How to Use the Sherlock Mind Palace Study Technique to Teach Yourself Data Science*JO2BfIby210LoaVM

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What is the mind palace study technique?

The mind palace technique originated in ancient Greece, where, according to the myth, a Greek poet by the name of Simonides of Ceos invented a way to remember information after attending a fatal banquet. Simonides stepped outside of the banquet hall only for it to collapse behind him. Despite the attendees who were caught inside the hall during the collapse being too badly crushed to be identified, Simonides was able to identify each body based on where they had been sitting. Thus, the mind palace technique was born.

The mind palace technique is known by many other names, including the method of loci, the memory theater, the art of memory, and the memory palace.

The mind palace technique works like this: imagine a complex place (such as a palace) where you could physically store memories or information. Each room is specific to the memory or piece of information that you want to remember (read: store inside of the room). Because the mind is so gifted at remembering visual memories, it can help to make the memory or piece of information as detailed or unique as possible. When you need to retrieve a memory or piece of information, you simply walk back through the building seeing and remembering each memory.

Greeks and Romans used this technique to memorize their speeches, with each idea paired mentally with a complicated room in a building. During this time, it was expensive to write things down to remember them, so it made more sense to use elaborate memory techniques to save money. The mind palace technique was also used during the Middle Ages when monks and scholars used it to memorize religious texts.

However, as soon as the printing press became mainstream and writing things down became less expensive, the mind palace technique soon fell out of favor as people no longer had a requirement to memorize information or memories. Like record players, low-rise jeans, and scrunchies, the memory palace technique saw a resurgence in the 20th century in international memory competitions where participants would use it to recall long lists of items in a specific order. For example, Simon Reinhard was able to memorize the exact order of 370 cards using the mind palace technique.

The mind palace technique made it into the Sherlock Holmes novels by Arthur Conan Doyle, who writes Holmes as describing it to John Watson as the idea that a man’s brain is like an empty attic that needs to be stocked with important furniture. This idea is important because everyone’s mind palace will be different: some will choose the home they grew up in, others will think of a real palace, and others will choose a road with lots of addresses on it as a way to organize their information. In fact, a mind palace doesn’t even have to be a real place at all — participants in a scientific test were found to perform equally well when using a real place or a virtual place to memorize a list of unrelated words.

When to use the mind palace technique to study data science

The mind palace technique isn’t designed to help you comprehend data science topics — instead, it’s there to make it easier for you to call information or concepts you’ve learned to mind. The mind palace serves you by creating a way for you to rapidly recall memorized information. When you use the mind palace technique to memorize concepts in data science, those memories become procedural memories stored in the basal ganglia which can be accessed a lot quicker than memories stored in other areas of the brain.

Therefore, this technique is best used to memorize concepts in data science that you’ll need to retrieve on a regular basis for either your studying or your work.

For example, data science concepts you could memorize using a mind palace are the elements of good data visualizations, statistical methods and when to use them, calculus formulas, software engineering best practices, a good documentation checklist, or a python code-checking list. From personal experience, this method has proven useful when remembering statistical methods and checklists for things, like visualizations or code.

While this study method won’t help you understand the relationship between different concepts, it’s still a great tool to help you memorize the concepts you’ll need to become a data scientist.

One of the key ideas to remember when teaching yourself data science is that you don’t always have to understand why something works — you just need to understand how and when to use it. When I was taking my first university calculus class, I had to remind myself that I didn’t have to know why the formulas worked — I just needed to know when to use them. This is exactly where the mind palace comes in handy.

How to use the mind palace technique to study data science

The mind palace technique works when you can associate data science concepts with locations you’re familiar with. The most common “palace” people use to store their information is their childhood home because it’s a place you’re intimately familiar with. For example, if you closed your eyes and thought of your childhood home, you’d instantly see the floorplan of the house, the color of the walls in each room, and the furniture and decor in each room. As you walk through each room of the house, you would associate a data science concept with each room. Then, when you want to retrieve that information, you’d retrace your steps through the house until you reached that room. As I mentioned previously, the more unique or visual you can make each concept, the easier it will be to remember it.

Since writing something down costs nothing nowadays, it’s easiest to start with a visual sketch of your palace’s floor plan and then write down your concept associations with each stopping point in the house. Here’s an idea to get you started:

Step 1: Draw a floor plan of your mind palace.

Step 2: Draw a travel path through the mind palace stopping at relevant locations — make sure your travel path is linear so that you’re not crossing over your own path.

Step 3: Create a two-column list next to your sketch of the floor plan — in the first column, list the relevant locations in your floor plan; in the second column, attach a data science concept to each relevant location. For example, in our example of statistical methods, the front door could be associated with k-means clustering (because you cluster with your family at the door to enter the house), the staircase could be associated with linear regression (because you’re either going up or down), and the door to the backyard could be associated with random forests (because you go through the back door to enter the forests).

Step 4: Run through your mind palace mentally on a regular basis until it becomes second nature to know what you’re about to remember as you enter a room.

Step 5: Use your mind palace the next time you’re practicing for a data science interview by creating mock interview questions that require you to retrieve information from your mind palace. Alternatively, use your mind palace to make sure you remember all of the data science concepts you’ve learned in previous lessons, such as the requirements of a good data visualization or the software engineering habits you should know to write good code.

Final thoughts

If I’ve learned anything while teaching myself data science it’s that the more unorthodox you can make your learning methods, the more likely you’ll remember what it is that you’re learning.

The mind palace is a great way to shake up your data science learning experience. Instead of relegating yourself to many boring hours of reading books and listening to videos on Youtube, why not actively work to memorize concepts in data science using a mind palace? This active learning and recall method will give you a visual model on which to base your data science learning experience. Not only will it help you retrieve vital concepts during crucial moments thanks to the ease of remembering how you used to walk through your childhood home, but it will also reinvigorate your learning process by encouraging you to work different parts of your brain.

When learning data science, it’s worth trying anything — especially a technique as old as some of the greatest learners of all time: the ancient Greeks!


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