Chester Santos The International Man of Memory


Photographic memory: Is it a hoax?

Photographic memory: Is it a hoax?

photog-mem-1Photographic memory is the creme de la creme for brainiacs. A person opens up a book and looks at each page for a few seconds and has an exact photo image of it in their brain. Later, they can see an exact duplicate of those pages by pulling them up in their mind.  For U.S. Memory Champion Chester Santos, he can't count the number of times someone tells him they have a photographic memory. And each time, he gives them a polite nod and smile. He doesn't want to argue with the fantasy in their mind. Because for Santos, a photographic memory is just that. Pure fantasy.

"From everything I’ve researched, there is definitely no such thing as a "photographic memory," Santos said. "Scientists have done many experiments to prove this."

If anyone should know, it's Santos. With one of the best trained memories in the world, Santos has demonstrated memory exercises that leave peoples mouths agape. He can study a random deck of cards and in minutes blindly recite the order. But doing this is using memorization techniques that he's mastered. But memorizing like a human copy machine is impossible, he said. And others scientists agree. In the scientific world, eidetic image, is the term popularly referred to as photographic image. According to Alan Searleman, professor of psychology at St. Lawrence University and co-author of Memory from a Broader Perspective, he has yet to see someone with perfect photographic image ability.

"As it turns out...the accuracy of many eidetic images is far from perfect. In fact, besides often being sketchy on some details, it is not unusual for eidetikers to alter visual details and even to invent some that were never in the original. This suggests that eidetic images are certainly not photographic in nature but instead are reconstructed from memory and can be influenced like other memories (both visual and nonvisual) by cognitive biases and expectations."

Santos has studied the claims of photographic memory for some time. If some one actually had this ability, there are two tests that one should be able to do without a problem. One is to look at a 10 by 10 box of numbers for 30 seconds. Then being able to not only recite them in order, but in any direction asked.

"Because if they have photographic memory, it should be in their head, and it should just be there for them to see," Santos said.

The other is a person is given a paper with a random splattering of hundreds of dots on a page to study for a short period.  The splattering of dots has no meaning and doesn't form any sort of picture.  After the study period, they give the person a blank sheet of paper and ask them to perfectly reproduce the random splattering of dots.

"No one has ever been able to do this," he said. "It's not possible."

What is possible, Santos said, and more importantly is to focus on the things a mind can do. Whether it's memorizing names at a cocktail party, a speech or a list of foreign words, Santos thinks these are things almost anyone can do. Santos lectures around the world and gives sold-out workshops several times a month. Every time people walk away from them blown away by what their mind can do. Something that's reality, not fantasy.


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