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Among the ‘memory athletes’, 1971


The Observer declared on March 21, 1971 that our memory capacity is equivalent to filling the Albert Hall. They also stated that a computer capable of replicating the basic functions of the human brain would have to be as large as the Albert Hall. With our current reliance on devices that fit in our pockets, what can we learn about memory from studying exceptional “memory athletes”?

A person using the name ‘Clare’ discovered her exceptional abilities while listening in on a Harvard researcher’s study on ‘eidetic’ imagery, which is the ability to perfectly recall visual information. Upon realizing this, she confidently stated, “I believe I can do that.” She was proven correct when Dr. Charles Stromeyer’s research showed that she could accurately remember a card with 10,000 dots after just one minute and recall it in great detail a few minutes later. Her talent for remembering abstract visual patterns differed from the well-known Russian ‘mnemonist’ Solomon Shereshevskii. Shereshevskii’s intense synesthesia, while impressive, both helped and hindered him in constructing elaborate mental stories that allowed him to remember almost anything for extended periods of time, from Dante’s Inferno to lengthy strings of random numbers.

Some notable individuals, who were not highly recognized, were a retired taxi driver who could recall information about every Derby winner since 1780 and completed the Knowledge in just 11 weeks (the average time is around two years). There was also a former Lord Mayor of London who could memorize entire speeches after only reading them once, and a music hall performer who became a council finance officer and had an exceptional memory for details about matches in 22 different sports, ranging from soccer and cricket to shove ha’penny and darts. Shirley Williams, who was then a shadow minister for health, noted the advantage her ability to recall facts gave her during debates. She stated, “Figures seem to stay in my memory effortlessly,” although she did admit to having a poor memory for directions.

At long last, the publication initiated a search for ‘a one-in-a-million memory’, using cryptic dot and square designs to determine readers’ ability for photographic recollection. If you’re interested in trying something alike, the University of Cambridge began an internet hunt for ‘super memorizers’ in May…

Source: theguardian.com