"Legend has it that the poet Simonides recited a soliloquy for a banquet held in one of the great halls in ancient Greece. Shortly after he left the building, the roof caved in, killing everyone inside. The bodies were so mangled they could not be recognized and authorities went to Simonides to see if he could remember at least who some of the people were. Surprisingly, he was able to recall everyone in the hall simply by remembering where the person sat around the tables in the room. He remembered them by their location.
The Roman orator Cicero, around the turn of the first century, expanded this concept by mentally placing ideas around the tables instead of people. He could recite volumes of information by seeing visions and symbols in the chairs. Like icons that we have on our computer desktop screens, his mental icons represented the critical points he needed to recall in his arguments or debates. Cicero became world renowned for his ability to make clear, lucid points in his debates without using notes. This technique became known as the Roman Room method. By projecting onto his mental screen a room equipped with tables and chairs, Cicero could simply walk around the area in his mind and elaborate his key points. He organized information in his mind so that he could mentally go around any table picking up the memories he had stored in various chairs and simply describing those memories to his audience. (...)
When I look carefully at our living room from the doorway, over to my left is the speaker stand in the corner. The TV console is located along the adjacent wall, and the rocking chair is in the next corner of the room. The fireplace is located on the wall opposite the doorway, and my favorite chair in the third corner of the room. The third wall is actually a larger doorway that leads to the dining room, and a lamp table occupies the fourth corner. Along the fourth and final wall is the sleeper sofa. The floor, carpeted, has a large walnut coffee table in front of the sofa, and a fan hangs from the ceiling. (...)
If I close my eyes, I can see this room completely in my mind. If I apply the third Reversible Rule of Engagement and give action to the picture in my mind, I can move the lens of my mind's eye—just like Ken Burns does in his excellent documentaries, beginning with the speaker and moving the camera lens all the way around the room, seeing each object in its very specific location. (...)
The mind doesn't distinguish between what is real and what is vividly imagined. In my mind there is no difference between looking at a room while standing in the doorway or looking at a room while seeing on the page. To make the room vivid, I mentally dust the room (my wife will tell you that I do a lot more imaginary dusting than I do real dusting). If it's appropriate, I mentally pick up each object, like a vase on a stand, and note its shape, texture, and feel while dusting it with a mental cloth. If it is something like a fireplace or a painting on the wall, I still take my cloth and feel the subtle grooves in the mantel or in the picture frame. Again, I am noting and picking out detail and applying deliberate intensity to each location in the room. Sometimes I even use aromatherapy or light a scented candle to help establish in my mind the overall environment of each room. Smell is a powerful memory stimulant, and it adds to the vividness of the environment. When you apply this technique, you understand how unlimited your mind and memory can be, because there are an infinite number of pictures of rooms in a seemingly infinite number of magazines on the bookshelves each month."
—Scott Hagwood Memory Power (2006)