“Knowledge is power.” “The mind has no limits.” Regardless of the quip used to emphasize how important the brain is to the being using it, survival says it best. In a Darwinist dream come true, the smartest and strongest are those to reproduce first and most often. Despite the fact that this may hold true for some animals, humans have an uncanny penchant for giving all people an “equal” chance at enjoying life and reproducing. Despite the mixing and matching of intelligence levels between couples that are in love, general intelligence seems to be best depicted as a bell curve. Very few are either extremely smart or very mentally handicapped while the majority of people hover at the ‘average’ IQ of 100. What is even more baffling is that those who do have extremely high levels of intelligence are often savants. Basically speaking, they’re more readily apt to do insane mathematical computations in seconds than they are to but their pants on for themselves. As research continues in ascertaining what about these superhuman geniuses makes them able to ‘unlock’ a part of their brain that works beyond our common capabilities, it is apparent that not all geniuses are “idiot” savants. In fact there are many people who are naturally gifted at memorization and using their brains to the fullest extent who function normally in society. Either way, when a brain is working at top-notch performance, the results can be staggering.
Memory serves us all: we remember where we put our keys, we memorize phone numbers and our memory helps us function literally every second of every day. Since all of us rely on our memories it is surprising that more folks don’t develop their brain’s capacity for memorization. While most of us are doddering around hardly cognizant of what exactly we did just a day or two ago, there are people with memories so flawless that they can tell you if it rained on the ninth of September… of 1986. Memories are sometimes jolted into being phenomenal: kind of reminiscent of how super heroes gain their powers. Most of the time, however, people with acute memory for details and astonishing computational power are simply born with the gift.
As you look through this list of the top ten feats of memory across the human race, consider your own memory as a point of reference. Try imagining exactly what you did just a day earlier, from the moment you got out of bed until you went back to sleep at night. Literally try to put yourself where you were – moving the way you moved, saying the things you said and going through your day mentally as though it were a “repeat episode” in your heard. You’ll be surprised at how much you actually do remember when you try. Still, chances are slim that you’ll be able to remember everything. For that reason alone, these feats should have incredible meaning to normal folks like us. If there are people out there who can memorize, remember and interpret on a computational level, there may be hope that someday even the ordinary and sub-standard levels of intelligence and memory can be surpassed. The people that have made it to this list aren’t necessarily “smart” – they’re gifted. Once that much is understood, you may be able to identify your gift and hone it until it’s just as impressive as what you’ve seen here.
Ramon Campayo has a remarkable memory. So much so, he has earned the title of being the “Fast Memory Champion” of the world. To give you an idea of how sharp this guy’s memory is, he is able to memorize a string of forty-eight binary numbers in a mere second. For a visual, 48 binary numbers looks like this:
In 4 seconds he can memorize ninety-six numbers, something like this:
Ramon is not a savant, just an ordinary man with an incredible mind. Another example of his prowess is that he can memorize assortments of seventeen integers in half a second. While people generally repeat a phone number they intend to memorize a few times until they’ve got it cold, Mr. Campayo can look at approximately five sets of phone numbers for one second and remember them all. Talk about special powers that could’ve come in handy during high school…
Mr. Wiltshire is a sufferer of autism who was born in London to a West Indian couple. Rather than the traditional scenario of the parents pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into the specialized care for a child with a disability, Stephen’s relationship with his parents works in quite the opposite way. His God-given gift of art is so phenomenal that he has been getting contracts the world over to draw landscapes. You may be saying, “so what? I can draw a landscape”. If so, right you are. Clearly the difference between you and Stephen Wiltshire is that while you may need to sit with your artistic medium in front of you while at the scene you’re drawing or painting, Stephen is able to accurately and entirely capture a landscape in his mind after seeing it once. His abilities are so impressive that after a short helicopter ride around Rome, (see the video bellow) he was able to not only draw the landscapes from ground perspective at perfect scale and proportion, he was also able to recall and draw the exact number of columns in front of the Pantheon, among many other details. Not only does Stephen manage to draw these landscapes after minutes of seeing them, he can do it on just about any sized canvas.
One of his more recent works was an eighteen foot drawing of the city of New York, for instance. Whether his memory is photogenic or if he simply has mastered the scales and proportions used in architecture, Stephen Wiltshire is a true prodigy.
When it comes to pure memorization power, there are few if any people out there that can hold a candle to Chao Lu. The sheer time commitment alone of spending hours dug into a book, memorizing and testing and refreshing the previous sets of memorized digits and so forth would scare away most. Chao, however, was not daunted. He also did not use any special “gift” as he is neither a savant nor a remarkably good memorizer. Despite these facts, Chao Lu was able to memorize and recite 67,890 digits of the mathematical formula Pi, starting with 3.14. His recitation alone took a straight twenty-four hours and four minutes of continual speaking of digits. Boiled down for those of us that aren’t computational supercomputers, (like some of the guys on this list), Chao spat out a digit every 1.2 seconds. He also was only twenty-four years old and in college at the time. To handle the rigors of education while memorizing almost 70,000 digits? Unbelievable. Still, that’s why he has the record!
Derek Paravicini is a true savant. He was born prematurely with the conditions of blindness and autism yet his ear for music is unlike anything on Earth. Derek may not be able to tell you which is his right shoe and which is his left but his ability to playback any musical tune on a piano is unparalleled. As music is played around him, Derek is capable of disseminating up to ten notes being played at once and put them all together in perfect harmony. He’s one of the few persons on the planet with absolute pitch. He instantly memorizes music that he hears and can translate it like a code onto the keyboard. In addition, he can playback in any style. Swing, jazz, pop, rock, whatever you want, Derek can play. All in all he’s like what would happen if Stevie Wonder had a lovechild with Raymond in Rainman and got the best of both worlds. ‘Nuff said.
Known as the human calculator, Rudiger Gamm is the poster boy for memorization. He was a horrible math student and he developed the skills that he currently has through practice and memorization. Just as we can simply calculate based on tables of memorized numbers that we’ve learned in school, Rudiger has mastered higher level tables including exponents and square roots. For self-serving reasons including modest fame and fortune, Rudiger Gamm works roughly four hours a day doing incredible mental math that he began learning to process at age 20.
To give you a concept of his mathematical skill today, when featured on a German TV game show, he quickly replied with the answer of what eighty-seven to the twelfth power is. This number is huge. 188,031,682,201,497,672,618,081 or for those that need it written out (few people would even know where to start when pronouncing this) one-hundred eighty-eight sextillion, thirty-one quintillion, six-hundred eighty-two quadrillion, two-hundred one trillion, four-hundred ninety-seven billion, six-hundred seventy-two million, six hundred eighteen thousand eighty one. That’s a lotta numbers…
Ben Pridmore is to Memory Sports what Arnold Schwarzenegger was to body building in the eighties. Ben has won a total of eight memory competitions in his lifetime including the 2004 and 2008 World Memory Championships. He had also held the record, (recently broken in 2010) on the quickest memorization of an entire, shuffled deck of cards. In 2010 he broke his own record and set a new one with 24.68 seconds, Ben was able to memorize the order of the cards and recite back to the tester the correct sequence. Unfortunately for him, the record hold for just a few minutes as the German Simon Reinhard (In the same 2010 Championship) broke it by an astonishing 3 seconds. Simon, did it in 21.90 seconds. Check the video below.
Ben’s skill doesn’t end at memorization: he is also an avid mental mathematician and participated in the Mental Calculation World Cup in 2004, 2006 and 2010. His secret is that he creates a mental story composed of various number sequences that he has memorized when he does his computations. Ben is also not a savant, just a very quick thinker.
The Chinese Wang Feng is the new World Champion from the World Memory Championship in 2010. Scores between he and Ben Pridmore were leagues apart. Ben wrapped up the challenge in 3rd with a score of 7338 whereas Feng’s record breaking score reached 8175. These numbers are calculated based on performance on a variety of tests including memorization of flash cards over varying time frames of display, audio playbacks and word lists. Feng also whooped Ben’s former high score on the memorization of a shuffled deck of cards: Wang’s time in 2010 was a mere 24.21 seconds!
When it comes to Jill Price, the question of whether her ability comes at a detriment has to be raised. Jill Price has the uncanny ability to remember 99.9 percent of everything that has ever happened to her throughout her entire life. While her memory is adept, all records of interviews and time spent with Jill suggests that the flood of information she has stored leaks out in regards to everything that she says. Going to a store means hearing about when it was a gas station ten years ago including the exact date and time that gas station closed and the time and date when the store opened. Walks in the park are filled with memories from every other trip to the park flooding out of Jill’s mouth at hundreds of miles a minute. She was such an impressive neurological case that ABC did a special on her where Diane Sawyer asked Ms. Price a score of questions relating to TV (because Price’s uncanny ability to remember everything is apparently squandered through personal choice on soaps and prime-time airings). She answered every question correctly about air dates of specials on TV like when CBS aired “Who shot JR?” (an episode of Dallas), and when the final episode of MASH aired.
Whereas most humans have memories that store in scattered parts of the brain, Jill Price is believed to have an organized system of filing memories reminiscent of the Dewey decimal for cataloging books in a library. Everything has a place in the order of books just like all of Jill’s memories are stored in line and sequence. Price can recall events that happened on certain dates just as readily as she can provide the date of a given event that occurred during her lifetime. Aside from recounts of her life and the plethora of TV she’s watched and remembers though, Price’s memory is really no better than anyone else’s. She slipped on some questions from recent history: for instance, when asked by Gary Marcus, a psychologist and reporter, about the 2004 and 2008 elections, she began to falter. Price’s cognitive ability to elude mental distortions is also no better than average, (mental distortions are when you give someone a list of things like “thread, pin, eye, sewing, sharp, point, prick” to quote Gary’s example and then ask for the person to recite the list over again. Generally there will be a word included related to the set of words but not actually in the set that comes out of most people’s mouths. In this case it was needle.). It has been said by Mr. Marcus that there is nothing special about Price’s memory in reality as her personality explains why she’s like this. She apparently thinks of herself and the past nearly all the time. She’s kept all of her childhood toys, has over two-thousand videotapes of herself stored away and more than fifty-thousand pages of diary entries written in chicken-scratch detailing every event of her days. While her memory is keen and she’s not technically a savant, everything about Jill Price points to her being one weird cookie all around, a fascinating weird cookie.
Daniel Tammet is a sufferer of autism though he is high-functioning and has even authored a couple of books. He also has been diagnosed as having Asperger’s syndrome. What makes Daniel’s memory so unique is that in addition to his mild autism, he has developed a condition called synesthesia. Synesthesia is a neurological condition where people that have developed it will see colors, feel textures and hear sounds that coordinate with letters or numbers. Daniel Tammet claims that purely based on intuition, he can see computations in his mind as a portrait of sensory data. Each number up to ten-thousand has its own sensation for Daniel. By telling him to raise the number two-hundred forty-two to the eighth power, a spectrum of color and sensation waves over him unconsciously and uncontrollably and based on what happens when the mathematical “scenario of 242^8” plays out, he arrives at the correct answer seconds later.
Daniel also holds the 6th place in the world for memorizing and reciting Pi as he was able to recite 22,514 digits of it in just five hours and nine minutes. Tammet’s ability to link characters with sensory data extends beyond math too, he can fluently speak at least 10 languages – in 2007, Daniel learned the Icelandic language in just one week. Daniel Tammet has also been working on developing a new language called Manti which is the Finnish word for pine tree. It reflects vocab and grammar from Finno-Ugric languages such as Estonian and Finnish of course.
This fascinating man was the memory all-star, the monster of memory, the walking hard drive. Kim Peek was a savant (or a mega savant) with congenital brain abnormalities resulting in social stratification but also a photographic memory. He was actually the basis for the character Raymond in the movie Rainman as the writer of the screenplay had met Kim at one point and became inspired to tell a tale of a genius mind hidden within a seemingly desperate case of disability. In Peek’s case, the nerves that connect the two hemispheres of the brain were entirely missing when he was born. Alternative connectors were all gone too such as the anterior commissure. Peek began memorizing things at 16-20 months of age starting with books. Before he passed in 2009 his count of memorized books was well over 12,000. That’s Twelve Thousand Books memorized with and accuracy of 98%, you could ask him a book page and he would tell you what was written in it. Kim Peek’s reading method was incredible as well – perhaps due to the independence of sides of his brain, Kim was able to read two pages at a time, one with each eye in just 8 seconds.
Unfortunately Kim Peek passed from heart attack in 2009 but his legacy will continue. He met with Daniel Tammet before passing and Kim told Dan that, “Someday you will be as great as me.” His words of hope have kept Daniel computing and memorizing with pride to this day with the aspiration of exceeding Peek’s memorizing capability.