The past slips from our fingers continuously, and we only have our memories to access it. We all know that, however, memory is treacherous, and is capable of making us forget even the happiest moments of our existence. That is why we look with envy at those people who are capable of remembering even the smallest detail of inconsequential chapters of their lives. These happy owners of a powerful photographic memory are neither geniuses nor weirdos, and it is not so difficult to reach their capacity as long as we are willing to make a little effort.
With the name of photographic memory or eidetic memory (of “eidos”, “form” in Greek) is known the ability to remember things seen or heard with a very precise level of detail. Both the character played by Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, the film by Barry Levinson, Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory and Olivia Dunham from Fringe showed a powerful memory ability, although fiction has contributed to generate myths about the photographic memory that they do not correspond to reality.
Ignoring this ability and not using it can cause its complete disappearance. On the one hand, the name it has received has led many to think that, once the impression is recorded in memory, eidetics can access it whenever and however they want. I would make a documentalist in a file. In reality, these memories are subject to the same kind of fluctuations as those of any kind, so the time of exposure to them, the passage of time or the attention paid to it will influence their retention.
Do not forget that a good memory does not have to mean having a large photographic memory and there are even those who have denied its existence, as is the case of the cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky, who in The society of the mind (Ediciones Galápago) ensures that is no more than a myth created by “professional magicians or charlatans”, since there is no one who can remember all the details of a text or image with a simple glance. In addition, and although films like Rainman have pointed out otherwise, the amazing brain capacity that some autistic people show is not usually a product of photographic memory.
Three essential factors
Of what there is no doubt, however, is that some people enjoy more easily than others to remember visual details. There are three major factors that try to explain this difference. On the one hand, the purely genetic: there are people born with a greater eidetic capacity, although it is not a hereditary quality. However, ignoring this ability and not using it can cause its complete disappearance.
Our memory works through the association of eminently visual memories. Environmental circumstances also greatly determine the amount of information that will be remembered. A correct diet and adequate rest are essential conditions for the optimal functioning of memory; Physical exercise, which improves the brain’s oxygen supply, also contributes positively. Likewise, the ability to concentrate favored by sports can make a difference when remembering certain information. The less distractions demand our attention, the easier it will be to focus on what we want to remember.
None of this matters if we do not train enough memory. It is not just about taking care of ourselves, but about dedicating a part of our day to day activities to make our brain work and, above all, to know those procedures and exercises that allow us to sharpen our attention. One of them is that of the palaces of memory, used by great speakers as Cicero and that was based on the principle that says our memory is eminently visual.
Thanks to this, we can generate our own mental mansions, where we will deposit, in the form of paintings, sculptures or decoration, all that we need to remember. A particularly useful process in case we have to memorize a speech, a long explanation or a list of tasks to be done. In this previous article we explained this process in detail, but it is not the only one.
Association and mnemonic rules
The one of the mental palaces is a procedure that is based, first of all, on the association. It is the way our mind works, that travels from one thing to another in a continuous way favoring the related information, and the basis of the mnemonic rules, which use short phrases that rhyme in an internal way and are easy to remember. facilitate the memorization of other more complex formulas.
Similarly, it is much easier to remember the name of someone if we relate it to another concept. Is her name Margarita? If we think of the flower we will instantly remember it. Is your name Pepe? Well, maybe the central defender of Real Madrid serves as a shortcut. In other occasions, a mere phonetic similarity can serve. Something similar happens with images. If a snapshot comes to mind, it will be even easier to remember data, dates, names and a large long list that, due to its abstraction, it would cost to remember for themselves.
There are several methods that allow training this capacity. One of them has been used by the American army for the last 70 years, since in the Second World War it became necessary for the aviators to quickly identify and remember the components of the enemy army, which consists of the following steps:
- Find a dark room, where there is no distraction and a lamp can be placed on the floor. The bathroom can serve.
- Sit on the floor so you can turn the lamp off and on without moving. Get a piece of paper and cut the space corresponding to a paragraph from it.
- Take the book or whatever you are trying to memorize and cover it with the sheet you have previously cut, revealing only the paragraph that the hole does not cover. Place the book at a suitable distance so that when you open your eyes you can quickly focus on the words.
- Turn off the light and let your eyes adjust to the darkness. Briefly turn on the light and turn it off again: you will have got the text printed in front of you in your eyes.
- When the printing disappears, briefly turn on the light again to repeat the procedure.
- Repeat the process until you can remember each word of the paragraph in the correct order. If you do it right, say the defenders of the method, sooner or later you will get to see the full paragraph in your head and your memory capacity will begin to improve.
- On the Internet there are so many testimonies from people to whom the procedure has allowed him to improve, in the long run, his abilities, as well as those who believe that it is no more than an eccentric procedure not confirmed by science. Those who want to verify their authentic eudética capacity, can use pages like the designed one by the Open University where the user can undergo an examination that as soon as it lasts 10 minutes.