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Photographic memory

  1. Oct 28, 2003 #1
    what exactly is a photographic memory and is it possible for someone to devolp it??
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 28, 2003 #2


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    A photographic memory would be for instance looking at 10 items without making an effort recognizing the items and remembering them.

    When asked, a detailed description can be given as to what those 10 items were, simply by bringing back the initial image and analyzing it AFTER it was seen.
  4. Oct 28, 2003 #3
    Photographic memories are not nearly as powerful as most people think and hollywood portrays them. I know a few kids with photographic memories - they really don't have a huge advantage over other kids with just good memories. Photographic memories, as the name implies, deals with the ability to recall visual experiences. Some people I know claim to be able to read small sections of books again right after they close them.
  5. Oct 28, 2003 #4


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    hmm.. now where did i put that camera?
  6. Oct 28, 2003 #5
    I think this ability holds its own in some aspects of life. I play chess at my school, and the person whom gives me the greatest competition has a photographic memory. He can recall past instances in which the game was in a similar situation. He can remember if that situation was good or not and subsequently make the right move.

    I, on the other hand, can remember very little if anything from past chess games.
  7. Oct 28, 2003 #6
    Studies done on people with extraordinary memory capabilities showed that they frequently use pneumonic devices for remembering large amounts of information. One description was a hallway this person created in his mind, and he would just imagine himself walking down that hall, and see items associated with things he'd memorized, and thus have complete recall.

    where's biology forums- I know she'd have some input on this.
  8. Oct 29, 2003 #7
    Oliver Sacks frequently references a book called The Mind Of A Mnemonist by Russian Neurologist A.R. Luria. I haven't read it but it is apparently the case study of a man with a phenominal memory.

    As Zantra points out this is accomplished by his associative abilities: he remembered things by association with a mental image of a structure with halls and rooms. My recollection is that, finding his memory had a natural tendency to operate this way, he deliberately worked on developing it further.

    Sacks says this book has been translated into English, but they didn't have it at the library when I checked so I suppose it is rare.

    I have heard that anyone can improve their memory by using this associative technique, but it takes alot of work.
  9. Oct 29, 2003 #8
    improve yes. Improve to THAT degree, doubtful. Granted neuroscience is still in a budding stage, But we are talking about the limits of gentics here. It's been shown through studies that people of genius generally are genetically predisposed. That's to say that thier synapses generally fire at a faster rate and are closer together, or arranged differently than the average persons. Of course don't ask me for a link, but I know I've heard that fairly recently.
  10. Oct 29, 2003 #9


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    I am not sure about that it is genetically determined.. mainly developmental. The trick is to stimulate your brain a lot, there is a saying: neurons that fire together wire together. At one point we use only part of our brain, it would be good to know how to increase communication between different parts of the brain.. I think practice will facilitate that.
  11. Oct 29, 2003 #10
    I have seen an example of the book type of photographic memory.

    A 10 year old child I know went to a church camp and returned having learned several Bible verses. A dozen different verses. He beat out high school kids in memorizing them.

    His mother wanted him to tell us some of the verses so she could write them down including where they occur in the Bible. He said he didn't have to memorize that part, but he would tell her anyway. I asked him how he could do that and he said, "It was written on the page so he could 'see' it now."

    I, being somewhat sceptical, looked the verses up as he told us the chapter and verse and followed along as he "read" them from his memory. He did not miss one word. The amazing thing is, if he couldn't pronounce the word he could still spell it!

    I like to say that I have a photographic memory, but forgot to take the lens cover off.

    Actually, I have photographic memory of images such as people and places that I have seen. It allows me to reposition them to be able to paint fantastic or surreal images in my artwork (not every artist can do that).
  12. Oct 29, 2003 #11


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    This is a very old technique. Merchants were not particularly educated long ago. They often could not read or write. They used to create memory houses for themselves. They would make rooms for various customers and furnish those rooms with various things to remind them of debts and deals etc. There is some evidence that human memory is much more powerful than we realize, but it has atrophied like an unused muscle in most people.

    BTW - Mnemonic deals with memory, pneumonic deals with lungs.

  13. Oct 29, 2003 #12
    I'd agree with this......
  14. Oct 29, 2003 #13
    The astonishing memories of some autistic people, and people with Asperger's syndrome might be used to argue that when memory is TOO good, it's a sign of underlying pathology.
    Neurons are actually supposed to fire in a give-and-take way. When they fire together the result is a seizure.
    There is alot of evidence pointing to the fact that the more of our brain we are using at once, the more likely it is to burn out and crash. They've done P.E.T. scans on people in manic states and found their brains were using up sugar like crazy (pun intended). This kind of "overdrive" can only go on so long and the person will crash into a depression.

    Excercizing one little brain function at a time, improving that one, turns out to be the best way to go. Pianists, for example, do excercises to improve the independence of the fingers, one finger at a time. The connections between different parts of the brain are already all pretty good. The trouble arises because you have alot of poorly trained parts, well connected to alot of other poorly trained parts. The situation is really the opposite of the common misconception about not using as much of our brains as we should.
    When it comes to the brain, quality is better than quantity.
  15. Oct 29, 2003 #14
    Autism and Aspergers patients. I've read several studies on them. The current prevelant theory is that they are born with damaged parts of the brain, and so to compensate, the parts that do function correctly, do so on a much higher level. It's like your accute sense of hearing when you are blind. The other senses compensate. Same principle. Now if we could just figure out how to utilize that to artificially increase intelligence...
  16. Oct 29, 2003 #15


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    The subgroup of autistic patients with an extreme mental capability are savants. I wouldn't say that a very good memory is a sign of underlying pathology, not at all.

    You misunderstand. It is about creating memory, how does that work? By creating routes for electrical signalling. How are those routes created? By connecting neurons. Our brain has an excess of neurons. The way connections are made is by wiring the neurons that fire together and eliminating the neurons that do not fire together. Maybe my example only goes for the development of vision? Since that is where I read the statement.

    I am not saying to radically use all of the brain at the same time all the time. Rather about utilizing different parts of the brain on intent. Maybe my wording wasn't so good, I meant practicing different tasks and being able to call upon them when needed 'communication between different part of the brain'.
  17. Oct 29, 2003 #16


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    Let me just explain the 'fire together wire together' concept a little further, I don't mean to confuse people.

    Where I got the concept is in the development of vision. At the back of the eye are receptors which pick up a signal, a photon, all these receptors activate neurons. The neurons bundle together and go through the blind spot to the brain. In the brain they reorganize themselves on an area of the brain which will translate the signal to an image in the mind. But how do the bundled neurons reorganize themselves in the brain to make sense??

    Here is where the fire together wire together concept comes in.

    Experiments have been done in infants, where a single eye was covered with a cloth in the first few years of life. The neurons in the brain for this eye will die! The neurons in the other eye, receiving visual input will actually develop normally.

    If two neurons don't fire together, it means the are not next to each other in the eye, the connection is lost. If two neurons DO fire together, it is very likely that they are located in the same proximity on the eye, a connection is reinforced.

    I hope that explains.
  18. Oct 29, 2003 #17
    Ah, yes, but I didn't say "a very good memory". I said when a memory is TOO good. In my high school there was a guy who remembered what every sign said at every intersection he had ever stopped at while riding in a car.
    He spent his spare time sketching these intersections out, with all the signs in their proper relative locations to each other.
    His memory wasn't limited to this: he could remember anything you told him to remember. He got A's in any class that fundamentally depended on memorization, and was miserable at everything else. He was very strange looking, stuttered terribly, and once in a while threw a major temper-tantrum which usually involved hurling a chair across the room. People spoke about vague brain damage. Later I realized he was a high functioning autistic savant.

    Asperger's people aren't nearly so easy to spot. It takes a fair amount of interaction with them to start realizing how "off" they are socially, because alot of them are very good at mimicing social behaviours without knowing why other people are doing what they do. Asperger's people also have really excellent memories, and frequently do well in academics. I tend to agree with Zantra in supposing that, to the exent something isn't working in their brain, it frees up attention to be put into memorization.
    Yes, I am trying to prod you into clarifying your terminlogy. "Routes" aren't created by neurons firing "together", but rather by neurons firing in series.
    As far as I know, what you're talking about happens with all brain functions. My point is that neurons firing in series, one fires, which triggers the next one to fire, can amount to a line of communication betwee one part of the brain and another. When they fire "together", at the same time, you get a seizure.
    It isn't just you, or your wording. Everyone repeats that saying about how we only use 20% of our brainpower, and the implication is that most people are lazy. Brainpower actually result from using less of your brain, but more effectively.
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2003
  19. Oct 29, 2003 #18
    now that makes me wonder what we could do if we could use 100% of our brain.....telekenisis comes to mind lol?
  20. Oct 29, 2003 #19


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    I guess we would be in a frantic state of disfunction, unable to make any decisions

    And Zooby, I also knew a person who was just literally a walking encyclopedia, literally!! As a child (6 yrs old?) he was bored at school and just read the encyclopedia in the library, and actually remembered it!
  21. Oct 29, 2003 #20


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    You are right, generally the firing together would be serial, but in the eye example it is definately analogous! If that can be expressed in such a way..
  22. Oct 29, 2003 #21
    Cheese, and here I was sitting thinking that the "Fire to Wire" thing was the "one little thing at a time" that Zoobyshoe talked about, what a yutz i am!
  23. Oct 29, 2003 #22
    No. Somehow you have missed the point of what I'm saying about brainpower being a matter of quality and not quantity. Using 100% of your brain, all at the same time, would be a tonic-clonic seizure.
  24. Oct 29, 2003 #23
    yeah true but i mean like imagin if we could actually use it without any side effects....or seizures lol
  25. Oct 29, 2003 #24
    If I am right, then firing together would not be serial, but synchronous.

    Firing together = firing at the same time.

    Firing one after another = serial
  26. Oct 29, 2003 #25
    If you could get rid of the bad effects, then you would live in something like a manic state where you would be super-intelligent, efficient, brimming with energy, no need for sleep.

    Sometimes people in these states hallucinate superpowers, like telekinesis, but since we are stipulating there are no bad side effects, then there would be no hallucinations. You could, however, sit and read physics material, understand, and retain it, at an incredibly high speed.
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