Micro PAO

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.

Visualizing numbers

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 Wikipedia:

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

See the visualization.
We modify the system for our PAO needs, for example bringing in number shape association

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.

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2 Replies to “Micro PAO”

  1. Do you use PAO for all kinds of texts? It seems to work well for the data-rich example you gave. The kinds of texts I deal with are more conceptual, like the example below. Can you suggest how PAO might work for this? I ask because I am about 40 pages into this 70-page text. I have been mind mapping it on paper as I go and I now have six pages of mind-maps. As ideas come up they get discussed briefly, then later in more detail, and they get referenced and enhanced with phrases and sentences that occur throughout, so if I were to eventually create a mind map for the whole thing, it would either look like a plate of spaghetti with all the links and cross links. The alternative would be to extract the key concepts and organize them logically. While perhaps more useful in the long run, the map would not represent the structure of the text at all. Would PAO make the task simpler?

    Example text:

    The eight consciousnesses are impure in how they manifest, since they manifest as delusion based upon the mind’s projection of objects. But in their nature, they are unchanging. The basic nature of the mind, of which they are the permutations, is pure. Therefore, we find the oft-repeated phrase “the all-basis is virtuous or good in its nature.” This idea of the fundamental goodness of the all-basis refers not to the deluded all-basis consciousness but to the all-basis wisdom, which in the context of delusion is the pure aspect of the all-basis consciousness. This pure aspect has never been lost in delusion, meaning that the nature of the mind has been mistaken, but that nature itself has never been changed or corrupted by the mistake. While the manifestation of your mind as a plurality within cognitive clarity seems to be deluded, if you look for some actual substantial presence of this delusion you won’t find it anywhere. Yet you cannot say that your mind is a dead or static nothingness, because there is the experience and presence of cognitive clarity. This basic way the mind really is, the fact that it is a cognitive lucidity free of any kind of substantial existence, is what is called buddha nature, and that, of course, is pure. That is what we attempt to realize or fully experience through the practice of meditation.

    1. Basically, you can use the method for any informative text. If the text is not informative, you are probably reading it for a different reason. Personally, I believe that the vast majority of texts do not really deserve to be read, but if I find a text I really want to read I have all the tools to read properly.

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