Visual memory is sometimes associated with photographic memory, or more accurately eidetic memory. Some people have the ability to study an image and when the image is taken away, they can describe it with vivid accuracy as if it were still there in view. People who can do this have true eidetic memory. The ability to display visual or eidetic memory is seen far more frequently in children than in adults for whom the ability seems to fade away in most, although not all, cases.

 

To verify the existence of eidetic, or visual memory, sometimes a two part test is given to subjects. An image is broken down into two parts, and one side makes no sense without the other. Children with true eidetic memory can be shown the first part for 30 seconds after which it is taken away and is replaced by the second part. The subject with true eidetic memory can then see both parts as one and can accurately describe the image.

 

We all have some form of visual memory where we can see an image “in our mind’s eye”. As for this author I can recall certain images from many years ago, one being the difference between high and low tides in Nova Scotia where my family went on a camping trip when I was a young. The tides are enormous at the Bay of Fundy, and at low tide the sides of the sea cliffs were wet from the recent high tide, and it was amazing to see how large the tides were. I have a fairly clear picture of this in my mind after more than 50 years. Surely this picture was committed to memory because it was unusual and striking.

 

The human mind can do amazing things with memory in some people. The famous documentary of the savant Daniel Tammet is an example. Tammet was able to learn the Icelandic language in a week well enough to be interviewed on Icelandic television. He also holds the European record for reciting 22,514 decimal places of pi. A part of Tammer’s ability comes from visual memory, as he “sees” numbers having different colors and shapes. In fact he sees a different visual shape for the first 10,000 integers. Kim Peek was the man who inspired the movie “Rain Man”, and his character was played by Dustin Hoffman. Peek was born without the part of the brain that connects the two hemispheres, but somehow he had unbelievable memory capabilities. He could read a book in about an hour and repeat what he had read practically verbatim. In all he memorized about 12,000 books. And to think most of us mere mortals have trouble remembering the name of the person we were introduced to five minutes ago.


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