The Hippocampus and Memory

Go read this bit about the Hippocampus and Memory at Wikipedia and then come back here.

I’ve long known about the way that the Hippocampus in London taxi cab drivers is always larger (up to 40% larger) than in regular people, because of the intense work they have to do to memorize the London street scene.  The London Knowledge is apparently the most sophisticated and complex set of information about urban navigation in the world, with most would-be taxi cab drivers sitting for the examination no fewer than 12 times after almost three years of preparation.

But this is why Palace of Memory works, of course.  If you build an artificial place in your memory that you navigate, then of course you’re hardwiring memories that you want to create artificially to the structure of a place which you’re navigating.  It doesn’t matter that you’re not ACTUALLY navigating it; it only matters that you’re navigating.  And that means that you’re making a neural map of imaginary places that contain data.  You’re building a database that involves the left and right brains and the hippocampus in storing information. The key then becomes, what information do you want to store? And what imaginary map of imaginary places do you want to store it in?

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  1. This has given me an idea for memorizing French vocabulary. I can tap into my Hippocampus by walking around actual places, and my auditory memory by rattling off words out loud. It limits me to the nouns, verbs, and adjectives I can actually see or perform, but that gives me plenty of new words to add.

    I have a stronger auditory recall than visual. I remember my 14 digit library card numbers because of the ditty I sang when I learned them. I add auditory boosts where I can. Do you use sound in your Palace of Memory?

    • Janet,

      I don’t use sound in the Palace of Memory, yet. But I think I should. This book, Memorize the Faith! uses a combination of images — maps, really — and scripts to teach readers how to navigate through Catholic doctrine. I’m thinking of ways I might do something similar with the schoolwork I teach. I like the idea of using the Hippocampus to navigate around and learn new vocabulary. If you imagine yourself walking through your own local grocery store, too, you can point to the different kinds of groceries and name the different foods you’d see in French.

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