October 22, 2002
7:59 PM   Subscribe

I've always been fascinated with the idea of having a photographic memory. They have products saying you can train yourself but I don't buy it. Can you really train your kid to have a photographic mind before age 6? I'm curious how many Mefites have snapshot memories.
posted by Degaz (36 comments total)
It couldn't be too many of us, or we wouldn't have all these repeated items :)
posted by anser at 8:13 PM on October 22, 2002

a friend of mine claims to have a photographic or "eidetic" memory (there's a difference!) -- which explains to me why he was writing highly detailed, 150 page book reports in US 6th grade about WW1 naval battles. I always assumed he was vastly more intelligent than I; But time is sometimes a levelling agency and, although this gift of his was a relative ( and powerfull) jump start, my own porous, yet highly associative memory and intelligence seems to be, in the long run, at least an equally powerfull gift. Vive le difference!
posted by troutfishing at 8:37 PM on October 22, 2002

I can't think of anything I would like more than a photographic memory. I read around 500 books a year-- about half are non-fiction-- but my retention rate is piss-poor. Think of how smart I would be if I could retain more than a tiny fraction!

Three years of French, four years of Spanish, two years of Japanese and one year of Latin and about all I can summon up is: "Hello" and "Thank you."
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:37 PM on October 22, 2002

Gravy: Be careful what you wish for; you could wind up like Borges's Funes.
posted by languagehat at 8:41 PM on October 22, 2002

Three years of French, four years of Spanish, two years of Japanese and one year of Latin and about all I can summon up is: "Hello" and "Thank you."

The worst of it is, those are English words!
posted by nomis at 8:48 PM on October 22, 2002

What I find odd is that I attempt to balance my attention between "mindnumbing" TV/Movies and "reading is good-for-you" books.

I can detail you perfect synopsises and major plot points of nearly every television program and movie I've watched in the last year. Most notably (and I'm not alone), obscure Simpsons errata, and Discovery channel documentaries.

I don't have the foggiest idea what happened in any of the books I've read.

Take that, "Turn off your TV" assholes.
posted by Stan Chin at 8:49 PM on October 22, 2002

I have a pornographic memory. I remember every dirty picture I ever downloaded more than once.
posted by yhbc at 8:50 PM on October 22, 2002

Secret Life of Gravy - the more I remember, the more I want to forget!
posted by troutfishing at 9:13 PM on October 22, 2002

I took a cognitive psychology course in college. The prof took great pains to debunk certain things -- speed reading, hypnotists being able to take over your mind, and eidetic memory.

He said a study was done on eidetic memory a while back. The researchers in question were always looking for things they could use to measure eidetic memory against: things that would be very difficult to remember and reproduce. It got to the point where they came up with the challenge of showing test subjects pictures of random
dot stereograms
and asking subjects to reproduce them. If I recall, they were only able to ever find one subject who could. The generaly implication was that very very good memories were out there, but true eidetic memory was very elusive.

Curiously enough, the cog sci prof also had a very large dent in his forehead. I never noticed any strange compulsions....
posted by namespan at 9:29 PM on October 22, 2002

Sorry kiddies (i call everyone kiddies), eidetic memory/flashbulb memory/photographic memory doesn't exist. Now, pornographic memory...more research is necessary.
posted by underdog at 9:52 PM on October 22, 2002

I vote for the pornographic memory........I think I have it too ;-)
posted by ericdano at 10:02 PM on October 22, 2002

Interesting links, Degaz. I'll have to remember to revisit them tomorrow. Thanks. For some reason, Steven Wright came to mind while reading the first link.

Oh yeah. I remember...

Everyone has a photographic memory. Some just don't have film.
posted by bragadocchio at 10:14 PM on October 22, 2002

"The prof took great pains to debunk certain things -- speed reading, hypnotists being able to take over your mind, and eidetic memory."

That's interesting. What did your prof say about speed reading?

The very idea of "speed reading" seem ridiculous to me, since I usually read for pleasure, although I realise people take these courses that they can better cram for exams and so on.
posted by lucien at 10:54 PM on October 22, 2002

hmm.. I have no idea of their notion of speed reading but it is possible to seize on certain words in certain places, skipping over the paragraphs, and gain a vague notion the idea of the passage.

Especially if you already have some background in the topic, these cues can serve to recall and reconstruct the knowledge in your head.

Also, on the SATs whenever they ask for specifics, they will give line numbers, which are clearly denoted and thus you don't actually have to read the whole thing, just "skip read" for the nature of the topic. (Although I have enjoyed many a selection)

Ok, I'm not *that* young to be still taking SATs, but I am young enough ;)

The way most writing is constructed in paragraphs helps speed reading tremendously; since you have clearly defined places to look at. Picture cues are the same.

Although I am all for creative writing ;) and I also happen to be able to copy edit, seize my place in music and books semi-miraculously after having looked away and had my attention diverted, and pick out certain words/things to look for if desired fairly easily. Other people can do this, but,

I know that some people can't spell, and since easy correct spelling seems a visual memory function; if people lack such a capability perhaps they will not make good speed readers, since it needs a developed visual capability. For these same reasons people may use a pointer of sorts to help them read, but I do not see the need.

In the end, speed reading is still not preferable, for me at least.
posted by firestorm at 12:09 AM on October 23, 2002

Also you need to be good at reading comprehension; else you will be cheating yourself. Whether the ability is a function of the mentioned or separate I do not know.
posted by firestorm at 12:10 AM on October 23, 2002

The very idea of "speed reading" seems ridiculous to me

Many years ago, in my last year of high school, I did a speed reading course (Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics, I think it was called). I went from ~500 words/minute to ~2200 w/m, reading "ligh t" material, and I think anyone could achieve similar results (several people in the course did significantly better, although I can no longer recall their numbers). The course is basically a series of eye training exercises designed to get rid of bad ha bits like backtracking and subvocalising, and to get the eyes used to a higher rate of input. Like any muscle training, use it or lose it: if you don't keep reading that way, you slow down again. I found that I didn't want to read faster when reading for pleasure: I eat through books too damn fast anyway! I also found that when reading to learn, I slowed down so much as a result of trying to wrap my brain around the material that the speed reading techniques were pointless.

That said, a two-fold increase in reading speed (with no change in comprehension) may be useful to many people, and is available immediately. The habit that slows most readers down the most is backtracking: we actually read "the habit that habit that slows most reade rs most readers down the down the most". To prevent this, trace the line you are reading with your forefinger -- yes, just like your teachers probably made you quit doing when you were learning to read! This will keep you moving forward through the word s, and for most people roughly doubles their reading speed, even for "heavy" material. (Doesn't work so well on a screen, natch, but then I don't really like to read on a screen anyway.)

posted by sennoma at 12:19 AM on October 23, 2002

I'd love to have a photographic memory (exam revision would consist of the mental equivalent of a few *clicks*). However I'd say I'm pretty good at speed reading (I can read a 300 page book in 3 hours if I want to, and often have to STOP myself reading so fast).

The secret is basically to not read all the words - I never read the names of characters, especially if they are complicated fantasy or sci-fi names such as Rudgeldasfud, or whatever. I'm not entirely sure how I manage to do this and keep track of who is who, it must be to do with the shape of the names, rather than the actual names.

As for reading in an exam comprehension situation, thats easy - the questions are normally in the same order they appear in the text, so I find a key word in the question and scan for the shape of the word, rather than the actual word itself.
posted by Orange Goblin at 2:15 AM on October 23, 2002

The secret is basically to not read all the words

Nope, that's skimming not speed reading. I do the same thing (recognise names by shape rather than reading them, etc); I suspect it's quite common. Different thing, but no less useful for lighter fiction. I bet you don't skip words in Dostoevsky or textbooks, though!
posted by sennoma at 4:35 AM on October 23, 2002

I, uhh ... what was that we were talking about? Bush is evil? Damn straight.
posted by Fabulon7 at 5:52 AM on October 23, 2002

I'm pretty sure I've got one. But then again, I can't really compare it to anyone else's, so I'm not 100% sure.

That, or I've just developed good strategies at memorizing things. Most things I memorize I recall in part by seeing them on the page they were on (notes I took in a notebook, text in a textbook). Or is that just how everyone does it?
posted by gramcracker at 6:04 AM on October 23, 2002

Actually, gramcracker, that's how I did it a lot in my schoolin' days. I thought I was the only one...

*doves cry*
posted by Cyrano at 6:25 AM on October 23, 2002

Luria wrote a book on subject "S.", a russian journalist whose memory was virtually limitless. Read more here. A Google search return other interesting stuff.
posted by falameufilho at 6:44 AM on October 23, 2002

Gramcracker, Cyrano: that's how I do it too. The first thing that comes into my mind when I'm trying to recall information is the look of the page it's on. I asked around about this in high school and again in college, and found that it's actuall y quite a common trick. I guess about one in four or five of the people I asked described the same method without being prompted (I asked "how do you remember stuff?", not "do you remember by way of page layouts?").?รต
posted by sennoma at 6:51 AM on October 23, 2002

I always say I have a "Semi-photographic" memory, meaning that I can remember absolutely anything provided that it is not actually useful. I'm a font of Trivia and I kick everyone's ass royally at Trivial Pursuit... or at least I used to, no one will play with me anymore. I've only ever lost one game, and that was because my ex-husband cheated. (I said Versailles, he said the answer was the Palace of Versailles and wouldn't accept it.) Yet, I flunked chemistry in college three times before I gave up, and I got an A on a a test in a math class once (Computer assisted statistics) but I studied for 9 hours. I tend to have a tape-recorder memory rather than a photographic one.... I can "play back" what was said, usually with a trigger. I've always been a fast reader, too. I taught myself to read when I was four, and I've always been way ahead of my age cohort in reading skills while growing up (I was at 6th grade level in first grade and college level by 6th grade). I now read very fast, I'll often finish books in a few hours, especially novels, although I tend to read non-fiction more than novels. Apparently my late grandmother could finish a book a day as well. I never had any "speed-reading" training, I just attribute it to whatever ability allowed me to decode words at such a young age.
posted by CoFenchurch at 7:30 AM on October 23, 2002

I can touch my nose with my tongue.
posted by horsewithnoname at 8:00 AM on October 23, 2002

Once, a long time ago, John Dvorak (I believe) had a column in PC magazine about computer-assisted speed reading. Apparently there are programs out there which will flash one word up on the screen at a time; you can set these programs to flash words at a higher rate than your natural reading rate, and supposedly you'll still be able to follow them. Sounded rather unpleasant but potentially interesting.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 8:08 AM on October 23, 2002

I'm curious how many Mefites have snapshot memories.

Hang out in MetaTalk and you'll soon find out.

I have a good memory.
posted by rory at 8:36 AM on October 23, 2002

My grandmother-in law is losing her mind, and every other noun out of her mouth is "thing" - as in "that thing where you put food to keep it cold."
posted by troutfishing at 9:19 AM on October 23, 2002

underdog: I always love a good debunking, but your links aren't really relevant -- they're addressing "flashbulb memory" (the notion that particularly traumatic events impress themselves perfectly on your memory) and "recovered memory" (Now, Johnny, didn't that evil Satanic day-care worker jam a wheelbarrow into your private parts? Remember? Remember??), neither of which is being talked about here. I'm perfectly willing to believe that "photographic memory" (being able to review in detail something you saw long ago, quoting passages word for word or whatever) doesn't exist, but you'll need to come up with more links to convince me.
posted by languagehat at 9:30 AM on October 23, 2002

speed-reading: I found this test handy just now, although they're trying to sell you some software. Apparently I read at auditory speed with 75% comprehension. I use similar techniques to those described above by sennoma, but I flash through the whole paragraph quickly first, without even trying to recognise any words. I'd be interested in getting quicker without buying anything.
posted by walrus at 10:27 AM on October 23, 2002

I have a really nerdy knack for memorizing domain names.

I go to a site once, and if I like it, it's like, locked in my head.

I watched the Ikea commercial, loved it, and was telling my coworkers about it. They asked how to watch it, I spouted out the whole address (including the video.asp webpage). I can't help it! It's my worthless talent!
posted by gramcracker at 10:35 AM on October 23, 2002

You can easily go from 400 wpm to 800 wpm with speed reading doing a series of simple exercises. I used to teach it at a tutoring center. You won't even feel like you're reading faster.

Imo, it's the internal subvocalization that slows you down to 400 wpm. Get rid of that and you're flying.
posted by mecran01 at 1:05 PM on October 23, 2002

Gee whiz, gramcracker, how on EARTH did you ever remember that entire arcane URL! My god, from the entirely unexpected http://www. at the beginning, to the .com/ section, or even the wholly unintuitive video.asp as a file name- my lord, there must be nearly 8 out of 33 characters that are pure "brute" memorization!

Sorry, that might have been unduly cruel of me. Can't help notice how this has turned into the MeFi Bragging Korner. :)
posted by hincandenza at 5:24 PM on October 23, 2002

Actually, my mockery points out an important facet of even good memories: the ability to recognize or substitute for larger patterns. Just as someone who is netsavvy can be told "MS" and know to type "http://www.microsoft.com", or a good musician will recognize the general harmonies of a section of music to be able to closely reproduce it later, by essentially remembering the basic "idea" of the music and filling in the blanks with what they know about the inherent rules and structure of the music. By comparison, chaotic notes will be as meaningless to a gifted musician as to the lay person- and neither will be any good at memorizing them.
posted by hincandenza at 5:33 PM on October 23, 2002

Same deal with chess positions. Grandmasters can memorize them easily when they're actual positions from a game, but if the pieces are strewn randomly about the board, they can't.
posted by kindall at 5:52 PM on October 23, 2002

well, someone already pointed out that underdog's links were irrelevant, and someone else brought up The mind of a mnemonist (AR Luria's book), so all I can really do is expand.

Luria's account is pretty incredible - the man got yelled at at work for not taking notes & was confused; he had no one to give the notes to... he was then able to repeat back the details of the meeting exactly. It had not occurred to him that this would be out of the ordinary. Luria tested him with random lists which he was asked to recall as long as 15 years later, and he was always able to do it. The thing is, though, that this man was not able to be very intelligent - he couldn't really think abstractly. All these words he experienced almost synesthetically, but he was unable to step back and see the way they interacted, what they had in common and how they fit into the world. It was no easier for him to recall a list of numbers in order (e.g. , 1-20) than a random list of the same amount of numbers not in order!

So - a good memory is a great thing, and we definitely link it to intelligence, but it can sometimes work against the thought process.
posted by mdn at 5:57 PM on October 23, 2002

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