17 Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About Sherlock

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SHerlock and John using science that *isn’t* Sherlock’s mind palace.  (Photo: BBC)

Sherlock’s Mind Palace is a Real Memory Technique

Sherlock Holmes is known as the greatest detective in history. He’s the cleverest man in the room who can solve cases almost solely because his brain contains loads of information. In this particular adaptation, he uses a specialized memory technique that helps him keep track of it all, forever. Sherlock calls it his “mind palace”, but it’s actually based on a real concept.

We frequently see Sherlock’s deductions displayed as words onscreen, but we aren’t introduced to the idea of his “mind palace” until Season 2. It first appears in “The Hounds of Baskerville,” an episode written by Mark Gatiss. Apparently, he was inspired by the use of the concept in the Thomas Harris novel Hannibal. The idea of the mind palace is used as a method for avoiding having Sherlock just conveniently remember things out of the blue right before he solves a case. (It also happens to fit precisely with the sort of overly dramatic deductive flair a character like Sherlock would favor.)

The real technique is called the method of loci. (“Loci” is Latin for “places”.)  It combines visualizations with the use of spatial memory and familiar information about one’s environment to quickly and efficiently recall things. You visualize a complex place in which you could physically store a set of memories, like a house. Every room or “loci” correlates with something you want to remember. So when you want to recall something, you just mentally take a stroll through all the rooms in your mind and think about where you stored it. (Of course it’s more complicated than this, but it’s the basic idea.)

Of course, this Sherlock would have so many things he wants to remember that he’d need a palace for them all.