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Q: Perfect memory ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: Perfect memory
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: qpet-ga
List Price: $30.00
Posted: 19 Mar 2003 14:31 PST
Expires: 18 Apr 2003 15:31 PDT
Question ID: 178401
I have heard that some individuals have perfect memory(other than in
connection with autism)Is this true, and what impact does it have on
their life?
Subject: Re: Perfect memory
Answered By: pinkfreud-ga on 19 Mar 2003 21:38 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
While a perfect memory of absolutely all aspects of everything does
not appear to be possible, there are certainly humans who demonstrate
some remarkable abilities to recall details, facts, and images. People
who have a so-called "photographic" memory of images are called
"eidetikers." Those who have more generalized powers of recall are
called "mnemonists" or "savants" (the latter term is sometimes applied
more specifically to those who demonstrate mnemonic abilities, but who
exhibit characteristics of autism or intellectual impairment.)

------------------ Eidetikers -----------------

"In the scientific literature, the term eidetic imagery comes closest
to what is popularly called photographic memory. The most common way
to identify eidetikers (as people with eidetic imagery are often
called) is by the Picture Elicitation Method. In it, an unfamiliar
picture is placed on an easel and a person carefully scans the entire
scene. After 30 seconds have elapsed, the picture is removed from
view, and the person is asked to continue to look at the easel and to
report anything that they can observe. People possessing eidetic
imagery will confidently claim to still 'see' the picture. In
addition, they can scan it and examine different parts of it just as
if the picture were still physically present. Consequently, one of the
hallmarks of eidetic imagery is that eidetikers use the present tense
when answering questions about the missing picture, and they can
report in extraordinary detail what it contained...

The vast majority of the people who have been identified as possessing
eidetic imagery are children. The prevalence estimates of the ability
among preadolescents range from about 2 percent to 10 percent. And it
is an equal-opportunity phenomenon--there’s no gender difference in
who is likely to be an eidetiker. Although it is certainly
controversial, some researchers also believe that eidetic imagery
occurs more frequently in certain populations of the mentally retarded
(specifically, in individuals whose retardation most likely stems from
biological, rather than environmental, causes) and also among
geriatric populations. With a few notable exceptions, however, most
research has shown that virtually no adults seem to possess the
ability to form eidetic images."

Scientific American

"Eidetic imagery has been studied for over a century and many studies
have been done to test its validity. Individuals capable of superior
memory were tested and many were found not to possess eidetic imagery.
A study done by Degroot shows that some individuals are highly skilled
at organizing information- not actually reproducing the images they
see... Although some write off eidetic memory as the ability to
organize vast amounts of information, others have found that this
ability cannot be used to explain all the cases studied.

The most convincing and unique documentation of eidetic imagery was a
case study done by Charles Stromeyer in 1970. The subject of their
study, a woman named 'Elizabeth,' was able to write out poetry in a
foreign language years after seeing the original text. She was also
able to project her images onto a blank canvas or over the top of
other images. Moving her eyes allowed her to scan the projected image,
which remained entirely stationary. Her images would break apart
instead of fading away slowly.

Although Elizabeth is an extreme case, a study done by L. R. Haber and
R. N. Haber (1964) documented similar behavior in children with
eidetic imagery.


------------------ Mnemonists -----------------

"Simonides of Ceos
Simonides was a Greek lyric poet born in 556 B.C. credited with
inventing mnemonics, specifically using mental images together with
the method of loci, in which the mnemonist imagines a house or other
familiar place to populate with mental images. The Roman teacher of
rhetoric Quintilian (born around 35 A.D.) elaborated this method in a
treatise (see The Discoverers).

Datas was the stage name for an amazing performer described in Ricky
Jay's Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women. Datas was an unremarkable
student who discovered that he had an appetite for memorizing facts.
He worked as a variety entertainer in music halls beginning in London
in 1901. His act consisted of answering questions from the audience,
mostly involving biographical and historical information and crime and
sports statistics. He did not appear to use a formal mnemonic system,
but was able to create metal images for later recall. Datas was the
model for the performer "Mr. Memory" in Alfred Hitchcock's film The 39
Steps, based on the novel by John Buchan.

A. C. Aitken (1895-1967)
A. C. Aitken was a mathematician who was extraordinarily gifted in
mental arithmetic. He had a phenomenal memory for numbers, apparently
without using any conscious mnemonic methods, and could recite pi to
707 places."

Memory Elixir

"Some people are human calculators, speed readers or even natural
mnemonists. Shakuntala Devi, the human computer, can mentally multiply
two 13-digit figures in 28 seconds. The Russian mnemonist,
Shereshevskii, forgets nothing that he hears or sees and employs
synesthesia (a blending of the senses) to accomplish it. In 1937,
George Koltanowski set a blindfold chess playing record by playing 34
mental games simultaneously -- winning 24, drawing 10 and losing none!
James A. Garfield (U.S. 20th President) could write Latin with his
right hand and Greek with his left hand simultaneously! Harry Kahne
was a vaudeville showman that wrote mirror images with one hand and
forward writing with his other hand while dividing a long division
problem in his mind, adding a multiple column of figures and talking
to the audience -- all simultaneously!"

Brain Course


Regarding the effects of a phenomenal memory upon one's life, I highly
recommend A. R. Luria's book, "The Mind of a Mnemonist: A Little Book
About a Vast Memory," which describes in great depth the Russian
mnemonist Solomon Veniaminovich Shereshevsky, whose gift was, in some
ways, a curse:

"Shereshevsky could recall lists of numbers that he had memorized
decades earlier, and was actually unable to forget the lists he had
memorized while perfoming as a mnemonist. He could memorize nonsense
syllables, a challenge specifically designed to thwart mnemonic
associations. Shereshevsky experienced synesthesia, responding to
stimulation of one sense with a perception in one or more different
senses. For example, he could see sounds and feel their taste and
texture. His remarkable abilities were somewhat disabling. He was not
able to read poetry or fiction easily, as each word or phrase would
blossom into an intense visualization that might be contradicted by
the next one... Shereshevsky's pathological memory interfered with his
ability to hold a regular job, enjoy literature, or even seemingly to
think in the abstract without being distracted by sensory

Memory Elixir

Here is an example of how Shereshevsky's mind worked:

"One famous case was S., described by the Russian psychologist A.R.
Luria. Among other things S. had an exceptional ability to retain
things long after he'd originally memorized them. Once he was read the
first four lines of Dante's The Divine Comedy in Italian, a language
he did not understand. He was immediately able to recite the entire
passage--and more impressively, he could still do so on command 15
years later, with no advance warning.

How had he done it? He associated each syllable with a mental image.
The first line, Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita, he rendered into
images this way: Nel, Nel'skaya, a ballerina; mezzo, she is together
with (Russian vmeste) a man; del, there is a pack of Deli cigarettes
near them; cammin, a fireplace (Russian kamin) is also close by; di, a
hand is pointing toward a door (Russian dver); nos, a man has fallen
and gotten his nose (Russian nos) pinched in a doorway (Russian tra);
vita, the man steps over a child, a sign of life--vitalism; and so on,
for 48 syllables."

The Straight Dope

The great Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges touched on some of the
difficulties that can accompany a near-perfect memory in his fictional
account of "Funes, the Memorious":

"We, in a glance, perceive three wine glasses on the table; Funes saw
all the shoots, clusters, and grapes of the vine. He remembered the
shapes of the clouds in the south at dawn on the 30th of April of
1882, and he could compare them in his recollection with the marbled
grain in the design of a leather-bound book which he had seen only
once, and with the lines in the spray which an oar raised in the Rio
Negro on the eve of the battle of the Quebracho. These recollections
were not simple; each visual image was linked to muscular sensations,
thermal sensations, etc. He could reconstruct all his dreams, all his
fancies. Two or three times he had reconstructed an entire day. He
told me: I have more memories in myself alone than all men have had
since the world was a world. And again: My dreams are like your
vigils. And again, toward dawn: My memory, sir, is like a garbage
disposal...Without effort, he had learned English, French, Portuguese,
Latin. I suspect, nevertheless, that he was not very capable of
thought. To think is to forget a difference, to generalize, to
abstract. In the overly replete world of Funes there were nothing but
details, almost contiguous details."


Search terms used:

perfect memory
mnemonic feats
photographic memory
eidetic memory
eidetic imagery

This question was of special interest to me, since I was an eidetiker
until the age of ten, when a head injury and subsequent surgery
seemingly impaired my ability to recall and describe in vivid,
accurate detail things I had seen and read years before. I now believe
I am better off without an eidetic memory. There are definite
advantages to being able to forget certain things.

I hope this information will be useful. Please request clarification
if further information is needed, or if anything I've said is in need
of explanation.

Best wishes,
qpet-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $10.00
Wow, Terrific answere, just what I needed!

Subject: Re: Perfect memory
From: pinkfreud-ga on 22 Mar 2003 08:08 PST
Thank you very much for the five stars and the generous tip!


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