Recently PAO became the default mode of visualization we teach. I will first explain the method as we use it and then why it became so prominent in our materials.
Specific markers are trigrams
Most of our students have advanced degrees and read complex materials. As materials get increasingly complex, a specific marker becomes a trigram: a collection of three words describing a single idea. When someone goes with a shopping list, one word such as “cabbage” is enough. A medical student needs 3 words to describe “hodgkin’s lymphoma stage 4”. For example using the Hodgkin lady knocking on (a dictionary action for 4) on a bulge on Mrs Jones’s neck (if this is the symptom of a specific patient’s lymphoma). We get one one visualization describing 3 words or more, which is very easy to create. You are welcome to most your own examples in comments, so I can add how I would visualize them.
For me, the action is the hardest part of an accurate visualization, so I usually reserve it for the easiest word. The object is the easiest visualization, so often I encode more than one word in one object. In the medical example above I actually encoded 3 words (Mrs Jones, neck, lymphoma) in one object. You can encode just one word. You can also encode zero words by using your mnemonic symbol for zero.
The person can be used to symbolize a specific person (Dorothy Hodgkin), a phenomenon personified by that person (Warren Buffet for trading) and something you generically associate with the person (a shark “Karma” from “Finding Dory” as karma). The person does not have to be human, it can be any animated creature. There is some ambiguity to how we select the person, and we solve the ambiguity from the general context.
A dictionary of visualizations
How many of this trigrams do we need? Typically we need to be able to recreate the full text, using only our visualization with at least 85% accuracy. In most texts, this requires ~ 3 of such PAO per paragraph! This means a lot of visualizations we need to create very fast. Usually, we do not have the luxury of waiting till a spontaneous visual association comes to us, and instead, we reuse visualizations we create reading previous texts. Fortunately, we usually read a lot of books about the same things, so we do not need many new visualizations.
Reusing the visualizations may cause some ghosting effect when we are not sure if a specific visualization appears in a specific context. One of the ways to disambiguate PAO visualizations, is a specific attribute of the person or the object, like the color scheme of the person’s clothing.
The classical PAO method used by memory champions assumes 6-digits visualization, where each person, action or object encode 2 digits. Some memory champions even try to use 3 digits for the person and the object. For example, see here. You do not really need this, unless you are planning to compete in a memory championship.
So we increase the regular peg word system that we already learned from 10 objects to 10 persons, 10 actions, 10 objects.
I quote from
The Rhyming peg-word system is very simple, as stated above and could look something like this:
1-gun Visualize the first item being fired from a gun
2-shoe Visualize an association between the second thing and a shoe
3-tree Visualize the third item growing from a tree
4-door Visualize the fourth item associated with a door
5-hive Visualize the fifth item associated with a hive or with bees
6-bricks Visualize the sixth item associated with bricks
7-heaven Visualize the seventh item associated with heaven
8-weight (or height) Visualize the eighth item on a weight (or height) as if you are heavy (or high)
9-wine Visualize a glass containing the ninth item
10-hen Visualize the tenth item associated with a chicken
This way we get 10 objects. Next, we choose a unique person and action that go well with the object
0- Evel queen looking into mirror
1- Terminator shooting gun
2- Sinatra dancing shoe
3- Hippie hugging tree
4- Axl Rose knocking on door
5- Pooh Bear eating hive
6- Pig building with bricks
7- Lumberjack swinging an ax
8- Prince of Persia breaking hourglass
9- Homer Simpson drinking wine
As you can see, the PAO dictionaries can be built around the popular culture elements: animations, story tales, tv shows.
Not all number have three positions, so for terminations as nothingness (rather than null)
NA – Casper the ghost sleeps on a cloud
Now if you need to remember 3.14 you get Hippie shooting a door. This is funny and memorable
Simple PAO training
As a training exercise, you are welcome to create your own PAO dictionary – choose whatever accuracy you need.
Then use the dictionary to encode a list of physical constants or a list of mathematical constants.
Using with text
To demonstrate the usage with a text I select the following simple yet uncharacteristically dense example:
On April 12, 1961, aboard the spacecraft Vostok 1, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin becomes the first human being to travel into space. During the flight, the 27-year-old test pilot and industrial technician also became the first man to orbit the planet, a feat accomplished by his space capsule in 89 minutes. Vostok 1 orbited Earth at a maximum altitude of 187 miles and was guided entirely by an automatic control system. The only statement attributed to Gagarin during his one hour and 48 minutes in space was, “Flight is proceeding normally; I am well.”
Let us start encoding:
April 12, 1961, = April O’Neil shoots (1) a shoe (2) and a pig (6) shoots (1) into a cloud (NA)
Vostok 1, Gagarin = Chingiz Khan (Vostok is east in Russian) shoots (1) into a Gagarin (you can actually use his figure as an object)
first human being to travel into space = Vitruvian man (a generic human being) shots (1) on a poster of the solar system (space)
27 old= Sinatra (2) swinging (7) a wall clock (time)
test pilot and industrial technician= pilot fixing (with a wrench) x1e aircraft (see here)
orbit earth 89 min = Moon (orbits the earth) breaking (8) wine bottle (9) with a clock (min) on it
187 miles height = Baloon (height) with Terminator (1) breaking (8) an ax (7) on a mile sign
guided entirely by an automatic control system = spam in a can (this is the term astronauts used)
148 min in space = Terminator (1) knocking (4) on an hourglass (8) that seats on a space poster (space) with a watch (min) on it
“Flight is proceeding normally; I am well.” = Gagarin holding a thumb up in his capsule. Should be backed up by audio markers (vocalize the sentence)
Now you have 11 figures which you can easily place in the corners of 3 rooms of your mental palace.
Here I used a very technical, “by the book” encoding method. Even then, some of the imagery comes from my personal knowledge and might not work that well for other people. Most of the time we will use something less accurate and more intuitive. Filling in 3 rooms of your basic mental palace seems like a hard work, but if you had just the image of Yuri Gagarin with his famous smile, you would get zero information from it. We need to visualize enough information to feel in 85% of the text, then we can vocalize “Flight is proceeding normally; I am well.” if we want to.