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What is a photographic memory?

  1. Feb 13, 2004 #1


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    Just curious.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 13, 2004 #2


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    In my case; one that needs developing!
  4. Feb 14, 2004 #3
    Probably rather different (yet similar) then an auditory one, words, and thoughts, outside of 'pictorally' or scenic memory....
  5. Feb 14, 2004 #4


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    Photographic or eidetic memory appears to have different interpretations from what I've seen.

    I was surprised to see that one of the common definitions seems to be the ability of a person to look at a picture or scenario and for the next few minutes they can actually continue to see it before it fades.

    I have always been curious about the way people remember things. I'd like to hear how other people here "remember".

    I have long term "visual" memory, but it doesn't fall into the classifications I have seen of "photographic" memory.

    For instance when I recall something I've read, I see the actual book and the text on the page, often also the surroundings, like I'm looking at a snapshot. The same for recalling conversations, I see the other person and can describe their clothing, hair, etc... because I actually "see" the converstaion I am remembering. My memory is a big photo album where I can just "pull" a snapshot of what I need at any time. With the chronic lack of sleep lately, I am getting worse at finding the "snapshots".

    Studying doesn't work for me, I skim through the material and then "pull" out what I need from my memory.

    But I don't consider myself what some people term as a "visual" person. I don't have to see something to understand it, actually I am more "auditory" when it comes to understanding.
  6. Feb 14, 2004 #5


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    In common parlaince, the term "photographic memory" is used to describe the capacity for total recall; the ability of certain rare individuals to recall any and every bit of information to which they have ever been exposed. For such individuals, the act of seeing (or otherwise detecting) information and the act of memorising are one and the same, so glancing at a preiodic table of ellements (for example) would be the same as studying or memorising the periodic table of ellements.

    I get insanely jealous just thinking about them !
  7. Feb 14, 2004 #6


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    Last edited: Feb 14, 2004
  8. Feb 14, 2004 #7
    I believe that the 'Memory' part of remembering, leads to action deep within the mind, I have a recolection of reading a Theory wherby the Mind capture's images similar to 'shutter's' on a Camera. There was a suggestion that the least amount of time that the image is allowed to appear, the greater the impact for a person to remember it?

    It had something to do with, I cannot remember the exact terminology, but it was a 'BLIP?' or I believe it's the effect of short-time suggestive images that Advertisers etc..etc use in order to influence you to but things, there is a name for it (looks like it aint effected me ),actually it was a SUBLIMINAL/STROBE like intrusion into your Subconsciousness!

    I do recall when I was working with some local mates, we were all gathered around at the start of a shift waiting for the Foreman to come and allocate our workday, and the subject was Memory and Memorizing. Some Guys were arguing that they had amazing powers of observation and instant Clear memory.

    Now one person was adamant that He could clearly remember being wheeled around in a Buggy by his mother, and reckons he was nearly one years of age?..he could describe all the local streets..clothes people wore..etc..etc. Eventually everyone was amazed at his adamant Clear memory, and no amount of argument could be made to explain that it was surely not a 'True' visual account.

    Anyway everyone started describing their earliest 'Memory Moment', as there was about 14 people there..there was some unusaul Memories being discussed, but nobody could 'TOP' the Person who by know was feeling quite full of himself..as I was last in line so to speak.. and just as the Foreman was approaching us, the 'Photographic Memory Man' turns to Me and asks:What is the earliest Memory do you have Paul?...I reply I can remember Climbing into the Egg!
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2004
  9. Feb 14, 2004 #8
    I don't know if I have photographic memory but seems like I can remember equations after I see it. For a very long time, like 6 months without looking at it again.
  10. Feb 29, 2004 #9
    Humm...had though about this a bit, and it's sorta like the only manner that I could use to describe my thoughts, are as "sensations" not really auditory, but I can do sound, not really pictoral, even thought I can do pictures, too, more like kinestetic.....feely, "palpably sensable" something like that.......
  11. Jan 4, 2007 #10


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    Making analogies with computer science is mildly pseudoscientific but fun! :)

    Here it goes.. starting with an example to set up the scene.
    When you see the "Coca-Cola" logo, you identify it as being the "Coca-Cola" logo, and when you will recall that white text on red background, you will know what it is.
    But... can you draw it?
    Take a pencil and draw it! Most people will fail miserably.
    Because the "normal" memory is lazy and just uses the meanings of items (in the same ways Java / C# use pointers to objects).

    Photographic memory is the exact opposite. Photographic memory isn't concerned with the "meaning" of a memory, instead it just cares about the "image data" of the memory itself.
    Spotting the license number of a speeding car involves the photographic memory: like an imprint in some area of the brain you can spell out the letters (meaning) afterwards and yes, you can train to do this, too. :)
  12. Jan 4, 2007 #11
    I wonder if the original poster will photographically remember this thread.
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2007
  13. Jan 4, 2007 #12


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    That's incredible.
  14. Jan 4, 2007 #13


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    You're just like me when it comes to recalling material.

    I certainly won't complain about it. :biggrin:

    I myself am also curious to how other people remember. Is it visual images like us or not?

    So, if you're similiar to me, when recalling material, you remember basically where in the book it is right? Like I'll know if it's the last line or such and such. So, when finding a reference, it won't take long.
  15. Jan 4, 2007 #14


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    Yes, I can skip right to what I'm looking for, with only having glanced through the material once. It kills people.
  16. Jan 4, 2007 #15


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    It's awesome though.

    It's like your whole life is a movie. For me anyways.

    My memory serves me pretty well. I actually had a conversation with a friend the other day about it. It seems that he needs to write things down to recall them easier. He does this about girls he likes, and would like to remember their ideas and such. Anyways, it came down to he doesn't really remember that stuff. But for me, I don't really have a choice. I don't remember everything, but I remember lots.

    So, is it the same for you? Like, you have a pointless conversation, but you remember it for like the next few years! I do and I don't have a choice most of the time. :frown:
  17. Jan 5, 2007 #16


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    You need photographic memory to keep straight all the features, pros and cons of different models of digital cameras. :bugeye:
  18. Jan 5, 2007 #17
    My mother has a talent known as "perfect pitch". When I play an incorrect note on the piano, she calls out the correct note even from another part of the house. My father had an excellent sense of taste and could tell you the spices in a dish that someone else had cooked. I exhibit no such talents. My camera has a photographic memory stick.
  19. Jan 5, 2007 #18
    Yes, I do that too. But I need to have looked at the book for a long time to get to that stage, so I wouldn't say my memory was photographic (unless you say it has a very long exposure time!).

    I remember in my finals, I could 'look up' equations in the books in my head - ie. turn to page 65 and read the third equation down.
  20. Jan 5, 2007 #19


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    While I was doing a computer networking course, I was lectured to by an assistent who I suspect had a photographic memory. This was in South Africa, she had scored top in the country in her final highschool year.

    I asked her a question and she gave the answer in the exact same language that was in the book, but it didn't seem that she really understood it in a philosophical way.

    Any fool can read from a book without understanding it, and probably any person with a photographic memory can read from memory without understanding it too well, so perhaps having a photographic memory has its downside, because if you can't remember things all that well you will make the effort to abstract the commonalities and draw comparisons and thereby gain a more functional understanding.

    However, if you can refer to the manual at a whim, perhaps it is only a matter of practicing to come to a functional understanding. In fact, it's probably the case that abstracting and generalising only serve the purpose of indexing the knowledge in your mind so that you can refer to it as you need it, and photographic memory won't provide a good index, although if you can remember the table of contents that shouldn't be a problem.
  21. Jan 5, 2007 #20


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    Maybe because I can't draw!!

    Is that really interesting? If so, that makes me have an excellent sense of taste as well!
  22. Jan 5, 2007 #21
    You can train your memory to be photographic , for example the current world champion who can memorize 13 decks of cards, came by his superb recall because he had a poor memory, so he trained it using techniques he'd read about.

    Derren Brown(psychological "magician") has also trained his memory in this way, he was given about an hour to memorise a book at random from the Britsh library. He then asked a man to pick a page pargraph and line at random, he then repeated word for word the entire paragraph. He also did this with a dictionary. When asked the definition of a word he not only gave the definition of the word perfectly but also the next word following it.

    Me I have a ridiculously good long term memory, but a very bad particularly sequential short term memory, this means that it may take me a while to remember something but once I do it's pretty much in their for years. Probably something to do with dyslexia, visual memory, imagination, are usually quite well developed but at the expense of short term memory.

    I suspect the visual ability has some sort of correlatory relationship to memory. For example no matter how drunk I get I can always remember every detail of the night before without a problem, but when I was at school I had trouble remembering a few things in seuqence, like go and tell x this and then tell y that, which is funny as I was considered quite bright so I got sent on errands alot.:smile:
  23. Jan 5, 2007 #22
    my photographic memory is terrible. i cant remember the very most my childhood(and im only 19), and when i can, i can barely visualize it, i remember it as words(probably because the times when i spoke about it to others, it became a memory made of words...)
    though, i do have enough for my daily life...

    also i have a problem with remembering text, i cant remember it as a picture, only in a minimal sense i can remember the details i have decided to be more important. so in high-school i could never get a high grade in any subject such as history, bible, and such... i did pass in a "reasonable" grade, though now, i cant recall any memory from what i learned.

    although what i mentioned above, i can remember well things which i can generalize, such as math or physics, when you know the basis, you can use both memory and logic to recall another phenomenon caused by more basis laws. so there isnt much to remember.
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2007
  24. Jan 5, 2007 #23


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    i identify to some extent with what evo said, as when i recall something i saw in a book, i recall whether the page was on the elft or right in the book (even or odd numbered page) and what part of the page it is on, but not the exact line.

    I did not think i recalled also surroundings, but come to think of it, when some one asked earlier about mathematicians memory, i recalled reading the proof of riemanns characterization of integrability in 1970.

    on that occasion i waS IN MY OLD VW bug driving across country, and i recalled not only the "benjamin" book i read it in with the small off white soft rough pages, but i also recalled the car and the drivers seat and the surrounding countryside, which i recall as open country in the west on a bright day.

    this is so normal for me that it never occurred to me to remark it before.

    just now i brought back a snapshot of my calc professor in class in 1960, with what he wrote on the board, what he said about it, the room, the seating arrangements, and even the cigarette he was improperly smoking in class, under the no smoking sign.

    but my memory is very selective abut whaT TO RECALL IN THIS WAY. I only recall thigns that made an impression on me at the time.

    but for example, right now i can rerun a film f teaching in my class this part semester. so my photographic memory is not just static, but also moving picture like.

    when i first recovered some of my old comic book colection, and began to read them after 45 years, i could already se in ym minds eye what pictures were coming up in the next panel before looking at it.

    Right now i can rerun the strips mentally from some of my favorites, like Count of MONTE cristo, or Les Miserables.

    I thought everyone did this. ?? I am not so algebraic, more visual, but once when the adding machine broke down at our church I added up all the gifts correctly as they were called out, for the entire day, to the penny, from a fairly large congregation. I know it was correct because they checked it with an adding machine which at first made a mistake, and which was then corrected to agree with my sum. i did this visually, writing the numbers in my mind on a board and adding them as usual.

    this arithmetic stuff is what i thought was unusual. the visual stuff happens daily. like right now i can rerun the whole afternoon movie of interactions betwen myself and others at my office, only slightly fuzzy, but complete with voices in their original speech. similarly for many interpersonal events of the past week. is this routine for everyone?

    But lots of things i see go unntoiced because i am routinely thinking about math instead of paying attention.

    in fact i cannot think about math either until i build a sort of visual structure as background, in my mind. when that is there and set up, everything flows from it.
    my colleague and i call it something like loading data into RAM.

    as i age i seem to have less available RAM. e.g. typing mistakes have increased, because not knowing how to type, i used to process visually every keystroke and order them correctly, but this is harder as i age.

    i know this is about memory, but the creative visual mental process is interesting too. i recommend highly the description in hadamard's famous book of the mental process of mozart, who completed a whole symphony in his mind before writing any of it down.

    there is also a discussion of the mental proceses of einstein and poincare, based on remarks they made about it. having read in college that some linguists claimed thought to be impossible without words, it was very encouraging to me as a young man to find that some great thinkers in science disagreed.
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2007
  25. Jan 5, 2007 #24


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    I suppose everyone considers their own experience to be normal. The first time I read feminist literature (the second sex) it was a great surprise to me that someone could have such a different experience.

    It certainly seems like I think only with words, or rather sounds. Sometimes I can't remember someone's name but I can vaguely remember the sound of it. Sometimes I find that it helps to think aloud or to type what I am thinking because otherwise I lose track of it. I can't follow a complex train of thought without some medium in which to frame it, so usually that means thinking out loud.

    I'm sure there are all types here.
  26. Jan 5, 2007 #25


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    My youngest child had a photographic memory, at least that's what I called it. He learned to read differently (at age 3) than anyone else I've seen; he never had patience for phonetics or word roots and wouldn't sit still for them. Instead he'd sit with a book, point to a new word and ask what it was. After hearing it once he had it for life--spelling, pronunciation and meaning. He could read Time magazine before he was four. Used to blow people away.

    He also loved maps and became our navigator (by memory) in the car. The schoolyard where his oldest brother played little league had a map of the US painted on the asphalt, about 20 feet across with the states outlined. If we called out a state, he'd run his little legs over and jump on it. It attracted quite a crowd. He had also memorized and could visualize the state capitals, birds and flowers, so someone would yell out "Bismark" or "poppy" and he'd run over to the right lcoation and jump. He was three.

    By this time he was also acting as the family Rolodex. My wife fed him the names, numbers and addresses of our friends and relatives. Instead of looking something up, we'd just ask "What's Jeanie's number?" and the answer would come back in his sweet little voice.

    Later in elementary school, when asked about a test that he aced that the rest of the class bombed, he told us it was easy because he just wrote down the entire chart and notes that his teacher had written on the board some weeks earlier.

    By the time he was 10 his photographic recall had faded. He made it to the last round of the state spelling bee one year but had worked for weeks to memorize meanings and spellings, and even then hadn't mastered all the ones in the study book.

    Now he still has a slightly better than average memory, unless he's asked to take out the trash or load the dishwasher, in which case his memory is faulty altogether :smile:
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