Does anyone here have a photographic memory?

What’s that like? Do you take a mental snapshot and then go back an “read” it? Do you remember things whether you want to or not? How long do you remember stuff?

I’ve only ever seen this portrayed in movies, so I don’t have and idea how it works IRL.

I’ve been told that I probably do.

Alas! Mine is just a pornographic memory.

I don’t remember.

Tell me more. Do you not agree?

I’ve read that photographic memory isn’t a real thing.

Yes but I’m low on film.

Mine’s more like a chalkboard out in the rain.

The best mind I ever knew belonged to a roommate in college who could read a textbook in a few weeks, snap it shut and announce, “well, it’s all review from here.” Straight As, 99.99 percentile on the LSAT at the same time I took it (80 percent for me, so I truly am king of the idiots) and he went to Harvard and was on the law review, may have been president/editor of it/ I don’t remember. Year or two before Obama was at Harvard Law Review. Best study machine I ever saw. Excellent memory. But it was not a perfect memory. He could remember every card played in a hand of hearts, but that didn’t help him win in the face of aggressive play. The character of Sheldon Cooper seems to be a cartoon version of his more annoying traits (except he was hardly disinterested in girls).

Even he did not have a perfect memory. And no one else I hung out with at UCLA had a memory or learning tools anywhere as near as gifted as this guy’s. Nor did I hear about anyone with such tools.

I had a nearly perfect memory for the written word as a youngster. I could memorize books etc… from a few readings. I college, I would re-read the notes I had taken in lecture and see/hear the professor lecturing (the act of reading what I wrote as the professor spoke triggered the memory). It was a great boon in college.

My memory was always limited to things I read or wrote. It did not extend to remembering conversations, what I had for breakfast 37 days ago etc…

This talent has essentially disappeared as I have aged. I’m not sure if it is because I am older, or if it is because I am rarely called upon to do it and am thus out of practice.

Photographic as the literalists take it to mean, i.e., being able to flawlessly capture a visual image and examine it later, picking up details you didn’t notice before? I don’t think anyone really does, though some heavily autistic people may have something similar.
Photographic in the more figurative sense it’s usually meant, that is, simply not forgetting far more of what you see and experience, regardless of your level of reaction or comprehension? Say, having a conversation be interrupted and able to perfectly resume it a decade later? Or flipping through a book in an alphabet you don’t know, and being able to recall it well enough to look it up and find it? That does exist, and I’m living proof.

The short answer as to what it’s like is, of course, what’s it like to forget so much? With no standard of comparison, I can’t say with any precision how much more I remember than those around me, nor how full the differences are, but I do know what I’ve observed and, having far more of it to compare, concluded. This much, I can tell you…

-Most TV and movie depictions (that I’ve seen, anyway) would have you believe that it’s an ability, rather like snapping your fingers. It’s really more of attribute; something you are than something you do. Also, these people (if they’re not heavily autistic or disabled in some mental way) are usually pictured as otherwise being more-or-less perfectly normal, as though the only consequence of this was no one ever being willing to Play Trivial Pursuit with you.
-It’s still human memory. You still forget most things you experience, you still make mistakes, it can still be manipulated. You learn a lot more raw information, but analyzing it and getting something more broadly useful still takes effort. Casually, it’s just as involuntary. You may be able to remember every detail about a random Social Studies test in sixth grade, down to the angle of the staple and the speck of dirt above the number 4, but you might not recall what you had for breakfast yesterday. Think you know the annoyance of having a three-second snippet of a song you heard on the radio two and a half decades ago get stuck in your head? ** YOU KNOW NOTHING.**
-It’s not all fun and games. Dealing with other people often feels like you’re living Groundhog Day. It can be pretty isolating.
-Picture yourself at eighty. Think of all the little tricks and gimmicks you’ll use (or did use) to help you remember. Know that for everyone you’ll have (or have had) to help you remember, I have three, to help me forget.

On the positive side, you never need to study for tests, can often recall whole chapters of books word-for-word, rarely need to write things down, are set if some reason you’re sent back in time and need to open various lockers you had, have a built-in way of impressing people you’ve met before, can concoct elaborate schemes that take decades to come to fruition, can recall other people’s moments of embarrassment, and can in general manipulate people in ways and to degrees that even I find horrifying, and all without expending the slightest bit of effort, other than paying a little attention.
It alters you in ways large and small, blatant and subtle, and I’m not going to pretend I understand or even know all of them, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Court transcripts, criminal cases I have read in the paper and conversations. Not much of anything else.

I’ve been told that I have an eidetic memory, but I can’t recall who said it.

I have a memory like a steel colander.

Kodachrome, actually.

Alas, processing ended in December 2010.

There is no such thing as a photographic memory, and even The Master was a little too credulous about it when he discussed the subject (although he mostly debunked it with his usual panache). Although the point cannot be proved definitively, it is a virtual certainty that the story that Cecil repeats about the “super eidetiker” Elizabeth is based on a hoax or a scientific fraud. It is not known for certain who was responsible, for the deception. It might have been the investigating psychologist Stromeyer, but I believe it was most likely the experimental subject Elizabeth herself (perhaps with accomplices), who probably originally intended merely to play a prank on Stromeyer (who was her fiancé at the time). However, things got out of hand, and, unfortunately, the faked results got into the scientific literature and the popular presses. Elizabeth subsequently married Stromeyer, but she has consistently refused to have her alleged abilities re-tested ever since. Despite some quite determined searching, no people with abilities remotely aproaching those claimed for her have been discovered since. See here and here (including note 1) for accounts of the circumstances, as well as a general discussion of the broader (alleged) phenomenon of “eidetic memory” or “eidetic imagery” (although each pussyfoots around outright accusations of fraud over the Elizabeth case, for reasons of academic etiquette and, very likely, fear of a libel case).

The existence even of “ordinary” eidetic imagery (as opposed the alleged super-eidetic powers claimed for Elizabeth) remains highly controversial amongst psychologists. Skeptics believe (roughly speaking) that the alleged evidence for the phenomenon is simply a result of the way that some small children ( and perhaps a few naïve adults) tend to misdescribe their experience of ordinary visual memory. The less skeptical hold that it is a real, distinct phenomenon, but that it occurs exclusively (or very nearly so) amongst a small percentage of young children, who lose their eidetic ability when they get a little older. Furthermore, it is well established that even those children who claim or are taken to have eidetic ability are no more accurate or complete in their recall of visual scenes that they can allegedly “see” eidetically, than are other children (or adults). See here again for some citations to the relevant scientific literature, and here for some discussion of the history of the alleged phenomenon (Nazis are involved).

These are some individuals who can perform impressive feats of memorization (Recusant may be one of them), but their memories are in no reasonable sense of the word photographic. In most cases they depend largely on mnemonic techniques that almost anyone can learn if they put in the time and effort.

I have been accused of being a committee, because nobody could know all the people I have, or had all the experiences I’ve had, blah blah blah. I’ve really led a fairly boring life, but I just don’t seem to forget anything. The concept of brain bleach doesn’t exist for me.

Partial. Not always.

Missed edit window.

Frankly, though, I am skeptical whether the abilities claimed by Recusant (and to a lesser degree, by some others in this thread) are real. (I am not saying they are lying, I am saying they are probably deceiving themselves.) There is a long history in memory science of people who have claimed to have remarkable memories who actually fail to perform in any way remarkably when tested under laboratory conditions. Elizabeth (discussed and debunked in my previous post) is an exception, but, as I said, she was a fraud. The Russian memorist Shereshevskii probably wsa not a fraud, but his memory was not in any meaningful sense photographic.

Anyway, although some people no doubt have better memories than others, even the best memories do not record information in a way remotely analogous to the way a photograph does. People sometimes seem to use “photographic memory” simply to mean “very good memory” (or perhaps “very good memory for visual scenes”), but this is a very misleading metaphor which promotes very (and provably) false and sometimes even pernicious misconceptions about the nature of human memory.

I have very poor mental capacity in a number of areas, but I am good at memorizing masses of facts.

I have noticed that some facts from reading seem to be recalled in a different way from others. Sometimes the fact itself seems to have been registered. But other times I will be able to “see” the fact as I originally came across it. I’ll be aware that it was on the bottom right of the left hand page and I can sort of still see it.

It’s not anywhere near perfect recall, and I can’t do it for an entire book. But it does seem to be a different kind of neural pathway than “learning” the fact.

And it got me into, and through, Med School with very little effort even though the volume of data requiring memorization is essentially unlimited. My scores on the MCATS were a historic school record at a very competitive school, even though in many subjects I’d consider my ability marginal at best.