EIDETIC MEMORY: (I-detik) Photographic memory, perfect recall

There seems to be a fascination with so-called “photographic memory” these days.   Known medically as eidetic memory, it is the ability to recall incidents, images, information and technical data with no (or few) flaws.  I suspect everybody has known, or known about someone who supposedly had perfect recall, although it is probably a relative thing, with the person’s memory being compared to the norm as we know it.

But  literature and the visual arts are fascinated with the possibility that a person with eidetic memory can become a feature character in a novel, a movie or a television production.  I’m drawn to the television show, Unforgettable, in which a police detective is capable of recalling in detail the elements of a crime scene in order to assist in the apprehension of those responsible.     I am reading a paperback novel, The Sixth Man,   by author David Baldacci, in which a man with perfect recall is a key figure in an international terrorism plot.

The idea of someone with a memory that is perfect has been around for a long time.  Most scientists have a common agreement that there are some people with greater recall than others.  But there is also a sense on some scientists’ scales that debunks the idea that anyone has perfect recall.    Joshua Foer, a writer for Slate magazine, reports that recent inquiry into the subject indicates that there is really no such thing as eidetic memory, in the sense that it is perfect recall.   His report takes the position that there are gradients in the measurement of memory, and that there are some who clearly hit the higher levels than the norms.  But as to whether there is someone with absolutely perfect recall, he says “no.”

The concept of having perfect recall may have a romantic element to it, as demonstrated in the  literary and media fascination with characters such as the detective in Unforgettable.   But the downside is the freakish quality that it gives to people.  Imagine a married couple who have the kind of normal disagreements that most couples have a daily basis.  Trying to remember the name of someone you knew twenty years ago, or the sequence of events leading up to a great (or not so great) moment early on in your marriage.  How frustrating if the eidetic person always wins!

But on a more serious note, the person identified as eidetic is a constant target, sometimes by people who have a nefarious purpose in mind. There are innumerable ways to make money from a near-perfect memory.

As one whose memory is frequently on sabbatical, I cannot imagine the way in which memory plagues the mind of a person with this designation.  There are memories to be forgotten in everyone’s lives.  Moments nobody wants to live over again, to say nothing of them being in bold color and without flaw. It is part of the human condition to live life with memory that is functional, effective and unobtrusive.  If memory is constant and detailed it would seem to me to be exhausting.

But what do I know?  I can’t remember my license plate number.

Photo Credit:  Epochtimes

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