Bringing a physical place to the brain in a mind palace

I heard about the idea of a mind palace years ago but this recent description reminded me of the interesting idea of putting a physical place into one’s brain:


The most popular technique to improve memory is the method of loci, also known as the mind palace (or memory palace). This ancient Greco-Roman technique can help you improve your memory in ways you never thought possible.

Greek and Roman orators memorized lengthy speeches by building structures (such as a palace) inside their imagination. They would then strategically place each word or idea they needed to remember in a specific location inside their mind palace. They could then later mentally retrace their steps and recall the details when they needed them.

This practice might then lead to physical changes in the brain structure:

Using MRI scans, researchers could see that mnemonic training elicited changes within the brain’s network. They also saw discernable differences in connectivity patterns that weren’t present in participants without training.

This reminds me of the idea of “distributed cognition” where humans use external devices to record information. Think of a notepad or a voice memo on a phone. The information is moved from the brain in acknowledgment that we cannot remember everything.

While the mind palace does not put the information outside the brain, it imports a device in which to record the information. It encodes it in the abstract concept of a building. Humans know what it is like to walk through buildings and/or follow directions to a desired goal. The conceptualized building is not real but it holds the information within the brain in a way that makes it easier to recall.

Physical structures do not just exist in a material reality, subject to construction, erosion, and other forces. They can live in our minds in ways that mean not just the information stored in them stays but also likely the buildings themselves live on there.

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