Numbers or Words: It Doesn’t Matter

This is my third and final part in a 3-part series on memorization. Two weeks ago, I posted the first part, Memory: Use It Or Lose It, in which I described how one can memorize a list of words. This could be a grocery list, a roster of names, or a vocabulary list. By using a “memory palace”, or a physical place you remember from your childhood or recent past, and bizarre and crazy visualization techniques, you can memorize very long lists!

Last week, in my post It Does Not Take A Math Person To Memorize Numbers, I described how one can use a mnemonic that associates each of our 9 digits to specific sound in our language to then transform long sequences of numerical digits to a much shorter sequence of words. This, in turn, by using methods of part 1, can then be much easily memorized than the long sequence of numbers themselves.

Finally, we put the two together. I’m going to use a small portion of the periodic table of elements from chemistry as an example. Here are the first 10 elements.

  1. Hydrogen
  2. Helium
  3. Lithium
  4. Beryllium
  5. Boron
  6. Carbon
  7. Nitrogen
  8. Oxygen
  9. Fluorine
  10. Neon

Using Pegs

Although we could memorize this list just as we did with the memory palace and visualization technique from the first post, if we wanted to know what the 10th element was, we would need to walk through our palace counting all the way up until we arrived at the 10th element in our list.

There is a way to go directly from 10 to Neon, or from Neon to 10, without having to walk through your palace, and this is done using pegs.

Again, let’s get a place in our minds that we know very well. It could be a relative or friend’s house, a previous work place, or a previous place you have lived.  What can we do to the outside that would make you arrive here in your mind if the periodic table of elements came up?  Perhaps a crazy looking lab scientist or a huge sign on the front of the place that is the periodic table of elements would work.

Most of us know that hydrogen and helium are the first two elements and don’t really need a visualization for these two, but I will proceed as if we they were not readily available in your mind.

  1. Hydrogen sounds like “hide roach in”. Visualize a really big, disgusting, creepy-crawly cockroach and a hat big enough to hide that same roach in.  The hat is important, as it will be your peg for 1.  Place this hat in the driveway/parking lot of the place in your mind. And hide the roach in it.
  2. Helium sounds like “heal Liam”, so I would visualize a hen in doctor’s attire with a stethoscope around its neck, bending over the sick body of Liam Neeson. This can be taking place between the house and the entrance, or just at the entrance of the place in your mind. Why a hen? That is a peg for 2.
  3. For lithium, visualize a small model of your current home (even if you happen to be using your current home as the place in your mind), and any person you would like sitting next to it holding out their thumb that is on fire.  This will hopefully get you to “lit thumb” and the peg word home, which is equal to 3 in the mnemonic major system.
  4. Now visualize the person with the lit thumb yielding a bow and arrow, and shooting the arrow at a bear that is charging out of a neighboring room.  It falls and rolls.  You roll the bear some more.  “Bear, roll him” will hopefully get you to Beryllium, while the arrow is the peg for 4.
  5. Within the next room, visualize Borat (played by the actor Sacha Baron Cohen) riding on top of a whale.  Borat should get you the element Boron, and the whale will be the peg for the number 5.
  6. Rolling down the hallway, you see the Oscar Meier wienermobile but without the wiener run over a big shoe.  The hot dog-less vehicle is just a car bun, which will get you to the element Carbon, while the shoe that it runs over is a peg word for 6.
  7. Traveling through the place we have in our mind, the next sight we see (visualize) is a cow taking a pull off of a special Nitrogen tap (sometimes beer is infused with nitrogen instead of CO2 as it gives the beer a creamier mouthfeel) of something dark and delicious. Perhaps a Guinness?  The element is obviously Nitrogen, but the cow is the peg for 7.
  8. Next up we have a horse with a oddly shaped hoof. It has tubes around its nose and is attached to an oxygen tank (maybe it has smoked way too much and that is what has caused the crazy burn holes in his hoof.  Oxygen is the element, hoof is the peg for 8.
  9. Go to another spot in the place in your mind and find a pie made of toothpaste. Most toothpastes have fluoride. Visualize a bunch of empty toothpaste tubes around a pie. You may want to also visualize a string of toothpaste in the shape of the letter N on top of the pie to remind you that the element is Fluorine rather than fluoride. The pie is a peg word for 9.
  10. In the next place you pass through or by in your mind palace will be a huge neon sign of a daisy.  The sign will give you the element Neon, and its shape (a daisy) is a peg word for 10.

Are you on a roll?  Keep going by visualizing something for Sodium and the peg word tattoo for 11. Then, create something for Magnesium and the peg word tuna for 12.

You can come up with your own peg word if you don’t like the ones that are given on the Wikipedia page for the Mnemonic Major System.

This memory palace is a little different than the one we learned in the first post, as you will be able to do much more than simply recall the list from beginning to end.

For example, if you were to recall the fifth element, you would need to remember that the peg word for 5 is whale, and we can then retrieve from our memory the fact that Borat is riding that whale which reminds us of the element Boron.

Or, which element number is nitrogen?  Well, we remember a cow drawing a beer from a nitrogen tap, and cow is a peg word for 7.  This process of memorization saves you from having to go through an entire list!

Save our future generations, and start using your memory!

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