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Vladimir Babarykin SpatialNote Vladimir Babarykin

Mnemonics Basics with SpatialNote

Intro

For millions of years ancestors of current people had a lifestyle that primarily demanded to remember things and other creatures in physical locations to find food, avoid dangers and procreate.

Around 100K years ago languages emerged. People started to collect and share knowledge more actively, with it gradually becoming more abstract. Around 10K years ago people began changing their lifestyle from hunters-gatherers into more agricultural one. Slightly later they invented writing systems, which allowed even faster knowledge accumulation.

In 15th century people started printing books, which led to spread of literacy and ultimately to information revolution, finally crowned by invention of the Internet. Lifestyle substantially changed again, leading to information overload.

What is even more important, current way of working with information is notoriously misaligned with the evolutionary determined one. People are great at remembering things and creatures at physical locations, not abstract words without any spatial reference.

People invented many quick fixes to the problem: writing, note-taking, books, as well as computer-assisted ways to accomplish the same: ebooks, electronic documents and note-taking, online search and even brain training.

However, until recently computer technologies were not mature enough to be of much help with the key component of memorization - ability to easily put information in a 3D space. Most of the software allows to work with information either in linear or flat (2D) mode, or requires too much effort and skills for 3D visualization to make working with spatial information practical.

And it is exactly this problem that we target at SpatialNote, creating a way for people to work with information the way nature shaped humans: positioning information in space, and easily adding concrete and specific info to abstract one to substantially aid memorization and recall. And we are making it at a great time, when even mobile phones are capable to provide decent level of performance for organizing info in 3D.

Here are the major components of good memorization:

 

  1. Make initial memorization powerful by organizing info in space (and making it more memorable if needed)

  2. Repeat

 

Let’s have a look at the major components of good memorization, also having a sneak preview at how people who are great at memorization solve the same task:

 

Make initial memorization powerful

 Organize info in space

Organizing info in space is extremely important. 90% of world memory champions use 2500-year-old mnemonic technique named Mind Palace, Memory Palace or method of loci as the basis for their memorization. They spend a lot of time memorizing and repeating hundreds of Memory Palaces or journeys, each containing dozens and even hundreds of locations (loci) to later position information into them.

 

Make info more memorable (optional)

Some info is memorable by itself. However, there are situations when info is not easily remembered without much repetition, creative modification or adding other memory hints. Examples are: abstract and foreign words, numbers, names, etc. Memory champions also spend months and years inventing, memorizing and repeating their “perfect systems” of pre-built image vocabularies for some subsets of abstract info, primarily numbers and cards, to save time during competition by using pre-made images that easily hint at the things that are needed to be memorized. The info that is not memorized in advance can be substituted with mnemonic images on the fly, though it typically requires much more time.

This more memorable information is later put into the learned in advanced Memory Palaces for ease of future recall.

Repeat

Memorizing for competitions is more of a trick and show, since participants need to remember the learned info till the time they are checked, which typically happens soon after the memorization itself, often within minutes or hours at most. And even in these circumstances people who are successful at memorization try to incorporate repetition and active recall into the process.

When it comes to long-term memorization, it becomes a must. Even mnemonically reinforced images fade over time and require repetition, though substantially less frequent than those originally learned with rote memorization. There are “smarter” ways to repeat, named “spaced repetition”, which allow to minimize total time spent repeating by increasing intervals between sessions.

When one needs fluency of recall (e.g. to have a great presentation), a different approach to repetitions might be appropriate, emphasising speed more than the length of retaining info in one’s mind.

As we have seen, some people found solutions to solving memory problems using mnemonics. But this comes at a cost of learning multiple mind palaces and vocabularies of mnemonic images, as well as constant repetition and practicing memorization exercises, often for the sole purpose of impressing others with memory tricks or participating in championships. For many people these hundreds and even thousands of hours spent on memorization is an unaffordable luxury or unbearable burden, especially when one is pressed for time and has many other things to do.

 Let us now explore how SpatialNote can help you with all the problems stated above: aiding memorization and minimizing the “tax” needed to be good at mnemonics.

Make initial memorization powerful

Organize info in space

Positioning something in place is extremely important for memorizing it. However, most software either is not designed to store spatial data at all (e.g. various text editors), or quickly and easily destroys spatial relationships by automatically moving content around and changing its position. The video below shows how this happens in a popular mind mapping tool.

 SpatialNote is different in this regard. The spatial relationships between elements are stored and not automatically moved, so that they could always serve as reliable memorization clues.

 Let’s have a look at several hints of what is important to pay attention to while organizing info in SpatialNote for great memorization results.

a. work from the inside (first person) view

SpatialNote offers several 3D views to choose from. Many people are used to working with what could be called “outside” or “third person” views at information, since most software offers these views only. E.g., the view from a mind mapping solution is a typical “third person outside” view. Here is the picture for those who did not view the previous video:

 

SpatialNote offers a similar view, outside or third person view with the major difference that it is 3D:

 

Outside views offer several benefits, e.g. ability to view whole information structure at once, view it from different perspectives, etc. However, these views also have drawbacks. Typically they provide more information than human short term memory can contain, leading to difficulties in establishing relationships between parts of information. Plus, people view info in a somewhat detached mode, which lowers ability to remember information.

Imagine if you could “jump inside” the info and start playing around with parts of information to organize it better . This is exactly the way of working with information SpatialNote’s inside view offers. It makes the experience more personal, leading to more emotional involvement, as well as helps place information in space relative to the observer and better associate parts of info between themselves. Many spatial metaphors present in languages come to play in this scenario, helping to cement the information and its locations.

 

 

Take a look at this small video which demonstrates the difference between the views.

b. feel where info belongs

Human cognition(even for abstract words) is based on the experience of dealing with concrete things in physical word. Let’s see an example in this video, where I take relatively abstract concepts from the Business Model Canvas (a popular approach for organizing data about a business) and organize them in 3D using the inside view, explaining how spatial metaphors help understand and remember info better.

 

c. note cardinal directions

Cardinal directions help you understand and remember how information is organized in the whole document structure. Pay attention to them for improved recall.

d. optimize info size

When it comes to memorization, you might want to organize information differently than you would do if your goal was to create a presentation or organized storage of data. Each face of a cube offers enough space to put substantial amount of info. And all the details will not get the same amount of spatial memory aid as you have seen for the main topics in the example of the previous video. To solve this problem, you can repeat the process, creating a child cube and placing the original info on faces of this cube, thus creating powerful associations that can help you easily remember information. Let’s see an example in this video.

Make info more memorable (optional)

In many cases adding spatial info will be enough to remember what one needs, even if it seems to be quite abstract, as in the example with business canvas above. However, there are situations when the information that one needs to remember is too abstract, e.g. foreign words, names, foreign characters, images, etc.

Here are several other things you can easily do in SpatialNote to help your memory in these difficult situations.

add words that can hint you at info to remember

In SpatialNote you can easily add notes. And you can quickly write words that could hint  at the info that you need to remember. E.g. you can write words or names of famous people that sound similar to the abstract or foreign words you have hard times to remember; or words that describe what you see in the images that you want to remember; or words substituting numbers with some concrete words. There are multiple systems created for memorizing numbers, we’ll cover them in a separate article.

Here are several examples from videos below. To remember pinyin(Chinese) name of a medicine “gui ban”, a phrase GUItar BANdit can be used. You can easily imagine and visualize a bandit with a guitar, and this can hint you at this otherwise very abstract name "gui ban". The medicine also has a prescribed dosage - 10 to 24g. Using a rhyming system for numbers you can substitute 10 with hen, 24 with candy boar. They are much easier to remember than numbers. Sometimes you can use famous people to remind you of something. E.g. "LIV Tyler with her KID having HEART-to-heart talk" could be used to remember the channels the medicine affects: liver, kidney and heart. Watch several next videos for more examples.

add specific images to make effects even stronger

If you have time and want to remember your material even better or want your audience to use mnemonics that were prepared in advance , you can complement some of the assisting words with images, making them more specific and easier to remember.

add stories between elements of info for more fun

If you use people or living creatures as your mnemonic words and images that assist recall, you can further enforce memorization by creating a story between the characters, making the process more fun.

Let’s have a look at a video that demonstrates the tips stated above with a more complex example. Sometimes people need to memorize huge amounts of very abstract information. A great example is the need to remember info about approximately 350 herbs from traditional Chinese medicine. It is a requirement for people studying acupuncture who also want to be allowed to heal with herbs. With SpatialNote one has multiple options of how to organize all the herbs in such a way that they are later easy to find and use. But let’s concentrate more on how to use hint words, images and stories to remember abstract info easily, looking at an example of one traditional Chinese medicine.


 

Repeat

Your goals for studying or memorizing something, available time and other circumstances can vary substantially. Same should be true for your memorization and repetition strategies.

As you have seen from the previous part, it is possible to get the initial memorization done virtually from the first time even for very abstract and difficult to remember info. But even info memorized this way (with the help of spatial clues and images that help recall) will start fading away eventually, even if it will happen much later than usually.

There are several major ingredients you can play around with when you choose your repetition strategy: how often to repeat, whether to do it in a more active or passive way, till what speed of recall to repeat. SpatialNote offers unique benefits for Active Recall, Spaced Repetition and Optimizing the speed of recall.

a. use active recall

A very easy way to incorporate Active Recall is to use it while navigating a SpatialNote document. You can spend several seconds before going to a child cube or returning to the parent one to recall what info is there on the faces. When you remembered everything, you move to that cube and check what you actually see. This small trick will help you to master your data very quickly and in a way that is not tiresome.

b. use spaced repetitions

Spaced repetition is a method of repeating material at increasing intervals to transfer it to long-term memory while minimizing time on repetitions. There are multiple algorithms and recommended intervals for repetitions, with a typical example being similar to the next schedule: next day, a week, a month, three months and a year later. Typically, if something is not recalled at a repetition, the process starts from the beginning for this info.

However, the algorithms show only some average numbers and rarely work equally well for all types of materials. E.g., if a person used some mnemonic hints and positioned info in space, as in examples above, in many cases the memories will not fade away for much longer than next day or a week, with some pieces staying over a month. If info is very abstract, no memory helps were used and the amount of material learned at one sitting was huge, substantial part of the info will not make it till the next day and ideally would require a faster repetition.

In SpatialNote we plan to add algorithms that would advise you when to repeat your materials, but so far we decided to concentrate more on the Repetition part than on setting up the reminders. It takes little time to set up reminders manually using any calendar. But the actual repetition takes much more time, as one needs to go through the material multiple times.

Those things that we discussed above: organizing info in space, adding mnemonic hints and using active recall can substantially minimize the amount of repetitions one needs to do to transfer info into long-term memory.

Plus, there are additional benefits for repetitions that are available at SpatialNote. While most of spaced repetition software make emphasis on repeating separate pieces of info (e.g. flashcards), the structure of SpatialNote document is uniquely suitable for repeating the info in a holistic way, repeating how info is organized as well as the info itself.

To make the process of repeating more interesting, you can also use a different view - a 3D outside view to see if you will be able to recall info from that perspective, making the process not only more fun, but also providing additional clues for remembering info.

Furthermore, with the non-linear structure of SpatialNote documents you can control you way and direction of repetitions, moving through the information using different paths, going from global into more local perspective of vice-a-versa.

These capabilities make your spaced repetition sessions both productive and interesting, helping you master material.

c. repeat for high speed of recall

Sometimes your goal for memorizing material is to get fastest recall possible, not necessarily keeping the info in your mind for a long period of time. A good example might be getting ready for a presentation that you need to perform well, but one time only.

In this case you might be less interested in creating strong mnemonic hints that would last very long. Instead, you just need a reasonable amount of time spent on initial memorization of material, but having much more iterations of active recall. E.g., after initial organizing and remembering info it might take you initially 10 seconds to recall all the info on all the faces of a cube. You might want to repeat the active recall process till you are able to do it within required time slot, e.g. 2 seconds per room/cube. Same is true for the whole document. It might take you initially much more time to recall and name all the info in the whole document. If you spend enough time navigating the whole document with active recall, you can get desired latency of recollecting the info so that you could use it at your presentation.

 

You can have a look at the video that shows examples of repetitions and optimizing for speed.

d. save more time by practicing at free time slots without SpatialNote

If you chose optimal strategies for learning your material, you will have it memorized from the first time. This provides you with with great possibilities to practice repetitions and optimize for speed even if you do not have access to any device and have just a little bit of free time. Unlike flashcards software, information in SpatialNote is united in a holistic structure that holds and connects the elements of info together. This means you can have the same process of repeating the info in your mind as you would do actually using the solution. Since you can do it at otherwise not usable time, your learning can become even more effective.

 

Summary

Thanks for reading and watching such a lengthy post. We hope it was helpful. Here is the list of all the recommendations on memorization from the article compiled in one list:

  1. Make initial memorization powerful

    1. Organize info in space

      1. work from the inside (first person) view

      2. feel where info belongs

      3. note cardinal directions

      4. optimize info size

    2. Make info more memorable (optional)

      1. add words that can hint you at info to remember

      2. add specific images to make effects even stronger

      3. add stories between elements of info for more fun

  2. Repeat

    1. use active recall

    2. use spaced repetitions

    3. repeat for high speed of recall

    4. save more time by practicing at free time slots without SpatialNote

 

Your comments and feedback are welcome, as our goal is to help you with your actual learning and memorization needs.



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Vlad has a background in linguistics and IT, as well as over 13 years of running IT companies. He is passionate about learning, innovation, entrepreneurship and is ready to share some of his insights in this blog.

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Guest Thursday, 13 December 2018