I spend a day memorizing Pi’s digits. I’m a total rookie, but I was still able to memorize 1,000 digits. It was mind-boggling. Here’s how you can do the same.


#1 Converting numbers into letters


Our brains are terrible at memorizing such abstract symbols as numbers. Heck, we struggle to remember 10-digit phone numbers, so how can we recall a 1,000 digits?!

Answer: by converting numbers into letters (and ultimately images).

There are two well-known ways to do that.

The Major System

The Major System is a phonetic system, which converts numbers into sounds. For instance,

  • 1 is t and d sounds
  • 3 is m sound
  • 7 is k, hard c, q, ch (in loch), hard g
  • 8 is f, ph

The Dominic System

The Dominic System is a mnemonic system, which simply converts numbers into specific letters. It’s super simple. Each number is represented by the corresponding letter in the alphabet. So 1 is A, 2 is B and so on. The only exceptions are 0 (O), 6 (S), and 9 (N).

I’m a simple person, so I chose the simpler system, i.e. the Dominic system. In all honesty, I just couldn’t get my head around the Major System: I couldn’t ‘hear’ the sounds correctly. The Dominic System, on the other hand, is a fool-proof, easy-to-digest method. Take one glance at the Dominic table and you’ll remember it.

On the other hand, as I understood it, the Major System has more flexibility and is better suited for memorizing several thousand decimals.

#2 Converting letters into images


Next, I  needed a system for converting those letters into meaningful words and images.

For this, I created a Dominic-based PAO (Person-Action-Object) system. These were the steps:

  1. I created an Excel spreadsheet and listed numbers from 00 to 99.
  2. I then converted the numbers into letter pairs (Dominic).
  3. For each letter pair, I came up with a person or character based on initials. For instance, AE (15) was Albert Einstein and NB (92) was Napoleon Bonaparte.
  4. For each person or character, I came up with a memorable action and an object. For instance, Albert Einstein was ’inventing the Einstein refrigerator’ and Napoleon Bonaparte was ’exiling to the Island of Elba’.

Now all I had to do was to memorize the table inside out. I had to be able to connect each person, action, and object with a letter pair. For instance, if I saw the word ’Island of Elba’, I had to be able to connect it to ’Napoleon Bonaparte exiling to the Island of Elba’, which connects to NB, which connects to 92.

By the way, forget grammar. The word combinations you come up with will be funky – only you need to understand them.

With this logic, the first six digits of Pi would be converted as shown below:

I actually just wrote down the first 1,000 decimals of Pi, chunked the decimals into 6-digit chunks and converted those chunks into images (all on paper). After I was finished with converting, I already knew the table inside and out (it took me something like 5 hours to convert all the decimals, so there’s that..)

You can also try

  1. creating flashcards with 6-digit chunks on the other side and words/images on the other and then using those cards as a tool for memorization;
  2. writing down the decimals on paper, hanging the papers on your wall and then randomly taking 6-digit chunks and converting them into images;
  3. going insane after spending several hours staring at numbers.

A few helpful tips:

    • Before I tried to memorize anything, I ran through my PAO table until it was ingrained in my brain, so that seeing any one element brought to mind the other two.
    • I studied and researched the persons/characters so that I could easily recall their most iconic moments or actions.
    • I chose actions that were distinguishable AND characteristic to that person/character. For instance, even though “Albert Einstein squatting with a barbell” sure is distinguishable, it is really hard to connect “barbell” with Albert. But “Albert Einstein inventing the Einstein refrigerator” is both distinguishable and characteristic to Albert.
    • I did not use any clothing articles as objects. If you do, make sure it is noticeable. I mean, any male person on your list could be wearing “a suit” and any female could have some “jewelry” on them.

I also utilized several websites to come up with the person list:

A few helpful tips:

    • Before I tried to memorize anything, I ran through my PAO table until it was ingrained in my brain, so that seeing any one element brought to mind the other two.
    • I studied and researched the persons/characters so that I could easily recall their most iconic moments or actions.
    • I chose actions that were distinguishable AND characteristic to that person/character. For instance, even though “Albert Einstein squatting with a barbell” sure is distinguishable, it is really hard to connect “barbell” with Albert. But “Albert Einstein inventing the Einstein refrigerator” is both distinguishable and characteristic to Albert.
    • I did not use any clothing articles as objects. If you do, make sure it is noticeable. I mean, any male person on your list could be wearing “a suit” and any female could have some “jewelry” on them.

I also utilized several websites to come up with the person list:

#3 Placing images into your memory palace


When you can recall all parts of your PAO table with ease, it’s time to start placing images into a memory palace.

“Da fuq is a memory palace?”

Valid question.

A memory palace (or the method of loci) is a memory technique for memorizing a large number of things. It’s based on visualization and the fact that we’re extremely good at remembering places we know.

First, you choose your memory palace, which can be any environment you are familiar with, for example, your home.
Second, you create a journey through the palace, a path you can go along in your mind. 
Third, you place images on that path. In this case, each image represents a number, as I explained.
Fourth, when you need to recall the numbers, you simply go along the path in your memory palace and convert the images into numbers.

To memorize the first 1,000 digits, you simply place images into your memory palace and go through the journey over and over again until you think you can recall each image in the correct order from memory.

#4 Recalling the digits with ease


This is the part when all your hard work pays off. It’s amazing how easily you can recall all the images and how fast you’ll do it. I was able to place something like 50 images in half an hour and easily remember them all the first time I went along the path in my mind. That’s 300 digits in 30 minutes!!

I was blown away.

And once you can recall all the images, it’s only a small extra step to convert those images into numbers in your head using the Dominic/Major system.

So after only two hours of placing images and wandering around in my memory palace, I sat down and wrote down 1,000 decimals of Pi.

My reaction says it all.


So, how many digits did you memorize in a day? Comment below.


Jonne

I vlog and write about wacky experiments.

My YouTube channel

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