The Mind of a Mnemonist

Anybody who has read the book about “S” The Mind of a Mnemonist find it a little strange? First of all when “S” was a young man we are asked to believe he could remember everything word-by word as a journalist. It astonished his boss who was annoyed that he wasn’t taking any notes when “S” repeated what he had just said verbatum. First of all, somebody who was in his 20’s say, who had the natural astounding ability to recall everything just HAD to realize he was different in school or in normal life. Yet he says this was the first time he realized he was different. Second, he had this natural synesthetic memory, yet later in life, as a stage mnemonist, he had to learn the loci method. Luria, the psychologist, studying this man, didn’t bother to ask the obvious questions at what point he learned the loci method, why he had to learn it, and from where did he learn it. Anybody who has read the book have any comments?

Those are some good points about Luria, scientists still seem to be uninformed about the power of memory systems. Daniel Tammet is a good example. Everything I saw the scientists tested him on could be reproduced with mnemonics and mental math techniques. The claim that he’s synesthetic and autistic were accepted on his word.

I’ve wondered about Shereshevsky since I read the book. I think his father owned a bookstore so it’s possible he read about memory techniques…

After he started performing he may have needed a way to organize the material because it was of greater volume and had less context or meaning to him. Remembering for his job had context. And the studies show that although chess masters can remember chess layouts exceptionally well, that memory does not extend to non-chess related stuff. Just a thought. It was an inspiring book though.

I’ve heard about “S”- although I haven’t read the book. Very interesting indeed. As Dale said, it’s possible that he learnt loci in order to organize his material, but I wonder why this wasn’t mentioned in the book?

I don’t find his claim (that he didn’t know he was different) impossible to believe. If you think in a certain way and no one ever points out to you that the way you think is different then you’ll never question it. This is actually the case with quite a few people with good memories according to what I’ve read. It seems like a lot of people with so-called “naturally” good memories tend to be very visual people - they apply mnemonics without even knowing it! I always had a reasonable memory (prior to mnemonics) - although it wasn’t good enough to be able to accomplish amazing feats. I have quite vivid early memories. When I think about things from the past they play out in front of me - almost as though I am inside a screen watching them. The same happens when I read books. Everything plays out in minute detail in front of me - clearer than if I were watching a film.

For years, I assumed everyone could do this, but having spoken to people about it - apparently not. Maybe I just have a very vivid imagination. It’s interesting to note, however, that if I stop and think about the process, I can no longer do it. I have to forget I can do this in order to do it. Sounds strange? Yes.

It makes me wonder whether Mnemonists have something in common that draws us towards mnemonics - something that’s a bit different to the norm. I’m not suggesting that we’re all supremely visual or have special gifts that make us want to pursue this further.

But there must be something that separates us from the 99% of the world that does not use mnemonics. Maybe it’s just that extra bit of creativity - or an open mind. Or maybe it’s something different for each of us. I’ve always been pretty terrible with numbers, but even prior to mnemonics, I used to remember number combinations by thinking of people who were those ages and linking the people together. Most of the time, it worked well.

So, going back to “S” - I’m not going to discredit synaesthesia; I don’t know enough about it to do so. But it does make you wonder whether some of these techniques just came naturally to him, but he viewed this as a gift. Take a look at this article and you’ll see what I mean. If this article is true, a lot of this stuff is mnemonics and loci:

This jumped out at me, as it’s one of the first things we’re often taught when learning a memory system.

Again, this is the loci/journey method. This article isn’t very clear. Are they saying this WAS his memory technique or that he merely used this technique to facilitate his already great memory? I am not sure.

See the theme. I don’t know why it’s been indicated that these “abilities” were unique to S. Not the synesthesia, but his use of mnemonics. Maybe I need to read the book to fully understand this.

It does make me question his true ability - is it possible that he was a highly competent mnemonist above all else? I don’t know. Some of his feats seem mighty impressive, even for a memory expert. For example, he could recall lists 16 years later according to that article. That’s random lists, not lists that were of specific importance to him.

Faqscinating stuff.

Here’s the article:

It’s badly formatted, unfortunately.

“S” was a professional mnemonist who travelled and performed with his skills.

But he become a PROFFESIONAL mnemonist after that period when he was working
with Luria. From the Luria’s “little book about big memory” we can find
that he used in some cases journey method.

But I wonder why people think that he is a great man with unbeliavable memory?
May be he was only mnemonist?

who knows…

The only thing that really separates Shereshevsky from anyone with a lot of memory training (i.e., not explainable by memory training) is that he apparently retained the information perfectly for so many years. There is no way to check Luria’s methods though, because the book doesn’t go into detail…

It is possible that “S” was a highly competent mnemonist who also had an unusual mind, who liked the attention he got, and was able to fool Luria on a few points. There are other examples of this kind of thing happening with highly-intelligent mnemonists being able to fool professional researchers… :slight_smile:

I think that you are right about the people who are attracted to mnemonic techniques may be visual people, or a little different.

I’m going to start another thread on visual thinking and synesthesia…

I haven’t read the book either, but it S story sounds reasonable.

Many people just don’t know they different. I know many people with neurological disorders that weren’t diagnosed for years. Many people look normal and have normal achievements, but they spend a lot\very little time (depends on the disorder) working for those achievements. People around them don’t know how much time and energy they invest, so they appear normal.
They also don’t know how much time and energy others invest, so they can’t see how they are different from other people.

Plus that was years ago… Today parents try to pay attention to these things. And Luria mentioned that S had little self awareness, and that he lived in a fantasy world. So its no very surprising that he didn’t notice he was different.

And since he did share his “techniques” and was open about that I don’t think he was a fake. I think he would have tried to hide his techniques if he was pretending.

Good point…

What I find interesting is that there is only one case like “S” recorded in history, makes one wonder if he was really a natural

I just remember what Houdini said about scientists. Paraphrase: they are the easiest persons to fool. Children and stage magicians are the hardest. As somebody already noted, the effects that “S” created could easily have been done by a trained mnemonist. I don’t know why Luria didn’t investigate his loci method and where he learned it and when he learned it. The loci method is a device to recall information which is difficult to retain through natural means. Now why would “S” have difficulty…? I just finished Josh Foeur’s Moonwalking With Einstein. His beliefs about Daniel Tammet are relevant. Foeur was convinced Tammet was a fraud who was using Mnemonics to convince people he was a savant with synesthesia. He gave him a number three different times, and each time Tammet “saw” a different picture/color. Also, he caught Tammet moving his fingers when doing computations–a method sometimes used in mental math. Of course nobody can be a 100% sure of anything, but the burden of proof is on the person making the claim. Remember there is money in this: television, books, newspaper/magazine articles, movies about your life, etc.

there’s a forum topic on daniel tammet that goes a little more in depth. i’m glad foer decided to include his doubts. when it comes to claims about the mind and its billions of neurons with hundreds of connection, i puddle. what about naturals at memory? the only one i’ve really heard of is dennis muller, german synesthete who around 2009 did really well at 5-minute numbers after only six months training. then he seemed to disappear.

Thx, Diallelus. I’ll look up dennis muller. To be honest, I didn’t know about him, but i’m new to the study of mnemotics.

there’s an interview with him at memory-sports. i’m not sure there’s much else.

Hi diallelus!

Reading Born on a Blue day. Deciding that Tammet is a liar and a fraud. Aside from the Foer observations in Moonwalking, his comments about playing chess were really peculiar. I am a newcomer to mnemotics, but I know something about chess. He says he played in a club (not named) 20 minutes walk from his house. In his first club game he beat his opponent (not named). He played in matches against other clubs. Said he thought about becoming a professional chess player. Tried to play in an official tournament, but lost his concentration and lost the first game because his opponent was walking around the board, then Daniel left the venue, disallusioned. Now, if official tournaments are like in U.S. you have to belong to federation. Here it’s the USCF, in England it would be the English Chess Federation. They keep records of tournaments, players, ratings, etc. Nothing on the net with his name on the federation rolls active or inactive. Then at sixteen he said he would play home alone taking both sides of the board and keeping records of the games. One of them he sent to a chess magazine (unnamed) which published it. His parents were so proud they had the page framed and put up on the wall. Firstly, why would you send a magazine your madeup game? Secondly, why would this unnamed magazine publish it, if they knew it was one person playing both sides of the board? It’s unheard of, unless he put two different names as players, and presented it as a real game. No one knows as they can’t check the unnamed magazine. I’d like to get my hands on that one.
Secondly, British TV made a documentary on him which i watched on computer. When he flies to U.S. to be studied by “scientists” he stops by New York and visits some chess hustlers. Now, I thought, I’ll see some real chess ability if he beats these guys. Does he play chess? Nope he challenges them to a contest to resurrect a random position. First of all. real chess players aren’t good at remembering random positions, as their minds are trained to look for patterns imprinted during thousands of real games. But each square on the board has an algabraic designation such as A1 F6 D4, etc. All 64 squares are covered. All you have to do is designate is the color and rank of the piece on that square, such as BB-B7 for black bishop on b7 or WQ-D8 for white queen on d8. And voila! You have a mnemonist’s dream situation. And a chess players nightmare.
The facts are that Tammet has made himself a good living (two books and thousands of interviews, public speaking, etc) as a second tier mnemonist,while the real deals are out there making a pittance because they don’t have the skills for self-publicity. Sorry for my rant.

it’s the same rant i would make.

that smells of denmark. there are things you can do in chess that sound impressive to outsiders but don’t make much sense to another player. maybe he watched searching for bobby fisher and got the idea of playing himself.

the statement that he thought of turning professional made me laugh. he’d skip ahead of all other gms and become one of the twenty or so invited to tourneys and making enough to have seconds? otherwise he’d be giving a fair number of lessons.

whatever the truth, he hasn’t mastered the art of covering his tracks or making things seem believable yet.

I’m afraid you’re right, Diallelus. Whenever I hear about “scientists” studying savants, I think they should have a mnemonist by their side watching every move. Josh Foer would have been amazed at Tammet before he studied the art of memory. Afterwards, it just seemed like a stale trick.

Did S made a lot of a money from his memory?

I’m not sure he is the only case, I watched a show about Synesthesia, and there were synesthetic who could do pretty cool things (not necessarily memory related).
I think Synesthesia exist but not all synesthetic have a special ability due to Synesthesia (I think most synesthetic don’t). And usually a trained mnemonist can surpass the “naturals”. (never heard of a natural who also trained in memory techniques).
And I think usually Synesthesia is more limited, most synesthetic don’t synesthes every syllable and sensory stimulation…. (Maybe S was special because he had a “strong” Synesthesia)
I watched that show a long time ago, and I wasn’t interested in the subject at the time, so maybe I don’t remember it well. And I don’t really know much about the Synesthesia anyway, so it’s just some houghts.

I feel that way about psychologists, I find that hard to call many of their studies science. Sometimes I am afraid to admit that but I don’t have a lot of respect to that field of research…

Here’s the link for anyone who is interested:

Some people can have skills from synesthesia. For example, perfect pitch. A friend of mine can see shades of colour with particular notes (ie. Middle C is a dark blue, E# is a green colour)