Photographic Memory- Fact or Fiction?

Old train station somewhere in Southern Utah. I don't remember exactly.

Old train station somewhere in Southern Utah. I don’t remember exactly. Photo by author.

I initially thought that my protagonist should have a photographic memory. It would be interesting for someone 250+ years old to remember almost anything he’d seen with high accuracy. He is a specialist in the military so a fantastic memory would help him when drawing maps as a scout or reading books just from looking at the pages and reading them in his memory later. Not knowing very much about photographic memory, I research it. It turns out photographic memory does not exist.

Eidetic memory exists for a short time for some children. The small percentage of children who exhibit the ability to see and remember with high accuracy usually lose it around 6 years old. It’s thought it disappears as children develop language skills and are able to put words to what they see rather then memorizing a scene and then trying to make sense of it later.

When we hear of people who can count cards, remember chess moves or have the bible memorized, it is more likely they worked hard to learn those things or have mnemonic devices to help them remember.

There are savants who remember bizarre things or have fantastic artistic abilities, but those are related to autism, not photographic memory.

As interesting as it might be to speculate about what a photographic memory would be like, it’s the realm of speculative fiction, and though speculative fiction and science fiction often co-exist in the same works, I think I would like to avoid that in this particular novel. The speculation in this novel comes from what would happen if there was a gene that could make people immortal, so I feel most aspects should be believable. Next week I’ll discuss how memory might be effected by longevity or immortality.

 

Sources:

The Truth About Photographic Memory

https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200603/the-truth-about-photographic-memory

Does Photographic Memory Exist?

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/i-developed-what-appears-to-be-a-ph/

Kaavya Syndrome

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2006/04/kaavya_syndrome.html

2 responses to “Photographic Memory- Fact or Fiction?

  1. There is a rare condition called “highly superior autobiographical memory” that I find quite interesting.

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