Use your spacial memory to ace biochemistry

Here's a mind trick that will boost your memory almost instantly.

Suppose I gave you a blank piece of paper and told you to draw a map of the United States. You could probably draw more of it than you think. For starters:

  • Florida has a unique shape, kind of like the stock of a gun, and you know it's in the bottom right
  • You can probably also draw Texas and get it in the right approximate location
  • California is a narrow strip along the Pacific coast
  • You know the approximate shape and location of any state you've lived in
  • You probably can't tell me much about the longitude and latitude of any states, unless you're a robot!

What's the common thread here? The first four points are all about shapes and locations.The last one is had because it's about words and numbers.

Roman Orators like Cicero used the "memory palace" to memorize speeches

Even the most logical, math-and-language-oriented brain is highly visual. It turns out it's super-easy for the human brain to remember visual and spacial information. Want proof?

Imagine you're going to a friend's house, or your favorite place to eat. You might need directions or a map the first time you go, but after that you have it down. For ten thousand years your ancestors had to find their way to the river, to the best hunting grounds, then back to the cave or the village.

You've inherited that ability to find you way around. Ancient Mediterranean speakers took advantage of this natural talent to memorize long speeches and poems. You, too, can harness this skill to memorize academic information.

Furnish Your Memory Mansion

We're going to use this ability to learn some biochemistry. Here's how it works.

The first step is to settle on a physical location you're familiar with. The best one might be your house, but you can pick something else. This is your "memory mansion."

Let's use the route to your friend's house as an example.  All you have to do is attach each biochemistry group to one of those landmarks.

For instance, one of the houses you walk past has a big cardboard box on the porch. You imagine a car speeding around the corner, crashing into the box. The car-box. The carboxyl group. You could even imagine the car spews carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and a boxer comes along and punches the driver in the face.

Be creative with this. The more vivid and strange your images, the more likely you'll remember them. You just need to have an object, an action, and above all, a location. Let's move on.

As you're walking, you pass a chain link fence. You could imagine it is a long chain of smaller molecules, a polymer. I like to picture it as DNA. Then a guy (or a girl) comes along and chains his/her bike to the fence. The cyclist uses a very strange method to lock up the bike, involving a whole group of locks. Method, methyl. The methyl group is attaching to the DNA molecule.

You get the idea, I hope. I'm using this to memorize all the Roman emperors. For me, that's tougher than biochemistry.

By the way, I'm memorizing the Roman emperors because I want to be an expert on via Appia, the ancient Roman road that ran from Rome to Brindisi. I biked the entire route, and I'm publishing a book about via Appia this year.

If you want to hear more about these things, including where to find the book or how to join me on similar bike rides, check out this website:


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