Thursday, April 27, 2006

No such thing as "photographic memory"   posted by Razib @ 4/27/2006 08:42:00 PM

I was talking to Greg Cochran a few months ago, and we were talking about memory. Greg has described himself as having a "pack rat mind." I'm somewhat similar, all sorts of obscurities lurk back there, to show up periodically in the weirdest ways. But, I don't have a photographic memory, nothing close. People have asked me before if I have a photographic memory because I tend to remember details pretty well (I did weird things as a kid like memorize all the capitals in the world), but of course I knew very well my memory wasn't photographic. I've always wondered where the people with the photographic memory were, I'd have liked to meet them (I'd read about photographic memories in fiction of course). Anyway, this article in Slate offers a lot of evidence (or highlights the lack of evidence) that we should be skeptical about the idea of perfect photographic memories, or, at least that they are very very rare (as in 1 in millions). Also, reading Daniel Schacter's books makes me really wary of thinking of memory as a unitary cognitive process which we understand really well on a reflective level. Finally, those with a broad historical perspective will probably find the method of the loci of interest.