The Memory Code: Prehistoric Memory Techniques You Can Use Now

Lynne Kelly, Author of The Memory Code

Do you know how often earth-shattering revelations about how to use your memory better come along?

Two words:

Not often.

But when Lynne Kelly’s The Memory Code was announced, I knew we were in for something special.

I got even more excited when The Memory Code finally arrived (notice that’s an Aboriginal art bookmark too for the detail-oriented amongst you.)

And now I’m excited to present the first Magnetic Memory Method interview with Lynne Kelly.

The Most Profound Memory Resource On The Planet
Got An Early Start

Scroll up to the podcast play button and listen in as Lynne and I discuss her book, The Memory Code. You’ll want to listen to this episode a few times so you can discover and remember:

* How a skeptical science writer came to embrace the art of memory by replicating ancient memory techniques.

* How the human mind once regularly memorized 1600 hundred plants (while eating less than a third).

* The role of rituals and Songlines in memory associations and how Lynne uses them herself.

* Why Lynne’s associations with her Memory Palace Songlines have become so strong, she cannot relocate from her environment. This point will help you avoid Memory Palace Agoraphobia.

* The potential relationship between social inertia and a cure for Dementia (or at least a serious reduction in the number of cases and their severity).

* Why your brain is a set of “chemical locations” and how these can integrate with other locations in the world to help you remember. Jesse figured this out in a big way as you’ll learn in his Magnetic Memory Method Review and Testimonial.

* What we’ve lost in schools and what Lynne is doing to bring formal memory education back into the curriculum.

* What Nobel prize winners have shown us about how and why the brain associates information with locations naturally.

* Why the continuous culture of Australia is so beneficial to the study of memory.

* The economic history of memory training and why the going rate for one memory song could be exchanged at a very high rate.

* Why knowledge is so essential to human survival.

* Why vivid imagery in stories and dancing is far more memorable than straight, unencoded information.

* The 3 kinds of “Memory Spaces” anyone can use to remember information and get it right – very important in every day education and matters of life and death.

* Why some information was restricted in early societies to avoid the so-called “Chinese Whispers Effect.”

* Why ancient groups of people were not naive or living in clouds of ignorance. Learn how science is helping us discover their incredibly sophisticated ways of knowledge – far from primitive!

* The power of multi-sensory mnemonic methods for helping you make fast mnemonic associations.

* The importance of playing with the stories and images you create in order to faciliate rapid encoding and long term recall.

* The secret skill all children have (one of the barriers that far too many adults unnecessarily let themselves get in their way).

* The possible role writing might have in decreasing our visual imagination abilities.

* Why you need to memorize based on a firm foundation upon which layers can be built.

* Examples of how kids are using mnemonics to memorize physics equations using location-based mnemonics.

* How children are learning about art using Memory Palaces that enable the teachers to develop

Memory Techniques For People Of All Ages

Children are one thing, but Lynne talks about how all the same techniques apply across the board to people of every age. No matter how time crushed you may be. As you continue listening, you’ll learn:

* Why memory techniques will save you time, not consume it.

* Why memory techniques should be taught within the curriculum of schools, not as a separate subject.

* Why memory techniques have inspired students to BEG for testing, not run shrieking from their exams.

* The role of cold in creativity and memory with respect to cold showers and the vagus nerve.

Additional Links & Resources


The Memory Code on Amazon.

Lynne Kelly’s author website

Moonwalking with Einstein

Dominic O’Brien

David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous

Walter J. Ong 

23 Responses

  1. This is awesome. Anthony, we’ve talked about emotional geography before – the associations I have with almost every street in the city one of the reasons I can’t imagine leaving Madrid permanently. Does this mean you’ll be doing outdoor memory palaces now?

    1. Glad you liked this.

      I’ve always done a small bit of outdoor Memory Palaces, but nothing as immense or intense as Lynne discusses in the book and this interview.

      I generally like the outdoors a lot for Impromptu Memory Palaces, but these tend to be for super-short sets of information. Sometimes just a single word that I want to pick up in Chinese or whatnot.

      Then there are things like “sky” or “it is getting dark.” I don’t see the point in making a new Memory Palace just for that when learning a language. The sky is right there, divisible into artificial quarters and receptive to the palimpsest art of mnemonics for writing on it. 🙂

  2. I found The Memory Code very interesting, but more and more frustrating the further I got into it, because I kept waiting for a how-to, and none ever came. I think my overall assessment would be “informative but not educational”. What I mean by that is that there was a lot of “this is what they did” and “they used this for that” and so on, but absolutely zero on exactly how to use those handheld memory aids in particular.

    For example, I can’t see there is any way you could read the book and come out of it knowing how to use the author’s home-made lukasa (memory board). A tutorial on the use of that device alone would have made all the difference. There was no useful information on how to actually use any of the mnemonic devices discussed. I can see the relationship to the Method of Loci, but there is an insurmountable gap to practical use of the primitive handheld devices.

    1. Thank you for the comment, Bill. ‘The Memory Code’ was written primarily for the anthropology and to explain the purpose of the archaeological sites. I just added the memory methods to demonstrate that they are effective. I had no idea that people would be so keen to actually apply them. I have had a huge response to the book – overwhelmingly about the memory devices and not the archaeology – not what I expected!

      I am now writing a follow up specifically on the various memory devices and how to use them in real life.

      The lukasa is just a memory palace in miniature, so encoding it was exactly the same as any memory palace. The difference is that you have so little to hook onto that you need to be more imaginative with the stories. I was shocked how easily you can attach information to a bead. The location, the way it feels, the sequence and what is next to it, dribbles of glue, wood grain … there ends up quite a bit which can give the hook you need.

      But it will all be explained in the new book!


      1. Thanks for the great insight, Lynne!

        It makes a great deal of sense – especially when we think of how easily and how much memory people regularly encode onto/into colors on military badges and other micro-spaces. The difference is in the intentionality behind the encoding.

        Can’t wait to see it all described in your next book! 🙂

  3. Brilliant episode! This was one of the most insightful episodes in the MMM podcast!
    It was inspiring and motivating to hear that a maths and physics based doctor such as Lynne Kelly is really finding the memory techniques useful, as I have also felt the same usefulness.

    I would never have guessed at the high intellectual and creative culture of the indigenous people. It makes me wonder about other cultures too. It seems like we as modern people have lost so much wisdom that was so prevalent in the past. As humans, I learned that humans naturally create strong “bonds” with our surroundings.
    Could MMM perhaps even be linked to the way the African Masahi people hunted across tens of miles? I even suspect that many tribal attacking strategies against other tribes were based on some form of MMM. It makes me wonder how all the ancient tribes navigated and lived in all the different landscapes using the MMM.

    1. Glad that you found this inspiring and motivating, Jeongmin. Thanks for letting us know!

      You’ve asked some great questions that open more perspectives. I’ll be thinking about them and how they relate to our every day lives. I’ve long thought that we are far more involved in locations than we often realize. And when we get into non-dual mindfulness and the like, this link becomes even more apparent because we are far more connected to and a part of the surrounding material space and reality than we recognize when lost in thought.

      Thanks for taking a moment to comment and look forward to your next post! 🙂

  4. Hi Lynne and Anthony,

    I really enjoyed the podcast, I will be sure to pick up a copy of memory code, it sounds very interesting. I especially liked what Lynne was saying about the work that she is doing in schools.

    I have a question for you/her. I am a middle school teacher and I may have the opportunity to create a course this fall. After hearing your podcast today I was inspired to create a course on memory and memory techniques. I majored in psychology in my undergraduate so I have a general scientific knowledge of what memory is but I think it would be much more useful to develop the class around memory techniques and their application, fields that I am much less knowledgeable about.

    Do you have any suggestions on where I can begin my research and how I may be able to frame it into a class for students aged 11-14?

    Any help you can give is much appreciated. I think this could be really helpful to my students, many of whom are classified as low performing right now.



    1. Glad that you liked this podcast, Jesse, and enthused you’ll be getting The Memory Code.

      I don’t have any experience teaching this age group personally, so can’t say. But I would suggest that you get familiar with the techniques yourself so that you’re teaching from experience, not from theory.

      I’m not talking about competition level experience. Just a poem or some vocabulary or whatever you would expect the students to memorize using these techniques.

      Once you’ve accomplished some memory wins for yourself and so long as you’re directing the techniques at helping students memorize something useful, I’m confident the curriculum will practically write itself.

      As we await Lynne’s thoughts, here are two interviews I’ve held with kids and their parents. I’m confident these will grow your enthusiasm even further:

      Tap the Mind of a 10-Year Old Memory Palace Master

      Memory Improvement Techniques For Kids

      Enjoy and I look forward to further discussion about your goals! 🙂

      1. Great, thank you for the resources. I will also look into The Memory Palace by Lewis Smile. Do you have other recommendations for books for beginners?

        1. A lot depends on what you want to accomplish with your memory and the memory abilities of your students.

          I say this because the problem with so many memory training books is that they’re generic. That’s fine and you can spy the ones I made a point of bringing with me overseas from Berlin to Brisbane in this Reverse Unboxing My Memory Collection Video.

          But there are some books that are better at giving you laser-targeted training for specific outcomes. I’m not sure if Lynne would agree, but in my experience, a lot of people hit a brick wall quickly because they can’t see how to adapt the techniques to their particular topic.

          That said, for your age group, probably Brad Zupp’s Unlock Your Amazing Memory: The Fun Guide That Shows Grades 5 To 8 How To Remember Better And Make School Easier would be suitable. I wrote a “book report” on it here: How To Help Middle School Students Remember More.

          (Note that all my Kindle memory books moved with me by default and I’m mostly a minimalist these days. I easily have over a thousand books and articles in digital format and, to varying degrees, they’re all worth reading if you’re an educator who uses the techniques personally.)

          But here’s the secret:

          You’re not a beginner.

          You’ve been using many of these techniques your entire life. It’s just not evident yet to what extent.

          So the trick is in reading just one book and milking it for all its worth before moving on to the next. That means completing all the exercises and even reading it twice.

          Otherwise, you’ll may find that reading and thinking about memory techniques is profoundly addictive. And it feels like the activity amounts to actually using the techniques.

          But activity and accomplishment are two different things.

          Hence this mini-speech on really just picking any book and using it first … and only then supporting the cause by buying all the memory improvement books in the world to help us grow the Mnemonics Renaissance grow!

          And if you can in your role as educator create an entire collection of them in the library and start a memory club, all the better.

          Thanks for your question and do let us know if you have more questions about the practice. 🙂

  5. Hi Jesse and Anthony,

    Your question about education is dominating my life at the moment, Jesse. All the research is exceeding expectations!

    I am funded to work in schools – one primary and one secondary – and we are discovering a huge amount and a whole swag of ways to adapt Indigenous memory methods as well as those from early literate cultures and those talked about by mnemonics such as Anthony. But it is a long term project.

    The research is happening through The Orality Centre – it is important that I am doing this with a group of experienced educators, not alone:

    It is already attracting media attention:

    I will be adding a new blog post about this as soon as I can on my website and constantly updating with the research. Regular comments will appear on my Facebook:

    I wish I could explain more but it would take a book to talk about all that has happened so far! I will be writing about it in my next book and writing education resources with the other Orality Centre staff. There is also the theoretical framework in the free ebook, Grounded: Indigenous Knowing in a Concrete Reality.

    I hope that is of some help!


  6. A stellar podcast Lynne and Anthony. Thanks for your insights into location-based (and other) memory systems.

    I am fascinated by indigenous ethnology and oral traditions. Dance, song acting, poetry, gesture and so many other methods truly enrich our minds; however, we have often neglected (or worse, gone out of our way wantonly to destroy) these sacred ways and methods of indigenous life.

    I am glad there are ethnologists like Lynne to help us see the richness and beauty of others.

    Frances Yates’ work on Renaissance memory traditions is a classic, and I am sure Lynne’s work will be considered a classic as well. In several respects, it is better because the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and Lynne has experienced the methods herself.

    Kudos and continued success to both of you.

    1. Glad you could catch this episode, Alex!

      Yes, it’s astonishing to me every time I think of Yates’ almost proud claim that she never used the techniques she wrote about herself.

      Lynne thankfully does both so well and we all await her next entry to the Mnemonic Cannon with great anticipation.

      Thanks as ever for stopping by to comment. Look forward to your next visit! 🙂

  7. What is so liberating about this for me is that you encode your information into a concrete object while you are in its presence. This makes a HUGE difference for me. I have been having difficulty dealing with remembered locations–especially if I want to create many stations or add substations. But doing it when actually IN the palace is entirely different. Thank you!

    1. Great discovery, Stan. Being present with a Memory Palace does have some advantage, even if it’s pocketable. Scott Gosnell made a similar point about accessing the actual Memory Palace/device in our discussion of his translations of Giordano Bruno.

      Regarding your difficulty with remembering locations, I hope this provides a long term working solution for you. If not, remember that even just mastering the four corners of a single room before adding more Magnetic Stations is a potentially enriching accomplishment in use than a million unused or underutilized Stations could ever be. Never forget that using the Memory Palaces is part of what makes them Memory Palaces. Creation alone is potentially (albeit rarely thanks to the mental exercise) nothing.

    1. Thanks for this, Chris.

      The Art of Memory certainly has a place in this history of this tradition, but it certainly is diminished by the fact that Yates apparently didn’t even try the techniques.

      I feel that Spence’s The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci has a similar problem (as such).

      Any other great books about memory that you’ve admired or enjoyed?

      1. The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci was enjoyable for the history detailed in it. Foer’s an excellent storyteller and I think even people who aren’t interested in memory techniques could get sucked into Moonwalking with Einstein. I binge read it in a day off my phone and then bought a copy for my daughter. Nothing else comes to mind. Maybe I should make a memory palace for the books I read. You know that was half joking but as soon as I wrote that, I’m thinking it might be a really good idea. Have you done it? Also, I enjoy your material. I find myself coming back to it. Maybe in part for the community this whole subject. It was your youtube video that introduced me to Lynne Kelly’s book. You mentioned how you wanted to interview her. I didn’t see it there so googled and found you had this fun interview here. Thanks for being interesting!

        And thanks Lynne Kelly for your book! And for the record, it took many days to get through that one. I took my time with it and was sad to finish it. I’ll have to read it again or perhaps see if I can borrow a copy of your more academic book from the library because sadly it’s out of my budget.

        1. Thanks for the follow-up, Chris, and glad these materials I put together have been useful for you.

          I have at times memorized book titles and author names, but it depends on the desired outcome. If I think a book title and the name of its author will help people, then I will do that to avoid the “pit of never.” That’s when we promise to email someone the title and author later… but somehow never do.

          Back when I did my PhD, I remembered titles and authors with intent, and it was easy because the Memory Palaces were usually coded to the name of the author on a book by book basis. The first Magnetic Station, if necessary, would encode the title of the book.

          Then there is content, something I cover in detail on the podcast episode and post How to (Realistically) Memorize Textbooks. Although not exactly a magic bullet, this approach is very close to real magic, even if you don’t achieve 100% retention. Usually with this approach the title and name of the author will come along by default.

          For general knowledge and trivial amounts of information, one can use the book itself as a kind of Memory Palace. For example, I recently read Do No Harm by Henry Marsh. There’s no particular memorization need I have for the book, but I wanted to remember the title so I imposed an image of a guy I know named Henry trudging through the marsh from The Neverending Story, anxious to “do no harm” to his horse. More encoding would be required for the subtitle, but in this case, there’s no need.

          I take these things on a project-by-project basis and am lately doing some tests with raw mind mapping. I would not go to this technique if I needed to be sure of information, but it does have its own memory benefits and unlocks conceptual connections I might not have experienced otherwise.

          I’m sure that Lynne will be enthused to learn that you enjoyed her book. I’ll send her a tweet to let her know – and word on the street has it that a new memory book from her is not too far away.

          Since you mention borrowing from the library, one of the great favors we can all do the memory tradition is to ask our local public and scholarly libraries to have complete canons from the old and recent memory tradition. Something to remember next time you stop by or visit your library’s website. All of the titles we’ve been mentioning certainly belong in every library around the world.

          Thanks again and look forward to corresponding again soon!

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