Some individuals have the ability to store in their memory, and for an indefinite period of time, an extraordinary amount of information. A very singular gift called absolute memory. Even if to this day many elements remain to be discovered about it, eidetic memory (also called “absolute memory” or “exceptional memory”), would allow rare individuals to have the ability to memorize impressive quantities of ‘information and access it very quickly. Presentation of this extraordinary phenomenon.
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DEFINITION OF EIDETIC MEMORY
People with eidetic memory are said to have exceptional memory capacities. They would be able to quickly memorize huge masses of information and restore them in a fraction of a second, like a powerful computer or digital calculator.
These “geniuses of knowledge”, “gifted autists” or “hypermnesics” depending on the version of scientists, are able to instantly memorize a large number of images, sounds or objects, before describing them with great precision.
WHERE DOES THE WORD “EIDETIC” COME FROM?
The word “eidetic” comes from the ancient Greek eidos, which itself comes from the verb eidomaï, “to appear”.
The verb eídô means “to see”. The common name eidos can mean “form” in the following senses: form of the body, appearance of a person or thing. According to a philosophy developed by Aristotle called “alcoholism”, every being (individual or object) is inseparably composed of a matter and a form.
EIDETIC MEMORY: AN ABSOLUTE AND PHOTOGRAPHIC MEMORY AT THE SAME TIME?
In phenomenology (science of essences), eidetic reduction is a method allowing the philosopher to move from the consciousness of things to pure essences in order to attain an intuition of the eidos, the necessary structure of the thing. This operation transforms the perception or the experience into a schematic object, called essence.
By eliminating all that is contingent and accidental, we will only retain what is essential. If the links between this method and the actual functioning of eidetic memory remain to be confirmed, we can nevertheless glimpse a possible similarity in what is the faculty of concentration of information in what is most intrinsic.
Absolute memory is defined as the ability to remember a large amount of information in extremely high detail. This memory is especially present in children. It would then disappear in adulthood, but not always.
In psychology, the eidetic image corresponds to the ability for certain individuals to represent to themselves visually and with almost photographic accuracy, a scene or objects perceived recently.
A few rare autistic scientists, particularly those with Asperger’s syndrome, have developed a formidable ability to reproduce without error the content of documents, such as treatises on wave mechanics, memoirs on entomology or, more prosaically, indicators of bus or railways, while these texts may have been traveled at a speed that prohibits conventional reading. This is why we often talk about photographic memory.
Finally, whether absolute or photographic, eidetic memory is in many cases based on the ability to fix in a few moments information that was initially complex, whether it be an image, a text, a sound, a precise geographical location, etc.
FAMOUS PEOPLE WITH EIDETIC MEMORY
Mozartis spontaneously taken as an example to evoke famous people endowed with eidetic memory. Indeed, this gifted musician in perfect pitch would have remembered the composition of Allegri’s Miserere (a complex work lasting about twelve minutes) heard only once during an Easter Mass at the Sistine Chapel. But the prodigious Austrian composer would not be the only one to enjoy this particularly powerful form of memory.
Nicknamed “Human camera”, Stephen Wiltshire would be able to reproduce in great detail the plan of a city (Hong Kong, Madrid, Rome, Tokyo, Jerusalem, and others) after having flown over it for a few minutes in a helicopter.
In October 2006, the Japanese Akira Haraguchi would have managed to enumerate, for 16 hours in a row, 100,000 decimals of the number Pi while the common people, faced with the same challenge, stop after a few dozen decimals, it has an incredible ability to learn by heart.
Kim Peek who inspired the character in the movie Rain Man had Asperger’s syndrome, microcephaly and other brain abnormalities. This man, who died in 2009, would have memorized nearly 12,000 books at the end of his life at a rate of 10 seconds per page.
If other famous people like Napoleon Bonaparte or the former great chess champions Bobby Fischer and Gary Kasparov are also regularly cited when discussing eidetic memory, we can just as easily refer to fictional characters. Among them, Sherlock Holmes, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the hero of the novel Le Parfum by Patrick Süsskind, Lisbeth Salander, heroine of Sieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy, and Spencer Reid played by Matthew Gray Gubler in the television series Criminal Minds. This crime fiction genius has an IQ of 187, he is able to read 20,000 words per minute which he memorizes perfectly thanks to his eidetic memory.
THE EIDETIC MEMORY SUBJECT TO CONTROVERSY
Many are the detractors of eidetic memory, like the scientist Marvin Le Minsky who in his book The Society of the Spirit, considers this exceptional memory to be a legend and a myth.
Psychologist and chess player Adriaan de Groot has nevertheless managed to provide some rational basis for this type of memory, thus discrediting its attribute of myth.
In the course of his experiments, de Groot submits complex positions of memorizing pieces to great chess champions. Champions were able to remember an impressive amount of information, far more so than amateurs. Apparently, this experiment supported the theory of eidetic memory. However, after presenting champions with impossible part layouts in real games, the accuracy of their memories was similar to that of amateurs. This shows that the champions had developed an ability to memorize in order to predict rational play compositions rather than being holders of absolute eidetic capacity.
Adriaan de Groot concludes that you are not born a champion, you become one. In other words, we all have the same predisposition and structure of the mind, but to be even more successful, this predisposition must be complemented by a real arsenal of champion which can only be acquired after years of commitment, study, tenacity and passion.
HOW TO GET AN EIDETIC MEMORY?
It would seem that eidetic memory capacity is more about explicit (or declarative) short-term memory. That is, our ability to memorize information that we can reproduce through language over a rather short period of time (between 0.5 seconds and 10 minutes after the information enters the brain). Nonetheless, those who relate eidetic memory to a related form of hypermnesia may also consider that it may as well manifest itself through long-term memory.
But you will understand, the exceptional feats of eidetic memory are generally attributed to advanced memorization techniques rather than to the innate differences that would constitute the brains of a few gifted by nature.
It is therefore possible, by means of memorization methods (mnemonic techniques, associations of ideas, repetition, “sequential” technique for example) to acquire a form of eidetic memory. Everyone is able to develop this “gift” by building their brain through memory exercises adapted to the desired application, to improve their memory. In other words, the practice of brain sports must be done according to the discipline you practice: remember a combination of numbers, faces, courses, tastes and flavors, etc. For each purpose and according to your profile, there are more or less suitable methods to help you achieve your goals.
Besides the regular practice of your cerebral gymnastics, it is also advisable to keep your mind alert in order to frequently get it out of the “automatic pilot” of daily habits:
Do activities that stimulate your brain: crossword puzzles, puzzles, sudoku, learning a foreign language or a musical instrument.
Banish sources of stress, negative emotions, anxiety, depression, anger and other states of intense tension.
Get regular physical activity.
Limit what can distract attention during your memorization phases, for example, avoid doing multiple things at once.