Does Photographic Memory Exist?

Edit: this post was originally about an article, but it turned into a discussion about photographic memory, so I’ve changed the thread title.

See also Does Photographic Memory Exist?

The original post is below:

It’s a good article, but I do wish the writer wouldn’t have suggested that photographic memory is somehow rare, it’s about 10% of the general populace and usually nobody bothers to develop it beyond the very basic level.

It is nice though whenever the media picks up on the fact that memory is something that people have to work for, in that it’s not purely something you’re born with.

I don’t think there is any solid evidence that photographic memory exists. If it did, I think someone with that ability would have already won a memory competition. :slight_smile:

Here’s an article by a neuroscientist on the topic: Does Photographic Memory Exist?

Also: Kaavya Syndrome.

I would love for photographic memory to exist, but, as far as I know, no one has ever been tested under controlled conditions with reproducible results.


Considering that I used to have it, it’s definitely real. I technically still have it, it’s just that I’ve spent time watering it down for personal reasons.

It does get overplayed in terms of the degree of recall, but to say that it doesn’t exist is just ignorance. The issue has always been controlled recall. The brain takes in about 100 million pieces of information a second and doesn’t have time to process all the data.

The result there is that the images are mainly available to the lower portions of the brain as the addressing doesn’t make it to the upper portions of the brain.

It’s a bit like a room where all the mail gets dumped very quickly. Some of it will get processed and is available by name or room number; but most of it is just there and unless you happen upon the information you’re looking for it can be a challenge to locate any of it.

However, once one does come up with the correct location, the information is definitely there, it’s just that you can’t reach it the way that you would normally reach other types of memory.

The other issue is that by its nature the memories aren’t particularly stable. The brain has issues keeping up with the memory formation process. I’ve managed to reign it in a bit in recent years, but the condition is absolutely debilitating as it becomes very difficult to remember what portion of events other people are remembering and as soon as I start to dream portions of memories get wiped out.

So, yes, despite what the neuroscientists might claim, it’s a very real phenomenon, even if it does get overstated by folks and doesn’t work the way that people expect it to.

That’s interesting – have you ever had it tested under controlled conditions? I’d really like for it to exist, especially if it could be developed to a significant degree. :slight_smile:

I believe it’s possible that some people have extraordinary visual memory, but when I hear the words “photographic memory”, to me it means something more along the lines that someone could look at an image like the one below (or even a significant fragment of it) for just a few seconds and then reproduce it from the mental image.

I’m not even sure if this video could be considered “photographic memory” in the way that it’s usually meant, because it appears that the information has to be pre-arranged in a certain way that facilitates the use of mnemonics. (I could be wrong…)

There is another interesting video here ( that shows that chimpanzees have a greater ability than humans to take mental “photos” of images, but it is still just a relatively small amount of information.

I’m not saying that exceptional visual memory doesn’t exist – only that “photographic memory” has never been shown to exist in controlled studies, as far as I know.

There’s nothing extraordinary about it. The extraordinary claim here is that it doesn’t exist. This is a remnant of tools that were of incredible importance early on in our evolution. Prior to the development of writing systems and navigational tools, our species depended heavily upon this memory in order to survive. consequently, it’s hard for me to believe that this is somehow stretching credulity.

If you don’t believe me, try navigating the woods without a compass, GPS or any other modern instruments and tell me how well you do. Without this type of recall the task would be completely impossible. However, it was something that our ancestors did regularly, even in cases where they had to run away from predators.

As for James Randi, he’s a joke. I’ve met his kind before and the reasoning that he uses is every bit as defective as the charlottans that try to get the money. There is no winning there. Sure, a person might get the money, but even in that case, I don’t think that having to deal with the consequences of being singled out as a freak are worth that. A million isn’t exactly a large amount of money these days. If money were a major motivation for me, there’s plenty of other lucrative areas I could enter that would result in much larger sums being made.

Anyways, if I haven’t got a photographic memory, then how do you explain the rate at which I count cards? Even for world class memory atheletes, trying to play at the rate I do and count cards would be nigh impossible. Just looking at all the cards that have been dealt at that rate is tough enough, but to then try and use mnemonics on it would be pretty much impossible.

Seems to me that it’s more reasonable to concede that I have photographic recall than it is that I’m psychic.

The problem is that the methods being used to determine this ultimately contaminate the results. The other main problem is that charts like the one you’ve included show a lack of comprehension over what that type of memory is like and how it works.

Bottom line is: Show us. Otherwise no one cares. Not even slightly.

We see all of these fools everywhere, on reality TV shows, on the internet, in interviews, claiming they have photographic memory. These are probably the same idiots who go around lying about how they played professional sports for a brief time, before they experienced a tragic injury that ended what many expected would be a hall of fame career. Nothing but a waste of hot air.

You’re basically claiming that everyone has a photographic memory, because all of the information is technically in your brain, but we just can’t retrieve it within the lifespan of a human being. That’s like saying that if you take a hard drive and smash it into a billion pieces, the information is technically still there because if we put the full resources of mankind to work for the next billion years then we could reassemble the data. More wasted hot air. A fart is more productive.

Thousands of scientists and researchers around the world would kill to find one person who has a photographic memory that they can test, and repeat the test to verify, and yet not one case exists that is rock solid. So again, show us, or shut up. I’d rather hear about how aliens exist because you were told by the unicorns, than hear more hot air wasted by another person claiming to have a photographic memory and not backing it up.

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Bravo, rtr.

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It’s really important to me that the forum stays friendly at all times. I’d prefer that people don’t resort to words like “shut up” and “idiots” even if there is a strong difference of opinion. IMHO, facts stand on their own, so there is no need to get personal or angry in these discussions.

Is possible that a significant part of the disagreement could be due to a difference in understanding of the word “photographic memory”.

Science says that there is no such thing as “photographic memory”. If someone wants to challenge that research, it would either require reference to a scientific study or to go through a scientific evaluation. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. For me that’s all that needs to be said about it.

I do care – I just need solid proof before I’ll accept an extraordinary claim.

Another thing to consider is that this forum attracts the world’s best memorizers as readers, so it could be that someone will eventually show up with an interesting ability that science has not tested yet. I think we should keep the discussions friendly and open. If someone wants to challenge current scientific thinking with new information, then they will have to have it tested under controlled conditions – but I think that things should be kept friendly in any case.

Thanks. :slight_smile:

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It does come across that way after re-reading it :slight_smile: I’ll clarify. There are fools and idiots in the world who do not read or post here. Some of them do foolish things like claim to have a photographic memory because they saw it in a fictional TV show and it’s a cool way to impress your friends without having to back it up, and you can do a few mnemonic tricks and no one will press you further on it. Perhaps pfrank really had this ability and somehow lost it because he “spent time watering it down for personal reasons”. My point is, when the norm is fools claiming photographic memory, it doesn’t contribute anything for a legitimate photographic memorizer to speak out unless they can back it up. It just adds to the evidence that it doesn’t exist and hurts their credibility.

Thanks… it’s sometimes difficult to read the meaning of tone when it’s just text on a screen. :slight_smile:

Hello folks. I stopped commenting on this topic because it was proving to be counterproductive. I didn’t see my opinion changing as it is my life experience and I didn’t see anybody else changing their views either. So, it seemed like a waste of everybody’s time to continue.

I think there’s a few things to clear up. The definition and expectations that people have for photographic memory are sort of broken in the current era. Prior to relatively recently it was possible to process a much larger portion of the incoming stimulus. But, in era of 24 hour TV, the Internet and such, there’s just no possible way of anybody processing all of it at all times. As a result it’s much more challenging to pull up arbitrary information the way that we used to be able to. It’s still there, but it’s less accessible than it was previously and less readily available for use.

I’ve spent the last week or so zooming around the archives and to a large extent the ability is still there. But, now that I’ve spent the week doing that, the autistic tendencies that I was trying to avoid are still there. And quite frankly, I retain my original view that it’s not an ability that’s of sufficient value to make up for the tremendous downsides to it.

I’d also like to point out that it’s memory that’s really difficult to use, it doesn’t know anything about symbols or language and in the modern world, it’s not that useful to have a large archive of images that are stripped of all their semantic meaning through the lack of processing.

And lastly, it seems unfair to expect a persons memory to be better than a photo. I don’t know if you’ve spent time looking at photos, but there’s often times a lot less information there than people generally imagine. A camera has a much better angle of view than the human eye does, but it has a substantially reduced depth of focus. Consequently, if you’re not moving your eyes over a portion of a seen, it’s not going to be there. And I mean literally, it won’t be there for you to use in the moment, so it’s likely not going to be there for recall either.

This is the last I’ll be posting on this as it seems to be completely counterproductive to post anything more. I really and truly don’t care if anybody believes me, my experience is what it is. I happen to have been cursed with memory so good that it pretty much ruined my life. I would very much prefer to believe that my memory was the result of some sort of delusion, but unfortunately, I really am so cursed. Even in my memory weakened state, it’s still good enough that it causes me problems.

I know I’m just catching up on this interesting discussion but I thought it might be worth adding another opinion.

I cannot think where I read it but I always had the impression that all memory was eidetic or photographic. That it is not is a common misconception. This does not mean that one remembers every detail of what they aim their eyes at, as television tells it, but that what you do remember is what you see.

This important in two ways, at least. The first is that to remember something we visualize it. Even with emotions or music the synesthetic abilities translate what was felt into what we can recall. We then can bring it back by an active effort.

The second thing to note is the fact that the eye only sees one thing in the picture it looks at. The eye muscles naturally hop back and forth to scan a scene if possible. The edges and corners of a scene are filled in with either likely noise or actual images brought from elsewhere in the mind, usually recent vision. The feeling of your eyes seeing an entire field is complete based on an interpolation.

When I was at school studying math quite hard I really could recall exact equations I had seen days before because I could bring back the picture. Such experiences are rare now since I don’t study anything hard. But we all know how memory is detailed and enduring when there is tragedy or danger. Long after such events people share that experience by relating what they remember on that day. So there is likely an important part that adrenaline could play. Can you imagine someone with that level of recall for days at a time? That could really become a problem.

In the last few years there was a 60 minutes show about super memory people who could recall any day in their past and events in them. They did not talk about speed reading or even reading though. The most remarkable was a woman who could recognize child photographs of celebrities. This was amazing.

There are still some super memory questions to be answered.

Memory can be very visual, but the term “photographic memory” is usually referring to a superhuman ability to look at something and take a detailed mental “photograph” of it. If it truly does exist, I think that someone with that ability would have come to a memory competition by now. I’m still keeping an open mind, but I haven’t seen any confirmed evidence of it, and I’ve been looking for about six years. :slight_smile:

Look at a sheet of 500 random, unfamiliar symbols for 10 seconds. Then cover the paper and write down the symbols on another piece of paper. If someone can do that under testing conditions, then I will lean more towards being convinced that photographic memory exists.

I do this too. If I’m memorizing poetry, and it hasn’t been a long time since my reading, I can see impressions of it on the page. I wouldn’t call that “photographic memory”, but just a visual impression. I am seeing fragments, not exactly photographic detail. Memory doesn’t work like a camera, so I think that there are other mental systems at work. If it were done with unfamiliar symbols, then that would point more towards photo-like memory.

See the posts on superior autobiographical memory. I think that it’s possibly due to frequent perseveration over those kinds of life details (see the blog posts). The ability can also be intentionally trained.

The face recognition of adults by looking at photographs of children is written about in the Super Face-Recognizer post. See also What do you think about the idea of “super-recognizers”? It could also be explained by a kind of obsession with faces:

The new boy on the beat in Greenwich, in London’s southeast, he would spend hours looking at the worn Polaroid prints of neighborhood villains on the wall. “I was drawn to those pictures,” he said. “I used to look at them all the time.”

The last sentence there suggests extensive training in face recognition, even if unintentional. :slight_smile:

See also: Does photographic memory exist?.

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I wager photographic/eidetic memory is just people intuitively using memorization techniques in a seemingly advanced manner; i.e. it’s not the hardware of the brain causing them to be ‘geniuses’ but the software of mental methods they just happened to figure out on their own on a potentially unconscious level.

For instance, maybe the person who can stare at a cityscape for a few minutes and then redraw it near flawlessly from memory, is consulting a mental alphabet of certain curves and corners and where they are placed in a mental dictionary of arrangements for buildings. This would be akin to how we picture letters and words in sentences, and then might memorize sentences in a script. This would not be impossible for you or me to learn manually, but would just take a long time and a lot of trial and error to figure out what works and what does not.

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