I know that true eidetic memory is either A. extremely rare or B. a myth, but I’ve been thinking about whether it’d be possible to get photographic recall of an object by studying it closely. You see, one of my long-term goals is to have a mind palace that I can use for information storage as well as recreation (I admit my interest was sparked by Hannibal, and how he “lived” in his mind palace). If possible, I would be interested in having a gallery of sorts, where I can store paintings and statues.
I think this is possible, and I’ve been experimenting with memorizing Jacques-Louis David’s The Death of Socrates to see what works. I’ve been approaching this based on the Atkinson-Shiffrin model of memory. The key reason I see here for why eidetic memory doesn’t exist is that only things you pay attention to are transferred to short-term memory. In other words, only details that you notice, consciously, should be remembered. True eidetic memory should allow you to recall details that you didn’t notice before.
So, now we understand the limitations of a pseudo-eidetic memory, specifically, you can only remember what you notice. That means that to store the entire piece, we’re going to have to notice everything. After that, long-term storage is just a matter of building enough connections that the memories stay stable. It’d be unrealistic to think that we could recall with photographic clarity the entire painting, enough to count the number of bricks in a wall in the background. What we’ll be aiming for is more along the lines of simulating the experience of regular viewing, as if you’d just turned away from studying the painting in a museum. You’d be able to describe details of the people in the painting, the impression of the colors, etc. but no normal person would be expected to know the number of bricks in the wall even if they had just been staring at it.
To memorize The Death of Socrates, I started by looking at the piece as a whole and noticing as many details as I could. I drew as many connections as I could through the spatial arrangement and colors: the chain snaking from the ground up to the bed, the different body language of the people, the white robes of both Socrates and Plato (at the foot of the bed), the difference in intensity of the orange robes between the man handing the poisoned hemlock to Socrates and the man ascending the stairs in the background. The point is to truly “get” the whole scene. The more connections I drew, the easier it was to recall details by using other details as jumping off points. Then, I zoomed in on individual squares of the painting and repeated the process on a smaller scale to get the finer details, such as the open manacle on the ground, the facial expressions of the two men on Socrates’ left, and the hand waved in farewell as the background fellow in Orange tentatively leaves. I’ve been testing my recall by having others quiz me on details, though this may be flawed since details like seeing a chain on the ground is not the true experience of a piece of art. For a fuller experience, I’ve been reflecting on the different details and overall impression of the scene, similar to Bateman’s emotional memory palace, so that recalling it in my mind simulates the emotional experience of the painting.
It’s interesting, and certainly not rigorously tested enough to decide if it’s efficient, but I’ve had fun and would be interested in hearing your thoughts.