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Cicero’s Loci Method – A ‘mnemonic’ system for improved memory
To use the method of loci for improved memory you need to associate items you wish to remember later with locations of a familiar room, building, or street, then to retrieve the information, mentally “stroll down memory lane” and visualise the same locations.
The information you stored in various locations should come back with the memory of the location. To be effective, one must visualise an object “doing something” or interacting in some way with the objects at a particular location.
Mnemonic systems such as the one developed by Cicero come in handy when traditional note-taking is not feasible and for an improved memory.
The history of Simonides
The method of loci is ancient. Cicero, the Roman orator, recommended it. Lecturers in his day were not allowed to use lecture notes, so memory techniques were valued for an improved memory.
Cicero told a traditional story about how the method of loci was discovered:
A Greek poet named Simonides was entertaining a group of wealthy noblemen at a banquet when suddenly a pair of mysterious figures called him outside. They turned out to be messengers from the Olympian gods Castor and Pollux, praised by Simonides in his poem. As soon as Simonides stepped outside, the roof of the banquet hall collapsed, squashing everybody inside. The mangled corpses could not be identified until Simonides stepped forward, pointed to the place where each victim had been sitting, and said each name in turn. How did Simonides accomplish this feat? He mentally recreated the scene of the banquet, visualising each reveller in his place. When he saw the places, it helped him remember the person who had been sitting there.
A “locus” is a location; “loci” is the plural. The Method of Loci uses locations of a familiar place (imagined in memory) as a framework for memory retrieval and improved memory.
You might be interested in Cicero’s Selected Works (Classics)
Psychology: An Introduction by Russell A. Dewey. Available at <http://www.intropsych.com/ch06_memory/method_of_loci.html>. [Accessed Nov 2011].