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Art of Memory

We'll rediscover, explore, and practice several ancient memory techniques to dramatically improve and expand our ability to memorize a vast array of knowledge.

CurriculumAll CohortsFacilitators

Course Goals

Students will primarily learn how to use the phonetic major system as well as the method of loci (often known as the memory palace or the journey method). We will use these methods with a variety of examples to show how they can be applied to memorize extensive lists of ideas as well as how to more easily and quickly memorize numbers of all sorts.

As the course progresses, we'll acquire more facility and speed with these techniques. We'll progressively add additional related tools used throughout a variety of indigenous ancient and modern cultures around the world.

We'll also learn about and use spaced repetition. We will cover a variety of tools that leverage this concept. We will then use it as a means of extending our memories from the short term to the long term with a minimal amount of effort.


We'll meet for an hour a week for a total of five weeks. Meetings will consist of smaller presentations/lectures and demonstrations followed by some practice examples which students will work on in class.

Small example assignments will be given each week for additional practice. Students will be expected to spend 30 minutes to an hour a week outside of class practicing with examples they find useful in their daily lives.

Assignments and the final project are meant to be fun, entertaining, and useful to students in their lives. None of our fun in the course should feel like the dreadfully weary work reminiscent of the rote memorization of useless information many of us have experienced in school.

Syllabus / Schedule

Week 1

Memory cultures & a brief history of mnemotechniques

  • Indigenous peoples around the world have used memory methods and techniques. These are infrequently fully studied or understood by western cultures, though anthropologists and archaeologists are beginning to uncover their use.
  • We'll take a brief look at memory techniques in Western culture from the Ancient Greeks and Romans; through the middle ages and Renaissance; into the use of the major system by Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, various magicians and hucksters; and up to present day memory competitions.

Links and associativity

  • Visual memory & The Mind's Eye
  • A different way of using the five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch, smell
  • Creativity: exaggeration, extreme conditions, the unexpected, shock, awe, wars, birth, death, sex, weather, clothing, movement, dancing, etc.

Major System

A basic phonetic system for converting numbers into words to make memorizing numbers simple

  • The numbers 0-9
  • (p.s. you also get most shorthand systems for free)

Week 2

Method of Loci / Journey Method / Memory Palaces / Songlines

We'll reveal the actual techniques and practice of the memory palace as described briefly in Moonwalking With Einstein, hinted at in Sherlock Holmes, and mentioned as being used in passing by Thomas Harris' infamous character Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.

Major System 10-29

We will extend our system from last week to higher numbers. We'll practice familiarizing ourselves with them to begin making them second nature.

Week 3

Major System + Method of Loci

We'll combine our two previous systems into a bigger structure to provide even more power and flexibility to what we can memorize and retain.

Major System 30-49

Extending our number vocabulary.

Week 4

Spaced repetition

How can we maintain and extend our memories to the long term? We'll look at some research and tools including using cultural methods related to holidays and the seasons of the year.

Major System 50-79

Continuing our march of extending the system to 100

Week 5

Other memory methods and mnemotechniques

  • Person, Action, Object (PAO) methods
  • Size of spaces versus speed for memory competitions
  • Dominic system
  • Annual counts
  • Rapscallions
  • Drolleries
  • Alphabetic systems

Major System 80-100

The last images in our basic number system.


Throughout the course we'll work with a variety of mnemonic techniques to memorize several smaller bits of generally useful knowledge.

Ideally students will bring some ideas of things in their own lives that they'd like to memorize during the course. Some of them may be smaller things they'd like to remember (shopping lists for the grocery store, passwords and pin numbers, phone numbers, credit card numbers, etc.) which we can use as examples throughout the course.

Everyone will be asked to come up with a larger course-long project to work at memorizing. If you have some preliminary ideas of what you'd like to work on--great! Otherwise, we'll discuss potential projects through the end of week 2. Each participant should have enough tools and experience after our second session to begin memorizing a reasonable project to extend their their personal goals.

Depending on the project size, students should be able to either finish it completely or have a significant start on something to which they can continue to add additional pieces to long after the course has finished.

Potential examples:

  • All the countries of the world, capitals, population, size, etc.
  • Presidents of the United States, years they served, and associated information
  • Chronological list of the Monarchs of England, Europe, etc.
  • Constellations/stars
  • Books of the Bible, characters, verses, and associated information about them
  • Birds of one's continent, names, family/species, descriptions, range, sizes, flight patterns, etc.

Who Should Sign Up

Accumulating knowledge is a basic fact of life. Most of us do it poorly and are horribly inefficient. Some people may feel they have poor memories and others seem to have naturally good memories. This said, we can all dramatically improve our capacity and retention in an almost unlimited fashioneven those who think they already have good memories.

Whether you're a student who would like to have tools to make your classwork easier; a salesperson who'd like to memorize extensive price lists and product features; a lifelong learner who wants to make knowledge acquisition and retention easier; or someone who just wants to remember where they parked their d%#n car, there's something here to benefit everyone.

This course is not designed for those who have already extensively practiced the method of loci and/or the phonetic major system (or similar systems) and who are actively practicing to improve their times for competitive memory championships. This course is also not recommended or designed for those who may be suffering from advanced dementia or Alzheimers disease.

While these methods can easily be taught to practitioners as young as 3 or 4, this class is geared towards more mature students.

5 weeksUp to 15 learners

This course has no prerequisites.

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