Shereshevsky, Soloman - Mental walks to aid recall
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
A R Luria – The Mind of a Mnemonist
He might select a street in Moscow. Frequently he would take a mental walk along that street – Gorky street in Moscow – beginning at Mayakovsky Square, and slowly make his way down, distributing his images at houses, gates, and store windows. At times, without realising how it had happened, he would suddenly find himself back in his home town (Torzhok) where he would wind up his trip in the house he had lived in as a child. The setting he chose for his mental walks approximates that of dreams, the difference being that the setting in his walks would immediately vanish once his attention was distracted but would reappear just as suddenly when he was obliged to recall a series he had recorded in this way.
This technique of converting a series of words into a series of graphic images explains why S could so readily reproduce a series from start to finish or in reverse order; how he could rapidly name the word that preceded or followed one I'd select from the series. To do this, he would simply begin his walk, either from the beginning of from the end of the street, find the image of the object I had named and take a look at whatever happened to be situated on either side of it.
S's visual patterns .. differed from the more common place type .. by virtue of the fact that his images were exceptionally vivid and stable, he was also able to turn away from them, as it were and return to them whenever it was necessary..........
Once we were convinced that the capacity of S's memory [perceptions] was virtually unlimited, that he did not have to memorise the data presented but merely had to register an impression, which he could read on a later date …. we naturally lost interest in trying to measure his memory capacity. Instead we concentrated on precisely the reverse issue. Was it possible for him to forget? We tried to establish the instances in which S had omitted a word from a series.
Indeed not only were such instances to be found, but they were fairly frequent. Yet how was one to explain forgetting in a man whose memory seemed inexhaustible? How explain that sometimes there were instances in which S omitted some elements in his recall but scarcely ever reproduced material inaccurately – by substituting a synonym or a word closely associated in meaning with the one he'd given?
The experiments immediately turned up answers to both questions. S did not forget words he'd been given; what happened was that he omitted these as he read off a series. And in each case there was a simple explanation for the omissions. If S had placed [on his imaginary walks to aid recall] a particular image in a spot where it would be difficult for him to 'discern' – if he, for example, had placed it in an area that was poorly lit or in a spot where he would have trouble distinguishing the object from the background against which it had been set – he would omit this image when he read off the series he had distributed along his mental route. He would simply walk on without noticing the particular item.....