Have you ever experienced the curious phenomenon where you walk into the kitchen and completely forget why you came there? Or why you stepped out of the house? Almost everyone is struck with this bizarre amnesia at some point in their lives. But why does it happen? Do Men in Black come in and wipe your memory because there was an alien in the room or something? The answer lies in the doors.
It has been scientifically proven that doorways have a magical property of causing memory loss. To be exact, doors do not cause amnesia, but the physical act of passing through a doorway causes the brain to lose memories. The reason for the phenomenon is this. The human brain stores information in a very unique way where it compartmentalises information by physical location. Because of this “filing system”, the thought “I really want cake from the kitchen” that you had in the living room is difficult to access when you are in the kitchen. By crossing a doorway, the brain recognises that the physical location has changed and opens a different “folder”, metaphorically speaking. This system allows for smooth mental functioning usually as it lessens the load on the brain, but also creates confusing situations where you just stand in front of the door, questioning whether you are losing your memory.
In an experiment in France, it was found that when students were told to memorise certain objects and then walk into another room, they had much worse recollection of the objects compared to the control group (students who walked the same distance but not through a door). It was even found that a person did not even have to physically walk through a door to lose their memory. When students were made to repeat the experiment in a virtual setting (i.e. moving a computer character through a door in a game), the same thing happened. The effect was so powerful that the researchers dubbed doorways event erasers.
Although it seems like an inconvenient system, the brain’s special way of compartmentalising information according to physical location can be used to harness the power of complete memory. This is done by using the method of loci, also called the memory palace. This is a mnemonic device first devised by ancient Romans to help memorise a large amount of information. To use the memory palace, you must first visualise a certain location – one that you are familiar enough with to recall with great detail. This may be your room, house, the street you live on, or even a fictional palace. The object of the memory palace is to convert a piece of information into an item which you can place in a certain location in the palace. For example, if you have to memorise a shopping list, you can conjure a mental shelf in your mental palace and put all the items in the shelf. To enhance this effect, make the image as bizarre and fancy as possible, as the mind is prone to remembering weird things more (e.g. a massive apple with eyes and a mouth is more memorable than a normal apple). Once your memory palace is complete, you can take a “mental walk” through the palace, go to the room where the memory you need is stored, and just browse the contents to recall the information. With practice and a vivid imagination, this is an infallible method of remembering anything you want, for as long as you want.