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Post No.: 0688photographic


Furrywisepuppy says:


Some people have more exceptional memories than others – but it’s largely down to the use of mnemonics or techniques that aid information retention and retrieval. Plus ample practice.


Under formal scientific test conditions, no hard evidence has been found for the existence of a true ‘photographic memory’ in humans. People’s memories aren’t like photographic cameras, people don’t store images in their brains like in a photo album, and the retrieval of memories isn’t like picking up a photograph and being able to zoom into a detail at will.


Some scientists do, and some don’t, make a distinction between a photographic memory and an ‘eidetic memory’. A temporary eidetic memory in children – particularly autistic children – may disputably exist in very rare cases. Yet if an eidetic memory is defined as the ability to recall an image from memory with high precision for a brief period of time only after seeing it once – then we all essentially have this ability for the vision captured within our foveae, but for some this brief period of time is possibly a bit longer than for others.


If you claim to have a remarkable eidetic memory then you’ll be able to do what chimpanzees can do when it comes to consistently and accurately memorising the randomly placed then hidden positions of nine numbers after seeing them for only half a second. Or if you have a true photographic memory then you’ll be able to reproduce something without errors, as if you were copying from an image, page of text or numbers, or maybe an audiobook passage, that’s essentially right in front of your open eyes or as it’s being played. Any errors (either additions or omissions) that one wouldn’t make compared to if one were copying something that was in front of one’s open eyes or as it’s being played would suggest that the memory is a regular act of reconstruction that’s filtered through the lens of our current self instead of like bringing back up a photograph from one’s phone to see. Our memories aren’t like taking a photographic snapshot of what we see and then it’s saved like a picture in the image folder on our phones – hence errors in recall, which is more like an act of reconstruction, can easily creep in.


We don’t perceive the world through our senses objectively anyway in order to encode perfect photographic replications of reality, hence why even if we were drawing from a life model or still life composition that’s right in front of us, our images won’t be like tracing from a photograph underneath a sheet of paper or from a projected image shining onto a screen, unless we’re skilled artists. It usually takes a lot of training with drawing from life models or still life to learn to see what’s actually out there rather than according to the years of assumptions that we’ve built up in the internal models in our brains about how the world supposedly looks like. Our paws are physically dextrous enough to draw and replicate reality (hence why if we were to trace an image, we can manage to achieve a pretty accurate facsimile) but somewhere between our eyes and our brains we fail to see and replicate precisely what’s actually out there; at least until we take a step back and analyse our work as a whole afterwards.


Our recalls of details we weren’t paying direct or close enough concentration on will potentially be shaped by presumptions and preconceptions. Also, having a strong memory in one domain doesn’t necessarily mean having a strong memory in another – some people fare better at remembering faces but not names, or vice-versa, for instance. The best that we can do is to study hard in order to get really familiar with an image, page of text or other piece of information.


We can for sure train ourselves to become memory champions via learning and practising the use of mnemonics like, for instance, memory palaces, creating wacky and vivid mental images, and number rhyme associations. But because having a great memory in one domain doesn’t necessarily mean having a great memory in another, plus some techniques are only useful for certain kinds of memory tasks – developing a strong memory for one type of task won’t necessarily develop a strong memory for any other. So we could spend thousands of hours training how to memorise stacks of playing cards but this won’t make us necessarily better at recollecting people’s names or where one left the keys; unless one employed relevant techniques and trained diligently at better remembering these kinds of tasks specifically too.


However, this does reinforce the finding that it is techniques, training methods and lots of practice most of all, rather than innate genetics, that develops an extraordinary skill at remembering things, when comparing one human with another – hence anybody can improve their skills with practice (unless one has a cognitive condition that affects memory, like dementia, perhaps).


Those who remember information well firstly put in the effort to pay attention to things and remember things – they consciously repeat to themselves a few times ‘so this person’s name is x’ and ‘this is where I put the y’, for example. They don’t just ‘expect’ information to be memorised without intentionally and directly attending to the effort of trying to recollect things in case they’re important for later. Conscientiousness is perhaps therefore a key attribute. Woof!


‘Déjà vu’, or the feeling that one has lived through a present situation before – for those without a diagnosable medical disorder such as epilepsy or temporal lobe damage – has many different theories. But most of the plausible explanations are along the lines of them being coincidences, or anomalies of memory or false memories. They’re not signs of precognition or paranormal activity. Maybe it’s about how we interpret what we see? Like we could either reason to ourselves that something that looks familiar is a case of déjà vu or alternatively that this familiarity is just a case of it being a fluffy coincidence.


Well our interpretations of whatever we observe are always potentially biased, and so is therefore what we recollect. For example, we may think that we eat a healthy diet yet wonder how we’ve put on weight, or we may believe we don’t waste that much money yet wonder how we’ve got no money left by the end of each week, because of our biased attentions that in turn affect our memories. It can sometimes take installing video cameras to record the secret eating or secret spending that people do to convince them that they’re actually eating or spending as much as they are! This clearly demonstrates again that our memories aren’t the same as still image or video cameras – we can trust unadulterated video camera footage more than our own memories, even when it concerns our own behaviours. Although some individuals are evidently far worse than others, everybody’s perceptions are biased to some degree – it’d be a classic bias to believe that everyone else is biased but not ourselves(!)


Most of us will admit that we recall things clearly sometimes but not so clearly at other times. But how would we always know which memories are the correct and accurate ones and which aren’t? Many of us believe we have excellent memories as a matter of self-esteem, thus we can ‘recall’ something that we thought we saw and then convince ourselves that this was what actually happened, thus reinforcing what may have actually been false. We rarely ever have a video or audio recording or photographic evidence to compare our memories with to prove ourselves wrong, so we tend to think our versions of events or history must be right because we believe it and we haven’t been proven wrong about it. We also tautologically don’t remember any of the stuff we’ve forgotten hence a lot of information goes missing that we’re unaware of and thus don’t question i.e. we’ve forgotten what we’ve forgotten, and therefore logically cannot recollect exactly how much we’ve forgotten. Post No.: 0578 explored how forgetting easily happens at any age, then presented a few more ways we can reduce or delay the amount we forget.


We can fool ourselves without consciously meaning to. And if we don’t know we’re missing something then we won’t likely or can’t admit to it (ignorance is supposedly bliss), which can make us difficult to reason with without objective evidence, like independent photographic evidence from a camera, provided to us to show us what we’ve missed despite it being right in front of us at the time. Sometimes the denials are conscious however – in private, many gorge on snacks as if, if other people don’t see it, it doesn’t count! So memories are fallible, and some people will even purposely present a false account of their typical average consumption when they’re with company and being publicly scrutinised because they don’t want the reputation of being a greedy glutton. A lie is more convincing to socially deliver if we believe in it ourselves too. It all elucidates how much numerous biases play a huge role in how we can delude ourselves about our self-image, in any area of our life or personality.


Because we can see or hear what we want to see or hear based on confirmation biases when signals are ambiguous, when attention isn’t fully paid, when cognitive capacity is low due to tiredness or being overwhelmed, or due to simply misperceiving something – we can end up ‘remembering’ false or incorrect memories. And then it can be extremely difficult for anyone to try to reason with anyone who holds false or incorrect memories. We will seldom doubt our own memories but are always ready to doubt someone else’s if they differ from our own! We should all be aware that our own memories are frequently fallible – but the ‘bias blind spot’ means that most of us will believe that we’re not biased or fallible, or at least not as much, as others are. We likewise get frustrated that ‘other people aren’t seeing the world objectively’ as if we (and those who agree with us) are the only ones seeing things objectively – but no one perceives the world objectively. No one has a true photographic memory. And it’s most highly likely a bias when some people claim to have one.


Woof! If you still believe you have a photographic memory though then you can volunteer to be studied in a scientific experiment. The scientific community would be extremely interested in you. The same with any other exceptional skills you may claim to possess.


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