Eidetic memory is also known as total recall, or photographic memory. In addition to recalling photographs completely from memory – and without the use of mnemonic devices – people who possess this ability may also be able to recall objects or sounds as well.
Eidetic Memory vs Extraordinary Memory
People who possess the ability of precise total recall are called “eidetikers”, and are distinguished from people merely possessing an amazing memory. Most people who demonstrate extraordinary memory skills are employing learning devices, like mnemonics -tricks like acronyms that help people remember abstract information. Eidetic memory is considered to be innate, or inborn, rather than learned.
Documented cases of Eidetic Memory
There is some controversy surrounding the scientific verification of eidetic memory. In fact, only one individual has ever been scientifically proven to possess the ability. In 1970, a paper was published in Nature detailing the case of Elizabeth, a Harvard student. She was shown a random pattern of thousands of dots in one eye only, then shown a separate pattern in the opposite eye and on a different day. Later she was able to recall and combine the two patterns into one 3D picture. Although she achieved this feat, she never repeated the test and additionally went on to marry her tester, Charles Stromeyer.
Other Eidetic Memory Claims
Despite the lack of widely accepted scientific proof, several other people have claimed – or been purported – to have eidetic memory. Among them are:
- British artist Stephen Wiltshire MBE – widely recognized for his ability to recreate, entirely from memory, incredibly accurate and detailed architectural panoramas of cityscapes after only one brief helicopter ride.
- American Kim Peek – had an exceptional memory and could accurately recall the content of over 12,000 books. He was the inspiration for Dustin Hoffman’s character in the 1988 movie Rain Man.
- Nikola Tesla – inventor and engineer known for his work with the AC (alternating current) had visions triggered by words or ideas from his past and could visualize prospective inventions in precise, multi-dimensional detail which allowed him to construct from memory instead of drawings.
- Swami Vivekananda – Hindu monk who was important in introducing Hinduism and Yoga to the western world was reputed to have memorized several encyclopedia volumes in mere days.
There are certainly some people with phenomenal memory abilities around, but without more scientific proof, whether they are truly eidetic remains up for much heated debate.