote memorization. In the Middle Ages, it was carefully distinguished from rote, for with rote memory, one must always go in the same order. The use of loci within a system produced a sort of memory which one can enter from an infinite number of places, and thus one can work with it-- change it about, shuffle, go backwards or forwards or jump around (Carruthers 1990; Carruthers, Ziolkowski 2002).


According to Cicero's De Oratore, the method was invented by Simonides of Ceos. As the story goes, Simonides was attending a dinner with a number of notable Greeks, after which he had stepped outside. Suddenly, the roof of the building collapsed, killing everyone inside. During the excavation of the rubble, Simonides was called upon to identify each guest killed. He managed to do so by correlating their identities to their positions (loci) at the table before his departure.

The method comes down to us through a work in Latin by an unknown author, called Rhetorica ad Herennium in about 85 BC, though it is unlikely that it was original with this author. The author of this textbook of rhetoric examines each of the five parts of rhetoric, including as the fourth part memoria in which he explains the method of loci. It is the only complete source from the classical world to survive, although there are brief references to the method by others, including Cicero and Quintilian, the chief teachers of rhetoric in the ancient and medieval worlds, and later in the Renaissance. It was much used in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, when it was mistakenly attributed to Cicero himself, though Cicero does describe it in his work "On Oratory" [De Oratore].

The early monks adapted an art of memory as an art also of composition, as it had been taught in the ancient schools of Dialectic and Rhetoric and of meditation. It became the basic method for reading and meditating upon the Bible. Within this tradition, the art(s) of memory were passed along to the later Middle Ages and the Renaissance (or early Modern period). When Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian were revived after the thirteenth century, humanist scholars understood the language of these ancient writers within the context of the medieval traditions they knew best, which were profoundly altered by monastic practices of meditative reading and composition (Carruthers, 1990, 1998).

Saint Thomas Aquinas was an important influence in promoting the method when he defined it as a part of Prudence and recommended its use to meditate on the virtues and to improve one's piety. In scholasticism artificial memory came to be used as a method of how to remember the whole universe and the roads to Heaven and Hell (Carruthers, Ziolkowski 2002). The Dominicans were particularly important in promoting its uses (Bolzoni 2004). The Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci, who from 1582 until his death in 1610, worked to introduce Christianity to China, described the memory palace technique in his work, A Treatise On Mnemonics, but he misunderstood it as only an aid to passing examinations (a kind of rote) rather than as an instrument of new composition, though it had traditionally been taught, both in dialectic and in rhetoric, as an instrument of composition. Ricci was trying to gain favour with the Chinese imperial service, which required a notoriously difficult entry examination (Spence 1984).

Perhaps following the example of Metrodorus, described in Quintilian, in about 1582 Giordano Bruno used a variation of the technique in which the loci were astrological symbols of the zodiac. His elaborate method, based on the combinatoric concentric circles of the Spanish missionary preacher Ramon Lull, and filled with the images representing all the knowledge of the world, was to be used, in a magical sense, as an avenue to reach the intelligible world beyond appearances, and thus enable one to powerfully influence events in the real world. Of his five major printed works, three of them were treatises on this Hermetic occult system. Such enthusiastic claims for the encyclopedic reach of the arts of memory are a feature of early Renaissance (15th-16th century), but they gave rise as well to serious developments in logic and scientific method during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Frances Yates, 1966). Memory art came to be defined primarily as a part of Dialectic, and was assimilated in the seventeenth century, by Pierre Ramus and Rodolphus Agricola into the curriculum of Logic, where it survives to this day as a necessary foundation for the teaching of Argument(Rossi 2000, Bolzoni 2001}.

In 1584 a huge controversy over the method broke out in England when the Puritans attacked it as impious because it calls up absurd and obscene thoughts; this was a sensational, but ultimately not fatal skirmish. Erasmus of Rotterdam and other humanists, Protestant and Catholic, had also chastised practitioners of the arts of memory for making extravagant claims for its efficacy, although they themselves believed firmly in a well-disposed, orderly memory as an essential tool of productive thought (Carruthers, Ziolkowski 2002; Rossi 2000). The arts of memory as such were then largely dropped from the curriculum in schools and universities, and are now mostly taught and practiced informally, though, redefined as Argumentation, versions remain essential in college composition and logic courses. Arts of memory were also taught through the nineteenth century as useful to public orators, including preachers and after-dinner speakers.

Contemporary usage

A reference to these techniques survives to this day in the common English phrases "in the first place", "in the second place", and so forth.

All top memorizers today use this technique to a greater or lesser degree. Eight time World Memory Champion Dominic O'Brien[1] advocates this technique. His name for it is 'journey method'. Or the current World Memory Champion Clemens Mayer from Germany used for his world record in number half marathon, memorizing 1040 random digits in a half hour, a 300-point-long journey through his house.

Art of memory in fiction

Memory palaces appear in Thomas Harris' novel Hannibal, in which serial killer and cannibal Hannibal Lecter organizes his memories in an elaborate memory palace. Harris exaggerates the potential of the palace by having Lecter read entire books and transcripts of interviews with patients, but also raises the fascinating, and possibly original proposition that the palace can be a dangerous place for its owner. In one scene Lecter retires to his palace in search of comfort only to become haunted by horrific memories he, or his subconcious mind has stored there. He also uses it as a sanctuary; when he is being tortured with a cattle-prod, he enters his memory palace and lays his face against the coolness of a statue there.

The character Jonesy in Stephen King's novel "Dreamcatcher" uses a memory palace area as a special power.

They also play a large role in John Crowley's World Fantasy Award-winning novel "Little, Big," where they are used as a pseudo-magical or divinatory technique by the magician Ariel Hawksquill.

In Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's books "The Cabinet of Curiosities", "Still Life With Crows" and "Brimstone", Agent Pendergast uses a memory palace to recreate crime scenes.

Another example appears in The Ice Age cycle of the popular Magic: The Gathering books, in which many of the mages, most notably Jodah, store their repertoire of spells in a 'mental mansion'.

Katharine Kerr describes the usage of memory places throughout her Deverry novels.

See also

  • Dual-coding theory
  • Mnemonic room system
  • Recollection
  • Memory sports


  • Yates, Frances A. (1966). The Art of Memory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 10226950018.
  • Spence, Jonathan D. (1984). The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci. New York: Viking Penguin. 0140080988.
  • Carruthers, Mary (1990). The Book of Memory. Cambridge University Press.
  • Carruthers, Mary (1998). The Craft of Thought. Cambridge University Press.
  • Rossi, Paolo (2000). Logic and the Art of Memory. University of Chicago Press.
  • Bolzoni, Lina (2001). The Gallery of Memory. University of Toronto Press.
  • Bolzoni, Lina (2004). The Web of Images. Ashgate Publishers.
  • Dudai, Yadin (2002). Memory from A to Z. Oxford University Press.
  • Small, Jocelyn P. (1997). Wax Tablets of the Mind. London: Routledge.
  • Carruthers, Mary; Ziolkowski, Jan (2002). The Medieval Craft of Memory: An anthology of texts and pictures. University of Pennsylvania Press.
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