What links Sherlock with the ancient Roman senators? (Sherlock – TV series)

Some things you should know about mnemotechnics

Have you ever wondered what the creators of Sherlock BBC series done well regarding topics connected to psychology? One thing, for sure: the memory techniques (there is still a slight problem with how they were calling it, though).

To start with, I would like you to watch a short extract from the series, from the episode “The Hounds of Baskerville”.

This short scene contains surprisingly large amount of information. In fact, it features at least three different pieces of knowledge connected to mnemotechnics and the way human memory works: the mind palace itself, associative memory, and polisensorical remembering.

The idea of mind palace is now widely associated with Sherlock but it was not visualized in the series until the 3rd season. Then you can see it in the scene of Sherlock’s climbing the stairs after being shot and in the form of Magnussen’s cluttered basement. Therefore, in “The Hounds of Baskerville” you cannot see the palace but its notion is present.

By the way, you surely know one other fictional character who uses that technique – Hannibal Lecter. Unfortunately, the movies do not refer to it at all, and the TV series does it only briefly and after Sherlock showed the way.

In the fragment presented above the technic is described by Watson in probably the shortest and the best way you can come up with. For those who would like to learn how to use it, the only thing left to do is to get familiar with several other basic rules, which are the following:

  • if the location is imaginary, you have to be able to visualize it every time in exactly the same, identical way. If you are not sure you can do it, start with a real location you know really well, like your own room;
  • attach information only to big and stable objects, like furniture. This rule is even more important when using a real location. When there are no free objects left, simply create a way out to the other room full of new things you can use;
  • attach only one information to one place or object. Because of this rule I prefer Sherlock’s way of constructing mind palace, with a staircase and multiple rooms over the Magnussen’s way (many files and general mess).

Knowing these three things, you can start creating your own mind palace. Have fun!

It is also worth to know that a different name for this technique is “The Roman Room” because it was used by the senators in Ancient Rome for memorizing their long speeches. They used the Senate hall as a location.

Let’s take a closer look at what was shown directly in the fragment presented at the beginning. Its main topic was the network model of memory or associative memory. Sherlock wants to remember specific (in a given situation) meaning of words. This theory or group of theories is connected with the semantic memory (knowledge we can articulate with words). It is based on the fact that every word we know is connected to others. These other words have their own connections, which leads us further and further… Additionally, every new thing we come across and is memorized in connection to our network that already exists. The more connections and associations link the new notion have with facts we already know or the more of these we are able to come up with, the stronger the new fact sinks in. Also information is more permanent and easier to recall when we have more ways to find it after some time.

Here Sherlock is analyzing every word in such way. He thinks about all connections and associations and he is looking for the best one in the situation he finds himself in. A similar idea is also a base for the mind mapping technique. They both are just ways of connecting information.

The third thing present in this short fragment is the polisensorical remembering. It is the base of all mnemotechnics and one of the most important rules of human memory – and it is really easy. The more senses are engaged in memorizing something, the better is the result. We can see, hear, touch, taste and smell something for real or just imagine we are doing it. And when we manage to put emotions into that process, e.g. make something funny of it, it will be just a perfect way to memorize. This rule is used in “Sherlock” all the time. Every time we see pictures or hear sounds, every time different colors or typography are used, every time Sherlock moves his hands and head, making an impression he visualizes something – we see a great example of the use of the kinetic way of learning. I am not talking about visualization as a separate technique because it just comes from the polisensoric memory.

As you can see, from one short fragment of a TV series episode we can learn a lot about how human brain analyzes information. And this is something really worth talking about and learning – the creators of “Sherlock” made a really good job at showing memory techniques. I really recommend trying these memory techniques. This is pretty useful and great fun!

The article is based on my mnemotechnics workshops. The fragment of the episode, apart from being from BBC TV series “Sherlock”, comes from the website Critical Commons.

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