What is common between Pablo Picasso, Johannes Kepler, and Elon Musk?
· They are Powerful Innovators.
· They are all quick learners and had exceptional memories to process the information across multiple disciplines.
And it seems that having an exceptional memory (read photographic memory) is somehow linked to having great creative thinking skills. Let us explore further.
When the famous saint, Swami Vivekananda, was living in Chicago, USA, he used to go to the library, borrow large volumes of books, take them home and return them the next day. After some time, the librarian became curious and asked him, “Why do you take out so many books when you can’t possibly read them all in one day?” Swami Vivekananda replied that he read each and every page of every book.
The librarian could not believe it, and so Swami Vivekananda asked her to test him. She opened a book, selected a page and paragraph, and asked him to tell her what was written there. Swami Vivekananda repeated the sentence exactly as it was written in the book, without looking at it. The librarian was astounded and did more tests. Each time Swami Vivekananda repeated the exact words written in the book.
Later the librarian discovered that Swami Vivekananda had a photographic memory. He did not have to read books. His eyes, his mind, would capture the image on the page, and whenever he wished, he could just recall a book, a page, a sentence. That was the capacity of his brain and mind.
That brings us to the pertinent question.
Does photographic memory really exist?
The short answer is no.
Many people dream of having a photographic memory. They define it as the ability to take a quick mental picture of information (without effort), and then describe it in detail from memory.
But what they don’t realize is that memory like creativity is a muscle which needs to be trained to derive the maximum benefit. Memory is a creative process and not a photographic process and it requires a conscious effort to train it and bring it to life.
And that is what all the greats from Einstein to Vivekananda have been doing throughout their lifetimes. Perfect memory is a skill and not a special gift.
And the key is bringing the information to life. Once you are able to achieve it, you can never forget that information.
Think about it……what happens when you read an interesting cliffhanger whodunit or see a movie. You make a kind of movie in your mind, don’t you? You can remember all the names of the characters, places, and events because you can see it and you are creating pictures all the time while reading. You are using your imagination and your natural creative ability to bring information to life.
Now assume you are reading a dull textbook on psychology. How does your mind behave? You strive hard and try to retain a mental photograph of the page within your mind but you do not use your creative facilities you bring the information to life. As a result, when the crunch time comes to use the information, you know the page on which it is written but you just cannot remember what is written.
So in a nutshell, the people who learn quickly apply their creativity to everything they learn and keep the information in a live state within their brains. And that is the secret behind their so-called photographic memories.
Your mind is like an internal movie screen which processes thousands of bits of information every day. And adding to that, it is a finite resource. So the key to using the brain power judiciously is to help it converting lifeless information into pictures and ideas. As neuroscientist John Medina says, “Hear a piece of information and three days later you’ll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you’ll remember 65%.”
The more we turn information into images, the more it sticks to our mind and makes it an inherent part of our natural imagination.
There are many ways of doing this but one of the easiest is the SEE principle.
there are only five ways to get anything into your brain, and that is through sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.
Our senses help us in mentally recreating the world and once we train our senses to engage with every new information pouring in our brain and then connecting it with the real world, we are internally using our natural creative facilities and not relying on photography.
Think of a tiger: see it in your mind, touch it, smell it, hear it, and even taste it. You didn’t see the letters T.I.G.E.R in your mind; you saw a multisensory picture of what the word represents. Your senses make mind movies real and memorable. Use them!
What is easier to remember — a fully clothed Kim Kardashian watching a soccer match or a Kim Kardashian strolling on a beach in a pink bikini? The answer is obvious.
The key is to exaggerate the information as much as possible and make it visible within the brain a big hulk-sized picture.
Exaggerate with Humor; tickle your mind. There is no scientific evidence to prove that learning should be serious. Make your images illogical. Have fun; create some positive exaggerated learning memories.
Give action to the information. Change the settings. Put a splash of color to it and make it as vibrantly delightful as possible.
What tickles your imagination? a horse lazing around a beach or you riding that same horse with a massive sword in your hand. I am sure you would remember the latter.
Use action; it brings life to your memories. Make your images act in illogical ways: you can weave, crash, stick, or wrap things together. We can make things talk, sing, and dance. Think about the great genius Walt Disney.
Remember creativity is enjoyment and the more you enjoy, the more creative you become. Simple as that.
As psychologist Emile Coue pointed out that, “When the imagination and the will are in conflict, the imagination always wins.”
If you ‘will’ yourself to remember, and your imagination is not on the task, you will have zero retention and recall. Your imagination is the place of all your memory power. And make things easier for the imagination to work, by using the SEE Principle.
The more skilled you become in using your imagination, the more you can know, comprehend, and create. In this way, you become the master of your mind and not the slave of blurred photographs.
Imagine you have an unenvious task of remembering the capital cities of some countries of the world. Let us use the SEE principle.
· The capital of Australia is Canberra. You can imagine a Kangaroo (represents Australia) eating a can of berries (Canberra) and the two will stick together making it more memorable.
· The capital of Argentina is Buenos Aires. You can imagine you have an ARGENT(urgent) business appointment and you have to travel via BUS AIR (Buenos Aires).
· The capital of Finland is Helsinki can be interpreted as “If you scratch yourself with a PIN(FIN), it feels like HELL(Helsinki)”.
· The capital of Belgium is Brussels. Imagine Brussels sprouts falling out of a bell doing gym (Belgium.)
And so on……
Now make a silly mental movie using these images and BINGO, you can never forget the capitals in your lifetime!
You have imagined the information to life and connected it to real-world events and people. This information now becomes an intrinsic part of your imaginative mind.
When we see in everyday life things that are petty, ordinary, and banal, we generally fail to remember them, because the mind is not being stirred by anything novel or marvelous.
But if we see something exceptionally base, dishonorable, extraordinary, great, unbelievable, or laughable, that we are likely to remember a long time…
Ordinary things easily slip from memory while the striking and novel stay longer in the mind. The secret is to imagine objects, places, and actions that represent the sound of the name. This is not tricky. Just get close, and your brain will do the rest.
There is a similar argument to be made about creativity. Often, when people are asked to be creative, they assume that they have to engage some new cognitive process that allows them to generate new ideas. This is simply not the case.
The only route to finding creative solutions to a problem is to find information in your memory that will help you to solve the problem in some way. The key is to find new memories that will relate to the problem you are trying to solve in some way.
That is why creative people have the uncanny talent of connecting seemingly unconnected trinkets of information from their minds into a seamless powerful solution.
Creativity is driven by memory. That means that for any given creativity task, it is crucial to find memories that will help you to perform the task.
The most important thing to keep in mind, though, is that all creative work requires using your existing knowledge to help you to do new things. You don’t reinvent the wheel. You just find the right clog to get the thing working. That is, it!!!
As Gilbert Parker has rightly said.
Memory is man’s greatest friend and worst enemy. You decide what you want it to be.
· Horsley, Kevin. Unlimited Memory: How to Use Advanced Learning Strategies to Learn Faster, Remember More and be More Productive.
· The power of creativity — Brian Collins
· Learn like Einstein — Peter Collins
About the author-:
Ravi Rajan is a global IT program manager based out of Mumbai, India. He is also an avid blogger, Haiku poetry writer, archaeology enthusiast, and history maniac. Connect with Ravi on LinkedIn, Medium and Twitter.