Do we all have a ‘Mind Palace’ like Sherlock Holmes?

Sherlock, as in Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock, has an extraordinary talent… which we all have? When Sherlock needs to figure something out or return back to stock memory (to track down any subtle hints of clues to resolve a situation) he goes into what is referred to as his Mind Palace. 

Basically, he lays everything out in a kind of map in his mind, where everything is stored, and he can revisit  it whenever he likes – it’s kind of like when you go into your own mind and try and visualise every room and every tiny detail of a specific building – you’re not trying to memorize something, you’re trying to remember/recall something.

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/141511613263479969/

I guess what really struck me when thinking real hard about this whole ‘mind palace’ notion is the feasibility to return to a particular memory and simply delete it… which (spoiler alert) is what Sherlock does in the most recent Abominable Bride episode… without going into too much detail, toward the end of the episode it’s finally revealed that the whole scenario of the episode is taking place within Sherlock’s mind palace. Sherlock is then able to cut specific individuals from a scenario that is really bothering him (Moriarty, and Moriarty’s death). What really really caught my attention here is the likening of what was happening to some symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). 

Okay the episode probably (most likely) wasn’t created with the intention of tackling/portraying select symptoms of mental illness, but it really did catch my intention, it had me wishing I could manipulate and control my mind the same way Sherlock managed to control his mind palace. Moriarty (the bad-guy) was materializing in Sherlock’s mind palace, impacting his ability to carry out certain tasks, once Sherlock reasoned with his mind he was able to destroy Moriarty within his mind (the within bit is key)… it was basically Sherlock destroying/setting things straight within his mind so that he could get peace of mind/function better outside of his mind palace (in real life). 

Now, sorry if I’ve just confused/bored the life out of you, but I really am fascinated by this whole Mind Palace thing… imagine how cool it would be to be able to revisit memories and simply erase certain things/certain people?

Sherlock’s skill and ability to go into his mind palace and remember/revisit certain things isn’t exactly fictional. In fact the mind palace technique is a mnemonic (memory device) which is otherwise known as the method of loci. The method of loci derives from (or was acknowledged) in ancient Roman and Greek rhetoric (written stuff). Now, I only studied psychology when I was 16, so my knowledge isn’t exactly the best when it comes to this sort of stuff, but… if it’s a memory enhancement technique that’s stayed within mainstream (popular) rhetoric since ‘ancient’ times then it must be a pretty good technique? (Plus if we try it and it doesn’t work then we can just pretend we was doing our best Sherlock impression…) Elementary, my dear Watson. 

Now to return to my minor geek-out on the Sherlock episode… what if Sherlock didn’t store certain memories as accurately as he’d thought… maybe that’s why Moriarty is ‘alive?’ I think, subtly and very cleverly, the makers of Sherlock have managed to depict that not even the smartest egg (Sherlock) is able to fully manipulate his mind.

We all have individual, catered ‘aspects of the unknown’ within our minds, and within the ways we function, and most importantly… we all function and think differently. Our minds are so incredibly powerful, the method of loci proves that we can train our brains to recall and organise certain information. I wonder how the ‘method of  loci’ (mind palace) concept works when PTSD and other mental illness comes into play?

 

Mind Palace
Sherlock using his ‘Mind Palace’ within the programme. (Copyright: BBC)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 comments

  1. Well, I think the more you try the more you can accomplish with it. I use this not for memorizing things but for fun because it’s EPIC. I don’t know if it’s actually possible for a non-genius to reach the level Sherlock does, but many things he does with the ability are possible.

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