Please put a door between them

[Added November 2011]
The method of loci so well described by the book Moonwalking with Einstein
by Joshua Foer is based on remembering hundreds of loci . There are rules on
how to create them in such a way that they can be easily remembered. These include
the fact that they should have all about the same size, be well illuminated , well separated, … These rules are obvious since they make more easy the
recollection. New research by Radvansky and others
make more clear what means “well separated” and how it works. I couldn’t get
the original paper but a previous paper on the same subject:
Walking through doorways causes forgetting:Situation models and experienced space describes very well the experimental protocol. The experiments are done using computers and virtual reality techniques: you are requested to walk a space
containing many desks with objects on them. You carry an empty box and you
should pick an object and put it in the box. Than you carry it to another
desk. This will go on for some time and different objects. From time to time
you are asked what you have in the box. It is as simple as this. You have
to remember only what is the last object that you picked. Here the interesting
result is the following : if you use the same space and the same desks layout
but put one or more walls and doors between them, the number of times you
forget the object’s name increases. In the last paper Radvansky has demonstrated
that there is real forgetting because the person doing the experiment will
return after passing a few doors in the place where he picked the object and
there is no recovery of memory:i.e. the fact of passing a doorway will produce
a permanent forgetting. Radvansky explains this “the act of passing through a doorway serves as a way the mind files away memories”.

From this research it is also apparent another striking feature of our brain: it works in the same way in real world, in virtual reality, reading
about a scene, looking at the scene in a movie and of course imagining
the scene as they do in the method of loci. This may seem surprising but it
isn’t if you just replace our brain with a computer trying to move in
real world. Of course the computer doesn’t interact with real objects but only
with a stream of 2D images and other data. Using these it must create a 3D
model of the unknown real world. It is exactly what the brain does but it
does it so effortlessly that we may think that we are interacting with real
objects. This instantaneous simulation of reality is also done by our brain
when it reads a text , sees a movie or imagines a walk in a memory palace.

Now coming back to the method of loci. The essence of the method is that you
store all the information you want to remember in the loci of the memory palace.
Then you get this information back walking from locus to locus. As you do this,
it is important also, that, after you extract the information from a locus
(something like picking an object from a desk), this information shouldn’t bother you any more (since you have already used it) and so, to forget it, you
just imagine that you pass a doorway and you arrive at the next locus ready
to pick a new object.

Instead in real life you may want exactly the opposite when you have forgotten what you needed from the refrigerator. Before passing the doorway
use for example some hand gesture to remember and reverse the door’s effect
on memory. Or just keep repeating the name of the thing you need…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *