My favorite character in all fiction would have to be the great Sherlock Holmes. I see him as the original superhero, because he is on the side of justice without directly working for the establishment. He’s also one of the first Western characters to have studied martial arts. However, his greatest superpower was his ability to access his mind and use it to its fullest capacity. He’s my favorite character because part of me would like to believe that I could reach my fullest mental potential.
I highly recommend the BBC series Sherlock. If you haven’t had a chance to watch it yet, most of the episodes are already on Netflix. It is a modern adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic stories. In this series, Sherlock credits his “mind palace” as the place where he stores all of his seemingly limitless knowledge.
In Doyle’s book, A Study in Scarlet, Holmes explains to Watson that his belief is that the mind works like an attic where you have space to store select memories. In season 2 episode 2 of Sherlock, we are formally introduced to Holmes’s mind palace. Holmes realizes that there is something that he is missing, so he goes deep into his memory database to access information that will lead him to break the case.
Watson accurately explains how a mind palace works. He says that theoretically we never forget anything; the real trick is being able to access that information when you need it. That’s exactly what the mind palace is for. The mind palace, also know as method of loci, is a mnemonic device for storing and retrieving information from your mind. Anyone can master it, but the extent to which it’s applied is up to your imagination and effort.
The method is simple. Come up with a place that you can clearly visualize in your mind, and store information that you can access later. People are very specially oriented. Often times, the way that we think and feel can be relevant to the place in which we find ourselves, and we are also inclined to come up with mental images to accommodate most of our thoughts (some people are more visual than others). So a mind palace could quite simply be a space that you visualize in which you can store all of the images that represent what you want to remember.
Whatever space you choose for your mind palace, make sure it’s something that you can know intimately. Some people choose their childhood homes. Some people use a whole map of a town. It depends on what connects to you and how detailed you’re comfortable being. If you really want to put some effort into it, create a made-up palace or village in your mind. Just remember that it’s good to have some detail and order to it.
The most simple case of something that you may be required to remember might come in the form of a list, so let’s use a grocery list for our example. If you were to make your mind palace your childhood home, you could imagine yourself placing your groceries throughout your house. This is when you could stack another mnemonic device on top of the mind palace, like alliteration. For example: “The bananas are bouncing on the bed.” Maybe when you think of a chicken, you think of someone calling you “chicken,” meaning afraid. So you decide “the chicken is hiding in the chest.” For every item on you list, you create a visual throughout that house. That way, when the time comes to access that list, all you have to do is imagine yourself walking through your childhood home.
As in most cases, the only limitation is your imagination, but I recommend utilizing your mind palace in self-hypnosis. I have a mind palace with rooms that I do particular exercises in rather than just store information. In one room, I may have a dojo in which I imagine myself running through Aikido movements. In another room, I might imagine myself giving a presentation that I may have later so that I can be properly prepared. In another room, I may just step into emptiness, and completely free myself from thought or attachment.
Not everyone should be expected to create the level of mind palace that Sherlock has. He is, after all, a fictional genius. However, in the most recent episode of Sherlock, The Abominable Bride, there is a seen of him sitting in lotus position, deep in trance. It seems as if the makers of the series were quite happy to imply that the great detective would surely utilize meditation. Of course, I’m inclined to agree that trance would be an essential tool for climbing to his level of self-mastery.