“You, out. I have to go to my mind palace,” says Sherlock Holmes, in the episode “Hounds of Baskerville,” part of BBC’s modern adaptation of the great detective novel, “Sherlock.” “Sherlock,” played by Benedict Cumberbatch, often retreats to a large building inside of his mind to remember things and work out problems.
On Wednesday night, students attended a RAD Lecture, hosted by SUU Honors Program members, entitled “Is Sherlock’s Mind Palace Feasible? Applying Cognitive Psychology to Sherlock.” The event was hosted in the Sterling Church Auditorium and attracted around 30 people.
The lecture opened with Charla Strosser, an SUU assistant professor of English and self-proclaimed fan of “Sherlock Holmes,” both of the new TV adaptation and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original works.
Strosser began with a brief overview and history of the “mind palace,” beginning with the first mention in the books, although it was originally entitled “brain attic” in “A Study in Scarlet.” Later, during the television series, it was changed to “mind palace” and was seen briefly in the episode “A Study in Pink,” and then fully fleshed out in later episodes.
Some notable examples were mentioned, including in “The Vow” when Sherlock suffers a substantial injury and delves into his “mind palace” with just a few moments left of consciousness to figure out what to do.
Following the history and introduction, Garrett Strosser took the stage to explain the psychology, feasibility and artistic licensing surrounding the mind palace in the show.
Strosser is an assistant professor of psychology at SUU and is not a fan of “Sherlock,” as he was outed by his wife, Charla Strosser, at the beginning of the lecture.
Strosser quickly made the connection of Sherlock’s mind palace to that of the “Method of Loci” and Simonides of Ceos.
Simonides is credited with creating the concept of a mind palace-type memory device. In 5th century B.C., Simonides stepped outside of a party and the entire building collapsed behind him. As the sole survivor, Simonides was asked to recall every party-goer in attendance that night. He did so by mentally walking around the room and remembering those who were there.
“The Method of Loci” is similar and is reportedly used by international memory champions. A place, real or fictional, is pictured in the mind, and the thinker then places objects or things they would like to remember in strange places around the room. The idea is that as long as the one remembering can make their way back to the object in question, they should be able to remember everything.
Strosser pointed out some consistencies and inconsistencies with research on this method of memorization and how it is shown in the show.
“It takes practice,” Dr. Strosser said, referring to the ease with which Sherlock seems to delve into his mind palace.
In addition, Strosser said that mental images of images tend to work better than the mental images of words with which Sherlock’s mind palace is so often portrayed.
And while such a memory technique is likely to reduce the number of errors in remembering, it won’t bring accuracy up to 100 percent.
SUU Honors Program’s next lecture in the RAD Series will be held March 28, at 7:30 p.m. in the Sterling Church Auditorium. The topic will be “The Science of Science-Fiction: Debunking the Gattaca Movie.”