How To Memorize Like Sherlock Holmes With A Mind Palace

| Memory

Image of a detective to express skepticism about the Sherlock Holmes Mind Palace conceptAdmit it. You’ve wished you had a Mind Palace like Sherlock Holmes.

And I get a ton of questions about how to memorize just like this famous detective in his Mind Palace.

That’s why I’ve been wondering…

What would Sherlock do if he were a real, 21st Century Detective?

To help figure that out, I did a few things:

  • Re-read all the Sherlock Holmes stories
  • Did a course in detecting crimes with a real detective
  • Revisited some of my earlier graduate school studies which involved Hannibal Lecter’s friendships with detectives

In this post, I share my findings and answer the question:

How would Sherlock Holmes use a Mind Palace if he were real?

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Sherlock Holmes Would Need More Than A Mind Palace


It’s true.

One just won’t do.

This is because a true memory master needs to be able to combine words with locations in a blink of an eye.

Plus, I think he would want to use a Memory Palace, not a Mind Palace.

And he would want each one drawn out by hand. Like this:

Image of a Memory Palace drawing by Anthony Metivier

Yeah, I know.

Not nearly as sexy as what you seen in the series.

But the truth is that real memory abilities, like the kind people like Derren Brown demonstrate along with memory champions like Mark Channon and Alex Mullen

What Would A Sherlock Mind Palace Need To Contain?

If you were a real life detective using memory techniques, you’d be dealing with information coming to your attention in real time. This would include, without being limited to:

  • Name of deceased, and there might be several names, even nicknames involved
  • Last time seen alive with potentially multiple locations involved
  • Where/when the body was discovered and by whom
  • Weight, height, eye color, hair color, other visible features of the deceased
  • Estimated time of death, which will involve a range that will be useful to remember
  • Cause of death
  • Social life of the victim
  • Family members
  • Vehicles owned
  • Property details, including the address, property access points, furniture, damaged and/or missing items

Dealing with Case Timelines

Then, as soon as possible, real detectives are going to start working on a timeline, which will eventually balance at least 4 types of information they can confirm at a glance or use to spot inconsistencies.

  • The first type of information will be time itself (line with 3pm – 3:30 on screen)
  • Then you’ll have information from sources like CCTV.
  • Another source will be any eyewitness accounts
  • And once a suspect is in the interrogation room, you’ll have their narrative material to map out against the other types of information.

The timeline may be reused multiple times. But again, a lot of this material will be coming in as part of a rapidly evolving situation, not including details from witnesses and one or more suspects.

Differences Between Detectives in the Movies and Real Life

In the movies you’ll often see the detective speaking to both witnesses and suspects, but in real life, these duties tend to be split between officers who specialize in interviewing to gather these specific kinds of information.

In other words, the specialists who interview the witnesses will be different than the specialized detectives in the interrogation room. And the detective interrogating the suspect may be specialized in specific kinds of crimes that require all kinds of learning.

Memorizing Names in Real Time

I mentioned above that a real life Sherlock Holmes would want a Memory Palace Network coded to the alphabet.

This means that if the victim’s name was Charles Augustus Milverton, he’d probably create an association in a Memory Palace based on the home of someone he knew named Charles, or at least someone whose name starts with the letter C.

Let’s say he doesn’t know a Charles, but knows a Catherine and has a Sherlock Mind Palace prepared based on her home.

On, over, or near the first, well-chosen Magnetic station of that Memory Palace, he’s going to place an image of Prince Charles tearing a calendar page for the month of August. He’ll be shoving it into the move of Detective Mills from the movie Seven who is versifying some of Milton’s poetry from Paradise Lost.

Milverton’s the most challenging name here, but Detectives Mills plus versifying plus the “ton” sound of Milton gives you Milverton.

A Timeline Memory Palace Example

Then, using this same Memory Palace, our real life Sherlock could easily use the Major Method to handle everything related to numbers like addresses, age, weight, height, etcetera, moving one station at a time.

The trick is in having the Memory Palace prepared in advance, and of course, being practiced with these different types of information.

And what about a timeline Memory Palace?

For this, our real life detective is going to want to assign another Memory Palace.

It might not be clear which MP to choose and the alphabetical association technique might not be obvious.

Because the case is rapidly evolving, it won’t have a name yet, but using the Major Method and a 00-99 PAO System, this will be easy enough to cook up on the fly.

See, a real-life Sherlock would have not only at least one primary Memory Palace Network based on the alphabet, but also a secondary one based on the digits 00-99.

For example, I used to live at an address numbered 31. In my 00-99 PAO, the image for 31 is the Mad Magazine Mascot dressed as a maid. So let’s say a crime timeline starts at 3:01 p.m. That’s the building I’m going to choose for the timeline Memory Palace related to this particular case.

For another case where the timeline starts at 7 a.m., I’d use Cassandra’s place, a person I know. Why? Because she’s my image for 70, and there’s not even any need to use an exact address in this case. I wouldn’t share it with the world anyhow and leave dear old Cassandra alone.

The next step would be to place the different intervals on your Magnetic Stations in order and maybe use something like the Pillar Technique to divide the different information types. This memory technique is taught in the Magnetic Memory Method Masterclass.

Things To Remember During an Interrogation

Now then, in the interrogation room, there’s something VERY important to remember before you even start acquiring information from the suspect.

Yes, I’m talking about the Miranda warning. In many places, the caution that people have the right to remain silent needs to be read out loud by the interviewee and then signed. This is probably a good idea for many reasons. It confirms that the person can read and write, for one thing, and there won’t be any walking away on a technicality later if a detective were to recite the Miranda warning incorrectly.

But a good detective will also be keenly aware of many aspects of the law, and all the more so if they used Memory Palaces while studying them in the first place.

So a detective will want to know aspects of the law – as conferring with colleagues about charges to lay, they’ll want to be able to explain some of these to the suspect, if only generally.

Often, if you watch interrogations, good detectives will take the time to explain some of the nuances of the law and different kinds of murder, as well as expected prison sentences, etc.

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Interrogation Structures

A  Sherlock-level detective in London would probably use the PEACE interrogation structure.

PEACE means:

  • Plan
  • Engage
  • Account (as in get an account of what happened from the suspect)
  • Closure (which means clarifying the account and challenging it, including explaining next steps, if any)
  • Evaluate

The second interrogation technique is called the Reid Technique. It includes 3 stages and 9 steps.

The stages are:

  • A factual analysis to determine probable guilt
  • A behavioral analysis before and during questioning to help determine other questions to ask during the interrogation (watched on camera before interview for body language cues)
  • Full interrogation

The 9 steps are:

  1. Have suspect orally relate the details BEFORE hearing other interpretations so that they don’t contaminate the memory of the suspect
  2. Positive confrontation – showing evidence of the suspect’s guilt – which would require having a good memory of it, and we’ve discussed memorizing the timeline
  3. Theme development – this is where the detectives will help the suspect feel justified in why they committed the crime, for example saying things like it’s only human to get angry and everyone makes mistakes
  4. Handling denials – this starts early by pointing out denials so they can be discouraged. If a detective forgets to do this, it can be really hard for the suspect to tell the truth later. If the suspect is innocent, the interview ends here.
  5. Overcome objections. To achieve this, the detectives may assume innocence and then handle the objections one by one. For example, they might say, “So let’s say this wasn’t you. How is that we have CCTV footage of your car with you in the driver’s seat in the area at this time?”
  6. Procurement and retention of suspect’s attention. Suspects will often wander off to talk about anything but the matter at hand. Or they will talk about punishment. In this step, the goal is to keep focused on the confession and gathering details that strengthen the timeline and establish material that will be hard for the suspect to contradict later.
  7. Handle passive mood. In this step, the detectives will amplify the theme and continue being sympathetic if necessary, especially if a suspect clams up.
  8. Pose alternative questions. In this step, the detectives may explore a less justifiable rationale. For example, they might say, “I don’t know? Maybe you are just a heartless monster. That’s possible.”
  9. Convert the oral confession to written form.

Now, to remember all the stuff that comes up in an interrogation, it really doesn’t matter if you’re using memory techniques or not.

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They need to be recorded. Video and audio, or sometimes audio only if they’re interviewing a suspect in a vehicle or at the scene.

Correct Note-taking Procedure

Although a detective using memory techniques might be able to memorize a lot in real time, they still need to keep notes. This is because it would be unfair to convict someone based on the flaws of human memory, no matter how good it is.

To effectively and legally capture notes that are acceptable in both civil and criminal courts, detectives follow a process that some people called ELBOWS:

E – No Erasures

L – No Leaves torn out

B – No Blank spaces

O – No Overwriting

W – No Writing in margins

S – Statements to be written in direct speech

Now, when it comes to notebooks, let’s pull in an interesting point about the original Sherlock Holmes stories. The stories are mostly from the reminiscences of Dr. Watson, not Holmes, though there are a couple of exceptions from this rule.

In A Study in Scarlet, I think it’s very interesting that Arthur Conan Doyle takes pains to point out that the source of Jefferson Hope’s narrative comes from his access to Lestrade’s notebook. This is interesting because it highlights that the stories are really about Watson’s memory. And Watson was wise enough to draw directly from the official record, not just his own memory.

Notes also need to avoid including hearsay and opinion. They are just about the facts and statements made by witnesses and suspects in the direct language they used.

The grey area on opinion is that a detective can and should document things like physical and emotional pain, which may require subjective interpretation.

Subjective and Objective Material A Detective Might Encounter

But if the detective were using Sherlock-level mnemonics in real time, they would need to be able to encode all kinds of stuff, including:

  • Language patterns
  • Lies they introduce during an interrogation to influence the suspect
  • Lies they think the suspect is telling
  • Remembering the influence of both Truth Bias and Lie Bias, especially lie bias in their profession
  • Questions asked by their partner
  • Questions they asked
  • Details about warrants that may have been issued
  • Details about the suspects’ previous criminal history
  • Exact crimes and previous charges
  • Details of incarceration
  • Probation details
  • Info about past and present lawyers
  • Details of modern life relevant to the facts of the case
  • Keys
  • Phones
  • Passwords
  • Highways
  • Vehicles
  • Medications
  • Banking transaction details and possibly account numbers that need to be compared over much longer time lines than we just discussed
  • Property locations and details
  • How many windows a property has, doors locked, unlocked
  • Types of disturbance, etc

And all of this would need to be managed in memory while the investigators are under high cognitive load

They’ll be not only thinking about what the suspect is saying, but also the other questions they need to ask without causing the suspect to clam up or call for a lawyer.

They’ll also want to ask unexpected questions so they can see what kinds of details emerge.

Using the Interrogation Room as a Sherlock Mind Palace

The detective could use the interrogation room itself and the body of the suspect.

If you were to give the suspect 10 stations from head to toe, you could use that to encode 10 details.

Then, in every interrogation room, you could have pre-loaded a figure in each corner, each with 10 stations on their body. This would give you 50 stations for 50 pieces of information.

When I’ve done things like this in job interviews and during my field exams for my Phd, I have preloaded Aquaman in one corner, Batman in the next, Joker and Lex Luthor in the other two. They are arranged alphabetically as an additional memory aid.

You can also use the walls to stand your Magnetic Bridging Figures, but I find that compresses things too much. But you might do just fine with it.

But again, if I were a detective, I’d probably let the recording and my notebook do the majority of the work.

Sherlock-Level Memory Techniques: Yours For The Taking

Let’s face it. It would be amazing if we could all think as critically as Sherlock Holmes and as linearly as his brother Mycroft.

But to think critically, you’ll want the best possible memory skills. For that, I recommend taking this free course:

Free Memory Palace Memory Improvement Course

Enjoy using your memory at a much higher level!

Yours Free: A Private Course With Cheat Sheets For Becoming A Memory Master, Starting From Scratch.

>>> Click Here For This Special Free Offer.

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