“Nigel Richards is the greatest Scrabble player of all time, hands down.” This was defended by journalist Stefan Fatsis, one of the great connoisseurs of the competitive Scrabble underworld, on NPR a few years ago. And, judging by Richards’ background, he’s right. He won the World Championship in English in 2007, 2011, 2013, 2018 and 2019. He is, in fact, the only person to have won the competition more than once. In addition, he has won the North American League five times; eight, the British; eleven, the Singapore Open and thirteen, the King’s Cup in Bangkok.

However, in 2015 he got bored. He bought the French Scrabble Dictionary and memorized his 386,000 words in nine weeks. That same year He was also proclaimed world champion of the French language board game defeat the real masters of the game of France, Canada, Belgium and French-speaking Africa.

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Nigel Richards en 2018

Nigel Richards, New Zealand born in 67, is a fascinating spirit. However, don’t overdo the media. Perhaps the best description of his working method comes precisely from Fatsis himself: “Basically he looks at word lists and dictionary pages. he can conjure up the image of what he has seen. He says himself that just hearing a word is not enough to stick it to his brain. But if you only see it once, just remember the picture. I don’t know if it is photographic memory; I think that’s something his brain chemistry allows him to do. “

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It is clear that Scrabble is not just a word memory game. It’s a game of strategy: at the professional level, it’s not just about scoring more than the rival, it’s also essential to prevent the opponent from scoring more points than you by playing with spaces and chosen words. However, what Fatsis says a question on the table … does this really exist about photographic memory?

The rare world of photographic memory

Soragrit Wongsa Av5xrpb0bwq Unsplash

The technical term, if we start to enter the world of photographic memory, it would be “eidetic”. These aren’t perfect synonyms, but they’re typically used that way. In essence, eidetic memory designates the ability to recall images extremely accurately without resorting to mnemonic techniques of any kind. In other words, it speaks of the ability to mentally reproduce images that we have seen. These images can be so vivid and real that there are studies dealing with differences in things like synesthesia.

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The most curious thing about this type of memory is not that it exists, but that a lot of people have had it at some point in their life. In principle, since the 1970s, when the subject was studied in more depth, data indicates that between 2 and 10% of tweens have this type of memory. There are no major gender differences in this regard and, in fact, estimates by many researchers indicate that this prevalence may be much higher (and that we have not located it correctly as we tend to measuring children’s memory with adult memory “diagrams”).

Because yes, indeed, most of the research is clear: cases of adults with photographic memory are extremely rare. There were about 20 adults in the United States in 2011 with absolute memory. How is this possible if indeed children tend to use eidetic forms of memory? Well, because reproducing everything in great detail is, in terms of capacity and resources, a very poor investment. As we grow older we start to use what you would call in computer science “lossy compression algorithms”, we try to store a certain amount of information using as little as possible. Language seems to play an important role in this regard.

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By saving distances, it’s exactly the same as we do with a JPEG or an MP3 (although in our case the losses are much greater). And is that, after all, questions in which eidetic memory is relevant (and more in an environment like the current one) they are very few. And to have it, as Barry Gordon, a neurologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, recalled, “having an incredible memory in a field, like vision, is no guarantee of a great memory at all levels. an Olympic winner by memory who needs to fill her fridge with sticky notes to remember what to do during the day. “

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In many ways, memory remains a huge mystery influenced by genetics, neurocognitive development, and learning experiences. So is “photographic memory”. For that, Seeing her show herself to her full potential in places as strange as a Scrabble competition is truly wonderful.

Source : Engadget