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I just read Joshua Foer's book "Moon-walking with Einstein," and examined some relevant passages from Rhetorica Ad Herennium in hopes of being able to learn and remember faster.

One issue that these texts don't shed light on is how to find specific information inside your Memory Palaces. It seems to me that Memory Palaces are meant to hold linear contents such as a speech or a list, so how then are you supposed to store and navigate non-linear lists that have no beginning or end?

By non-linear list I mean random-access database such as a bunch of name-face correlations.
The books say to convert names to images ('Jacqueline' -> a portrait of 'Jacqueline' with a Jackhammer) in order to recall them later, but don't say what to do with the images.

Just forming a mental 'Hall of Portraits' in a Memory Palace doesn't work because, given a name, I'd have to mentally travel down the hall until I came upon the name. And what if the second time I'm given the name 'Jacqueline' I think of a jackalope instead of a jackhammer?

How can I get better at storing and randomly accessing this kind of content?


Bonus: Any software recommendations to help with training or practice?

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The books say to convert names to images ('Jacqueline' -> a portrait of 'Jacqueline' with a Jackhammer) in order to recall them later, but don't say what to do with the images.

The idea here is that humans are already very good at memorizing images, so once you imagine Jacqueline with a jackhammer, it'll be easy for you to recall this image when you see her, and that will help you remember her name (jackhammer -> Jack -> Jacqueline)

How can I get better at storing and randomly accessing this kind of content?

There is a fascinating documentary called My Brilliant Brain - Make Me a Genius (There is a copy on Google Video, but I don't know if it's there legally. It's probably on NetFlix as well). I'm pretty sure watching it will answer your question.

Teaser quote:

With the vast library of [chess] games in her long-term memory, Susan can recognize a familiar game in 0.8 seconds.

I'll write down the answer to your question below, but I'm afraid I may not be able to convince you without you watching the film first.

Memory is domain-specific: a chess grandmaster can memorize a complex natural chess position in an instant, but she will not be able to memorize it, if the position is random. The way to improve your memory for something is to be exposed to many patterns in your chosen domain (preferably in childhood). If it doesn't make sense, see the film first, you won't regret it.

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