Memory – Encoding – The Loci System

by pre., Friday, March 7th, 2008.

Human brains do not remember things in the same way that a computer, or a video camera, or a gramophone record remembers things. You do not stream data directly into some permanent storage for later recall. When you remember something your brain in fact increases the associations between items already encoded in your memory. When you later try to recall the memory, it’s the strength of these associations which feed back the stored items to your conciousness and allow you to reconstruct and re-imagine the thing you tried to remember.

This is great, and works very well for recalling things like the gist of stories, how to operate your television or how to get to your friend’s house. It works much worse for more abstract things though, things like author’s names, what you had for lunch yesterday, what time that show you want to watch is being broadcast, or the actual address and postcode of your friend’s house.

The Loci system is designed to take difficult abstract things and give you a way to associate them with a given well memorised list of things, so that you can run though the well remembered list and recall all those more abstract things you have associated with each.

One things the brain does remember reasonably well is where things are and what things are in a given place. You may not believe it when you’re hunting high and low for your car keys, but nevertheless it’s true. Think right now of where your phone is, or where those unfortunate trousers you’ve never actually worn have been for the last few months. Think of the list of things that are in your kitchen drawer. You will remember most of those things, because they are of an associative nature. You think of the phone, and things like it’s location automatically come to mind, we have evolved to do this kind of thing well.

The Loci System demands that you use a well known route, a list of places, and associate the abstract things you wish to remember with one of those places. To do this you use your imagination and visualisation abilities to see something that represents that abstract thing at the location, actually in the location. In your mind you see that location as if the thing were there. Then to recall the abstract thing you just have to remember how you last saw that location, what things are stored in it.

To learn this system we will use a list of ten loci (places). A suitable list of places may be your route home from work or the route to your friends house. Your list of locations will likely include each corner you must turn, each landmark you must pass, even each door you must open if needed, so long as you have ten different, distinct locations to use in that route. Call this route your “Loci Map”

If you were playing the generation game and were asked to remember a list of objects as they pass on a conveyor belt you might try repeating the things to yourself, or concentrating hard on the things as they pass. These systems will likely not work well though. If you were to use The Loci System you would vividly imagine each of the objects as they pass in one of your list of places in your loci map. The kitchen-set at the bus-stop, for instance. The Cuddly Toy buying a holiday at the corner shop.

Now recalling the list of items is just a question of imagining yourself walking home from work, remembering all the strange things you saw last time you took the route, as the conveyor belt rolled on. People find this a much simpler task.

You can use the Loci System to remember all kinds of things; to-do lists, the events of a party, shopping lists, etc. Just strongly imagine seeing the thing you want to remember in one of the places in your route.

People who have used the Loci System extensively recommend having an extensive list of routes, and spending time wondering through them refreshing the contents of each location as often as you can. When waiting for a bus perhaps, or while there’s a commercial break on the television. The more often you refresh the things in your list, the more likely they will be to stay there and, as a bonus, if that’s a todo list you’re more likely to do the things on it.

The only trouble is remembering to use the system when you have things to remember.

This Month’s Guided Meditation File

We present an mp3 designed to help you practice using the Loci System, and furthermore load your brain with suggestions to make it actually use the system more in daily life. You’ll need to have a route in mind when you listen to the file, with at least ten locations on that route.

The monologue will take you through each of those locations, giving you a short time to imagine seeing the things you have stored in that location, slowly going through each spot and then more rapidly going backwards through the route.

Because much of the consolidation of our memories goes on in our dreams, the monologue then goes on to suggest that you’ll dream aboute those locations, the contents of the locations, and the act of wondering through the route refreshing your loci-stored memory. It also suggests that even after you wake you’ll remember to use the system more, in your daily life. Assuming you have slowed your brain down to the more suggestible wavelengths these suggestions should be invaluable, and really will help to improve your memory within your life.

Since you will likely have nothing stored in each of your loci as you start the training, we will use the audio file to also help to learn the essential components of another memorisation technique known as The Peg System. Briefly, this is a system for turning numbers into words so that they can more easily be remembered. We’ll talk more about this next week. For now just concentrate on the other purpose, the fact that having these objects there allows us to name them, so Noah being at location 2 means you can talk about “Noah’s location” and use this as a key to find all the things there. If you want to store some key, you can store it “With the goo” rather than “at the 9th place in the loci map”. Having these names helps build a short-cut to that location in your mind.

Memory – Encoding – The Peg System

by pre., Friday, March 14th, 2008.

If we ask you to remember the phone number 0800362633, you will likely have difficulty. However, if we ask you to remember the phone number 0800-ENCODE, you will find that task much easier, even though if you examine the keys on your phone you’ll see this is the very same number.

This is because human brains can ‘chunk’ information, remembering “ENCODE” is just one memory chunk, whereas remembering 362633 is six! Remembering “ENCODE” is six times easier than remembering the number’s digits.

This proves that you can remember numbers more easily if you encode them differently, turn them into words.

However, the keys as laid out on a phone keypad aren’t terribly useful for remembering arbitrary numbers. Often it will be difficult to find a word to associate with a given number. You may have a word of all consonants or other impossible combinations of letters. So instead of using the phone keypad, we associate each digit with a consonant, and allow arbitrary vowels to be added between them.

List Of Digits

Each digit will be associated with a letter, and to help you remember the associations you will imagine a rich semantic image, full of associations, for each digit too.

Zero – Z – Oz, the wizard

Picking Z for the number zero is an obvious choice, the number zero begins with that letter. We chose the Wizard Of Oz as an image to invoke this association because Oz actually begins with what looks like a 0.

One – L – eel

The number one is associated with the letter L, because the written digit “1″ looks similar to the letter “l” and the aim is to be able to read the numbers as letters just as quickly and easily as we read them as digits. We pick the image of a wriggling Eel because the world eel contains only vowels with the desired letter, so it’s hard to get confused and read the wrong number. Plus, if you straighten out an eel, you can form the digit 1 with it.

Two – N – Noah of Ark

We pick Noah, of ark fame, to represent the number N which we associate with the number two. N looks a bit like a 2 tipped on it’s side, and Noah is an evocative image who’s name contains no other letters used in our peg system.

Three – M – Moo, cow

The third digit is associated with the letter “M”, again because if tipped onto it’s side it resembles that digit. The word “Moo” contains nothing but this letter and vowels, so we imagine a cow making it’s characteristic noise.

Four – R – Ra, the sun-god

The letter “R” is the last letter of the word “Four”, and thus we chose it for that digit in our peg system. The name of Egyptian Sun God “Ra” contains nothing but this letter and a vowel, so we chose that name to associate with the number four to remind us of that number.

Five – V – Eve

The letter V is the Roman numeral for Five, and is also the third letter of the word. It is thus a sensible choice to associate with that number. Eve, dressed in her fig-leaf, is a suitable image for remembering the association because, again, we need add only vowels to produce her name.

Six – B – Baa, sheep

The digit 6, if you straighten out it’s slumped back, looks much like the letter “b”. Thus we add a couple of vowels to the letter to get the word “Baa”, associating a noisy sheep with the digit.

Seven – T – Cup of tea

If you rush writing the letter T, it can end up looking like the digit 7. So we associate 7 and T together. As a vivid image to remember this association we pick a cup of tea, again only adding vowels to the letter to avoid confusion, and of course noting the exact resemblance of the phonemes.

Eight – S – Shoe

An “S” turns to an 8 just by allowing the ends to grow towards each other, so we pick the consonant “s” to associate with the number eight and use a Shoe as an image to build further semantic associations.

Nine – G – Goo

Finally, a “9″ looks a lot like the letter “g”, so we associate those two glyphs together. Adding only vowels as is our convention we can enrich these associations by imagining that the letter is impressed on a pool of green slimy goo.


The number 345789 will be read as mrvtsg, and then expanded by adding vowels to be MR VeT SaG. We will use visualisation techniques to imagine a veterinary surgeon sagging as he ages: MR VeT SaG. This should usually be enough for us to recreate the number later by going backwards, writing a number for each consonant in the string.


Unfortunately, in learning a skill like this there is no real substitute for practice. We can help to put the associations in your head with our guided meditiaons, we can encourage you to want to practice during those files too, make the suggestions which encourage you to do so. But until you have coded and decoded a few hundred numbers you will simply not learn to use the Peg System as a new sense, to be able to read numbers as words as easily as you can read these words as words. Doing this should be the aim.

This weeks mp3

We use The Loci System to program your brain to associate each digit with the consonant as detailed above. You will associate each digit with a letter by placing things that begin with that letter in the corresponding loci in your route.


The background music this month was written by Chemica Solutions especially for the Transcendence Institute, we supply it alongside our guided meditation to encourage you to record your own voice-overs if you desire:

Memory – Encoding – Remembering Names

by pre., Friday, March 21st, 2008.

People often find remembering names difficult. The problem is essentially that there’s no method in naming. Names are arbitrary labels, and you can’t figure out someone’s name if you miss it. There’s no reason for most names, they’re initially completely unconnected in your mind so you really have to put some effort in to reinforcing the connection between that label and the person it refers to. In addition, there’s often little time to do so in a social setting. Before you’ve really had a chance to let the name properly sink in there’s a dozen other things to concentrate on, and you’re having to hold up your end of a conversation.

So the key, when you meet someone new, is mostly just to spend a few seconds reinforcing that connection, that association. Any way you can. Every way you can.

Firstly: check you have it right. The kinds of places where you meet new people tend to be noisy, active, difficult places to hear properly. And the less clearly you hear a name, the less it’ll sink into your memory. Even if you think you’ve heard it, there’ll be more doubt and therefore more probability of forgetting that name the less clear it is. If you think they said “Richard” because your ears heard “Richpard” you’ll surely be right. But your subconscious brain will remember the doubt, even if you don’t notice it consciously. Also, of course, if you have the wrong name in the first place then no number of mnemonic tricks or hypnotic suggestions are going to help. So give the name some real concentration. Use it back if possible. Make sure you have it right.

If name itself is a familiar one, if you already know someone with that name personally or through their fame, you’re off to a head start. The name’s already a big semantic symbol in your head. There’s all kinds of things that’ll bring it to mind. Imagine this new person doing an impression of the famous person or friend you already know with that name. Imagine them playing leapfrog together if you need to. Something provocative and evocative will work best to get that name into your brain.

If it’s a less familiar name though, maybe a foreign name you’ve never come across before, you won’t be able to do that. On the other hand, you will have a perfect excuse to ask how the name is spelled. Imagine it written across their face as they spell it. Check you have the pronunciation right. Remember that the more you focus on the name itself the more likely it is you’ll remember it. Talk about the name for a while. Ask where it came from, what it means, who they’re named after.

Try using other ways to get the name into your brain. We’ve already done the normal one, just hearing it, and we’ve added more by visualising a connection or asking for a story about the name, there are others too though. Write the name with an imaginary pen, type it on an imaginary keyboard. Tap it out in Morse code with your foot if you can. The longer you can focus your attention on this name, the more you associate it with the person in front of you, the better it’ll be encoded in your mind and so the better your recall will be.

So that’s the initial few seconds after you’ve been given the name sorted out; but from the moment your conversation moves elsewhere the impression in your brain will start to fade. What it needs, especially in the next few minutes and hours, is constant reinforcement. Use the name during your conversation, and especially as you say goodbye at the end.

Probably the most powerful thing you can do though is use the base encoding systems you’ve already learned to remember new names. Put the people you meet during a conference or wedding or work meeting or party or whatever into a loci memory map, especially if it’s someone you particularly liked, or are likely to meet again, or need to impress. Whenever you get a spare moment, review your name-loki-map mentally in your imagination. This is what will help you remember the name not just later that night, but when you next meet them again two months later.

Start with a ten-loci system and put each person you meet into the next slot. Then when you run out of slots, start doubling up. Eventually you may spend entire bus-journeys or those moments before you sleep reviewing the names of the last hundred people you met. And the more you do it, the longer you’ll remember those names for.

This is what we mean when we say that the Transcendence Skills feed back into each other. As you get better at one skill, it’s use is transferable into improving the next. As each skill improves, the ones that it supports improve automatically.

Not only that, but the skills you learn for remembering names are useful in remembering your life. These same tips (essentially; paying attention, focusing, reinforcing association, reviewing often) can be used to remember that joyous moment when you got that contract, that wonderful evening watching the stars, a surprising lingering smile. The same techniques work, and as you learn how to decide what you remember, you can focus only on the good, and in the process make yourself happier, more secure, confident.

Will this system work? Judge for yourself. But don’t complain it doesn’t work unless you have at least two people in each of those ten slots. Because until you’ve tried it on at least 20 people, you haven’t really tried it at all.

Memory – Encoding – Self-prompting

by pre., Friday, March 28th, 2008.

The Peg System and Loci System work well, but can be be a bit abstract. It’s not often we need to memorise a phone number or even a list of topics for a speech. People don’t often say “Can you remember this list of words for me” and quite often say “can you remind me to call my mum”

So what technique can you use to remind yourself to do things later? Simple and useful techniques include writing on the back of your hand, tying knots in your hanky, programming your phone to beep at a given hour. All these techniques are good and helpful, and no sane person would do away with them entirely, but we’re not only interested in remembering things, we’re also interested in getting better at remembering things. Teaching your brain to improve. Ideally we want a system we can use which you can practice and therefore improve at each time you do so.

Think for a moment about how your brain works. It’s an associative machine. That’s why the Loci system works: imagining the location reminds you of the things you’ve left in that location. That’s why the peg system works: remembering the encoded word you’ve invented reminds you of the number because you have trained your brain to associate each digit with a letter.

So how can we use association to help us remember to buy some milk on the way home from work?

Visualising Environmental Cues

You need to set up an association in your mind. In the example of remembering to buy milk on the way home from work, you can close your eyes for a few seconds and visualise the route you take home. When you get to the point where you’d have to turn towards the shop instead of towards your house, stop. In your mind, look around, and imagine you see a giant carton of milk falling down from the sky. See yourself ducking to avoid being hit by the six foot high carton as it sloshes noisily on hitting the ground. Imagine it as vividly as you can, so that when you’re actually going home from work, your associative brain will remember seeing that image earlier in the day and pop it back into your consciousness.

The more detail you can imagine seeing when you visualise the environment you want to be reminded to do something, the more vivid, bizarre and unusual you can make the imagined event, and the more times you review the scenario in your head beforehand, the more chance there is you’ll be reminded as desired when you’re actually in that environment.

Another example: To remind yourself to listen to one of our guided meditation files at bedtime, take a moment now to visualise your bed. See it in as much detail as you can, take a second to look around the bedroom, imagine the things you’ll see as you prepare to snooze. Then imagine that, as you lift the covers to climb into the bed, a big spring hidden in the bed is released, and *boing* (imagine the noise, feel the vibrations of the spring), out pops a big pocket-watch. It wobbles backwards and forwards in front of your face for a while, completely stopping you from getting into the bed. You can’t get into the bed until you’ve dealt with the self-hypnosis that the sprung pocket-watch represents.

Replay that in your head a few times. Imagine how you’d react, how you’d feel if it really happened. Try to imagine it as if you’re remembering it, as if it’s happened before. As if it happens every time.

With luck, you’ll now be reminded each evening to listen to one of our audio files as you drift off to sleep. Perhaps the Loci/Peg system files to improve your memory in other ways! Better yet, you have learned a valuable technique on how to encode prompts into your own mind, to better use your memory.

Guided Meditation File 2 – Memory – Encoding
Backing Music “Encoding” By Chemica Solutions
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