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Perfect memory - does it exist? And is it good for you?


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Memory is a fascinating subject. When I think about it, a lot of my conversations with colleagues and friends touch upon in, and especially when it comes to learning languages. Think about the famous excuse - "My memory is no good, that's why I can't learn/progress in a language X". I am myself guilty of using (and abusing) it in daily situations. Oh, I forgot to buy tea - well, you know, my memory's kinda weak these days. What project did we work on two weeks ago? Hmm, really don't remember. I must be getting old.

People often say "Oh, I wish I had a better memory! Excellent memory!" I've always thought that people who have "photographic" memory are really lucky to have such an amazing skill at hand.

But I've changed my mind a bit after reading about Solomon Shereshevskii. I don't know if you heard about him - the man had a sort of perfect memory - he did not forget things.

https://bgoodscience.wordpress.com/2011/02/25/neuroscience-cases-the-man-who-could-not-forget/

Well, it turned out remembering everything is not as great as it sounds. I guess the brain has the forgetting setting switched on by default because it is useful for us - and there are things we are much better off not remembering.

What's your opinion? Do you think we are better off with a memory that keeps forgetting new words? Or should we try hard to improve our memory? And how do you judge if your (or someone else's memory) is "good" or "bad"? It seems that different people have different ideas about what it means to remember well.

 

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I know elephants have perfect memory, but humans? Not so much.
However, I did hear of a person who only took a look at Manhatten only once and made a perfectly detailed painting of it based on what he saw back then.

Another person with perfect memory can be found in this video:
https://youtu.be/dM3_s0rKBVc?t=47s (no need to skip to a certain part, the link will take you to that guy for you.)

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hi, well that depends on what you define as "perfect memory".  If you define it as remembering certain things quick enough for you to grasp them one after the other, then yeah I would say a large chunk of humans possess that, however if you were to define " perfect memory" as remembering everything quickly all the time, well from what I have seen most humans do not seem to possess that.  

But then again it does also depend on your daily routine.

I hope my reply makes sense. ;)

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I believe you can train your memory and improving it, but in my situation... losing bits of memories and even forgetting words I use often is common.  All thanks to my neurological issue. I'm not sad though, because despite my huge memory issues I've managed to learn dutch :)  I will improve it soon, right after I get my MVV I will start working on it :)   I believe leaning languages is good for people like me, because I get my memory to work harder! 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Oh well having a great memory would be awesome in many aspects of your life such working, relationships, gaming, daily interaction, etc that would make things so much easier but for a reason we don't, or we don't want to. Anyways I think if you try and try you can actually improve your memory with math tasks, learning languages and even playing games, having something in your mind is always a good sign I think.

Cheers.

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Memory is indeed a fascinating topic. As a Psychology student during my university days we had fascinating discussions and experiments involving memory back then. One I can't forget is on the topic of "Recovered Memory".
Anyway, if my memory is correct. There is a reason why our brain cannot retain everything. There is a reason we 'forget' things. It is also a protective mechanism. As to the case of Solomon Shereshevskii, I can't helped but remember one of my favorite U.S. TV Cop dramas called "Unforgettable". The star detective there has the same capacity of NOT forgetting anything.

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It depends on what we refer to as perfect memory; is it the memory that recalls everything that has ever happened to him or the memory that stores up so much information like those people we refer to as 'photographic memory owners' who see something for the first time and never forget it?

There are those with active and sharp memories and others who are forgetful but I doubt if there is anyone with a perfect memory unless we can define what a perfect memory is.

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I don't think perfect memory exists because of how memory works. But here's an interesting TED talks on elephant memory to help prove my point: 

Memories are built upon both intelligent and emotional components. Elephants remember because of the impressions strongly placed upon them. But unlike humans, whose mind is quick to twist things around and distort reality, elephants most likely recall the obvious truth.  People can witness the same event and recall entirely separate stories. Our perceptions and judgments alter what actually was and is.  For that reason, humans can't be like elephants. We certainly don't have their pure wisdom.

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Ассоrding tо phоtоgrаphiс mеmоry.оrg, lеss thаn 5% оf сhildrеn аrе bоrn with this аbility аnd mоst lоsе it аs thеy mаturе. Vаriоus tеsts hаvе bееn dоnе in аttеmpts tо prоvе оr disprоvе thе еxistеnсе оf еidеtiс mеmоry but thus fаr hаvе rеmаinеd ultimаtеly nеgаtivе tоwаrds thе еxistеnсе оf аn еidеtiс mеmоry.Thе shоrt аnswеr, sаdly, is nо: “phоtоgrаphiс mеmоry” is mоstly hypе аnd hypеrbоlе. 

Studiеs соnduсtеd оn еidеtiс mеmоry—thе mеdiсаl tеrm fоr а supеr-ассurаtе mеmоry, аnd thе еxаminеd phеnоmеnоn сlоsеst tо whаt pоpulаr сulturе саlls phоtоgrаphiс mеmоry hаvе vаriеd in thеir diаgnоsеs оf sаvаnts likе Stеphеn Wiltshirе, whоsе fеаts оf аppliеd mеmоrizаtiоn inсludе drаwing еntirе сity skylinеs unаssistеd аftеr а briеf hеliсоptеr ridе аbоvе thеm.

 It аppеаrs thаt sоmе pеоplе bеliеvе thеy hаvе phоtоgrаphiс mеmоry, but gооd sоurсеs sаy thаt nо оnе саn rеmеmbеr еvеrything

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I love to read about memory and how the brain compartmentalizes things so efficiently. I remember reading about a man who could not recognize faces in the Boston area. That was just not something that he could do. His brain would just not file away that information. It would get "deleted" as soon as the person was gone. Imagine living a life where everyone you looked at was a stranger? 

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We all have perfect memory or the mechanism to use perfect memory and to remember everything. We do not know how to use it but we have it. Actually we even use it. We remember everything we see in our life. The problem is to remember something. the memory is there but we cannot find it. I have read a book called Perfect Memory by Tony Buzan. He wrote about Mind Mapping techniques and I can tell you it is amazing. I am able to remember a 16 digit number in 3 minutes
no sweat. It is not hard and everybody can do it you just need the system.

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Solomon Shereshevskii's case was definitely intriguing. Even as a child, he showed the symptoms of synesthesia, it's a condition wherein a person experiences associations between different sensory modes. For example, he might hear a certain sound like a radio announcer, and he might experience that with colours like red or blue.

Aside from that, it's also said that he has mastered the method of loci, wherein a person uses arranged locations and clips in new information. It's difficult to prove though whether Solomon has truly mastered this method or he has innate abilities that make him able to memorise long series of numbers and words.

Some experts have tried replicating the amazing memorisation abilities of Solomon though. One professor trained his college students using a mnemonic system. And they were actually able to equal Solomon's time in memorising of three minutes.

But Solomon has other capabilities that the students weren't able to replicate. He was able to dictate the numbers in reverse and in diagonal as well. Amazing, right? And his ability to even recall the numbers years and years later, that's another amazing thing.

For me, I would love to have that memorisation ability. There's this other condition called "hyperthymesia" and it means someone can recall past experiences in detail even 10 years later. That's the type of memory that I probably wouldn't want... I'd feel extremely guilty, traumatised and scared. But that's another topic.

If I am able to memorise things, numbers and words in detail, I doubt that I would fail any subject in school. Lol. However, it's important to note that Solomon has had issues with logic. For instance, he cannot recognise patterns in long string of numbers. So that's another downside of his condition. 

In a sense, it's nature's way of balancing things. We cannot have it all, I guess. Even the smartest people like Einstein and Edison has had their own weaknesses. That's not to say that we cannot be successful, we only have to make use of whatever skills we have. 

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