Can you develop a photographic memory?

Photographic memories are a hot topic for pop culture shows such as The Big Bang Theory.  They are also a popular topic of conversation because the idea is very interesting.  We have all heard stories of that one person who has a friend that never forgets anything, or your coworker’s roommate’s dad who apparently had a photographic memory.  But are any of these stories actually true, and if they are, what exactly causes the condition?  This is an important topic that I talked about in today’s episode of the podcast, and I hope I gave some valuable insight into the topic.

Synesthesia is a condition by which the senses you feel and experience become mixed.  For example when you think about or see numbers, you also see or feel vivid colors, emotions, and other sensations.  The idea is that this condition isn’t some strange thing that happens in a select number of people, but it happens to everyone.  Though for the vast majority of people, this is something that occurs in the subconscious mind.  Our brains and conscious mind have a mechanism to silence all this noise.  But you might ask yourself why the brain might want to do this and stop our selves from having a “photographic memory.”

By silencing much of the noise that our subconscious generates and processes, our brains run more efficiently and we can focus on things clearly.  This also allows us to efficiently interconnect ideas and use our creativity to survive and manipulate the environment around us.  There have been people throughout history who’s silencing mechanism was removed, and the contents of their subconscious came forth.  This allowed them to form highly efficient and powerful neural networks with the sensory information in the world.  In the case of Mr. S, it seemed that his whole inhibitory reflex was turned off.  So he remembered every detail of every day, but it was also difficult for him to separate important information from non-important information.

Using the principle of synesthesia to develop your own mind

A common trait of many of history’s most influential geniuses is the fact that they had synesthesia.  The degree to which you have it goes along a scale.  You can have complete synesthesia where you will create elaborate encodings for every memory and detail of your life.  Or you can have a more mild form that allows you to control it, and create extremely powerful visualizations and simulations within your mind.  This is something that Nikola Tesla was well known for.  He would always talk about seeing images all over the world during his day to day life.  He used this ability to develop his skills as an electrical engineer, and be one of history’s greatest geniuses.

Nikola Tesla would see the inventions he would create, or the instruments he built in his mind before he engineered them.  Doing this allowed him to determine just from his mental capacity if they would have any problems, or whether or not they would work.  Now let’s take this to what I think is a very interesting place. If everyone has this unconscious flow of images, sensations, emotions, and logic, then how do we tap into this and use it to our advantage.  My goal is to figure out this question and see if it’s possible, and from what I have seen, it definitely is to a degree.  We don’t typically pay conscious attention over time to the constant stream of sensations, but using the principle of neuroplasticity we can increase our ability to do so.