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Photographic memory existance

Everyone has a photographic memory; some just don't have a film" is a familiar and amusing quote that describes the plight of most scientists over the existence of a photographic memory. The intuitive notion of an eidetic or photographic memory has brought a war tag to the science world and to the general public. Would that exist? The response to that question is no. Photographic memory means that the brain works just like a snapshot, which means that you can recover it at will, zoom in, and explore the information. Another somewhat similar concept is eidetic memory. Eidetickers, the name of people that have an eidetic memory, will see a picture, and when the picture is removed, they will still see the picture for a short period. The eidetickers will still examine the picture as if it was physically present. I will analyze evidence that is presented to the scientific community concerning this phenomenon.

Rajveer Meena is the Guinness book record holder for most decimals of PI memorized. He managed to remember 70,000 decimal places in 2015 (Guinness World Record, n.d). A mind of a mnemonist can memorize complex mathematical formulas or placement of tiny dots on a canvas. These people can reproduce poems written in foreign languages that they don’t know. This may be associated with a flashbulb memory. People have the ability to remember some events so vividly that it takes the quality of photographs in some highly emotional events. Such flashbulb memories were thought to be unchangeable over time, and still retaining their original quality, but recent studies clarifies that the memories fade. The accuracy of having a perfect recall is directly proportional to their emotional attachment. The human memory cannot have a perfect photographic memory (Conway, 2013). The memories that hold little emotional attachment will be forgotten, and even the ones with a huge emotional attachment will still fade. This proves that the notion of the existence of a photographic memory doesn’t hold weight in this scientific world.

Barry Gordon is a neurology professor at the University of John’s Hopkins University who has been in the forefront in fighting the idea of the existence of the photographic memory. He states that other people’s memory for a visual material is better than others. No visual memory is truly eidetic. These memories are a result of innate abilities and a zealous familiarity with the material. One epitome of this phenomenon is the ability for chess players to remember the configuration of the chess pieces. Chess experts have a better chance of recalling the positions of the chess pieces than novices (Carroll, n. d.). When the chess pieces are arranged in a way that they cannot occur in real life, the ability is completely neutralized. This is proof that the chess players are not using any photographic imagery to recall the location of the chess pieces and instead, their experiences in seeing many chess board configuration help them remember (Penn State University, 2013).

The well-accepted theory of the working memory explains that the first step in the memory is the sensory memory. The information here lasts only for a brief period after which it is lost completely or retained and processed further. The sensory memory holds data as an actual image. There is a huge possibility that the eidetickers are wired incorrectly which results in the actual image lasting for a longer period than the known brief period. This can be facilitated by changes in the neuronal level due to long-term potential and strengthening of the synaptic efficiency and repeated use that produces long time memories. A small population may be affected by genetic and environmental factors that may affect the neural circuitry to enable the eidetickers to have a better memory (Conway, 2013). The scientific evidence above is a clear depiction that photographic memory does not exist.

Eidetic memory is a phenomenon that exists, and its effectiveness and presence increases depending on the type of work an individual decides to engage in. This is the ability to recall images and information in the exact detail that it was received. This type of memory mainly involves recalling faces to which one had been exposed for a few minutes. Unlike photographic memory, eidetic memory has been proven to actually exist by scientists. It is, however, necessary to note that photographic and eidetic memory are often used interchangeably, and mistakenly. This is because photographic memory majorly deals with remembering page details and figures, especially the measurements of individuals. Eidetic memory is when an individual can immediately place a location to a face, so to speak. Therefore, the claim that disproves the existence of photographic and eidetic memory is wrong and an attempt to downplay the ability of individuals to remember things, especially those that they are not supposed to. Eidetic memory is largely prevalent among children as compared to adults. There are instances in which this ability is perfected in adulthood, especially among those who work in law enforcement. The prevalence estimates of the ability among preadolescents range from about 2 percent to 10 percent (Carroll, n.d.). This indicates that the ability is not gender specific, as was suggested by certain theories. They also claim that eidetic memory is mostly developed among individuals who have certain strains of brain impairment, especially if the impairment is genetic. With a few notable exceptions, however, most research has shown that virtually no adults seem to possess the ability to form eidetic images.

According to Charles Stromeyer, the existence of photographic memory was proven with the case of a woman who had the ability to remember the formation of dots upon a surface. On the first day, the woman was shown the dots, but she had to look at them with her right eye. The next time, the same number was displayed, but she had to look at them through her left eye. The woman was able to combine the dots to create a 3D image. This woman clearly showed the presence of eidetic memory; the dots formed an image in her brain which enabled her to remember the exact placement of the dots. In another scenario, the same woman claimed that she could recall poetry in foreign languages (Penn State University, 2013). This case was, however, unable to be replicated, proving the non-existence of photographic memory.

In a different circumstance, certain scholars stated that their mastery of the pages of the Talmud, 5422 in total, had been done through photographic memory. They stated that they memorized the position of the words, therefore making them aware of which word went where and which one came next. To put this claim to the test, George Stratton pushed pins into certain words of the Talmud, then he asked them to state which words exactly the pins went through. Though the scholars had claimed to memorize the texts, they were unable to pass this test. Stratton dismissed their claim of photographic memory as being an extensive and ongoing memory of the Talmud, but not a result of possessing photographic memory (Penn State University, 2013). This not only proved that photographic memory does not exist, but also the fact that the human brain’s familiarity with certain words may be misinterpreted as having some kind of ability.

In conclusion, eidetic and photographic memories are two terms that are commonly misplaced and misused. Photographic memory has often been believed to deal with figures and other numerical details. Often, people who claim to possess this ability borrow reference from material that they are familiar with, as is stated by Barry Gordon. It would be a misleading statement to justify the presence of this type of memory. The scholars who presented the idea of a photographic memory have been proven wrong, as in the case of Charles Stromeyer. Eidetic memory, and flashbulb memory on the other hand, actually exists. From the above evidences presented, eidetic memory exists, but a photographic memory is non-existent.

References

Carroll Jamie. (n. d.) Does Photographic Memory Exist? Retrieved on 18/1/2018 from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/i-developed-what-appears-to-be-a-ph/

Conway, M. (2013). Flashbulb memories. Psychology Press.

Guinness World Record. (n. d.). Most PI Places Memorized. Retrieved on 18/1/2017 from http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/most-pi-places-memorised

Penn State University. (2013). Introduction to Cognitive Psychology. Retrieved on 18/1/2017 from https://sites.psu.edu/psych256fa13/2013/10/20/does-eidetic-memory-exist/

July 24, 2021

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