Do you have a photographic memory for math talks?

I had a rather startling conversation with a colleague of mine today. We were discussing a conference we’d both attended in 2006, and my colleague’s account revealed — as if it were nothing out of the ordinary — that he could provide a complete catalogue of all the lectures delivered there. (With rather pungent evaluative commentary, too, but that sort of thing isn’t for blogging.) This colleague went on to tell me that he more or less remembers every serious math conversation he’s ever had.

I’m completely different; I often can’t remember the contents of a talk I saw the previous day. Or, more precisely, I can’t recall the contents — the material is familiar to me if I hear it again.

Anyway, readers, who’s normal, me or my colleague? Can you reel off the list of speakers from conferences of yesteryear?

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8 thoughts on “Do you have a photographic memory for math talks?

  1. At least, you’re as normal as me… I can remember some math talks from long ago, but certainly not all of them. But for a conference in 2006, I could probably, given enough time, remember quite a few of them.

    Even when I remember an old talk, the actual mathematical content may have escaped my mind completely. For instance, I was lucky enough that the first ever “real” mathematical talk I attended was one given by Étienne Ghys (in 1989); I remember it was absolutely wonderful, it was something about a very short and clever proof of some geometric result for which, previously, only very long proofs existed,… but I have completely forgotten what theorem it was!

  2. Em says:

    I don’t know about the math world, but in the regular world your colleague’s behavior arouses my husband’s clinical interest.

  3. Talks, no. I used to have a photographic memory for math in print. I could remember the location on the page and the formatting of theorems. As a first sign of old age, one day it was all gone.

  4. I think your colleague is the unusual one. If you gave me 10 minutes, I could probably come up with a list with 70-90% the speakers from a 2006 conference I attended, probably with some very vague description of what they talked about (certainly not a clean statement of the main result, unless I’d read the paper later). But total recall of that they said, no way…

  5. JSE says:

    Now I’m trying to decide whether I should tell my colleague what Felipe said, or whether that might alarm him. Well, I think he reads this blog sometimes, so I’ll let fate decide. Felipe, did you just lose the ability to form new mental JSTORs or did you lose the ones you already had?

  6. Richard Kent says:

    Wow. I often can’t remember the content of a talk I gave the previous day. :)

  7. Yonghui says:

    I guess that, for the advantage of studying math.

    It is better to have a photographic memory for short-term time, but not for the long-term time. Since the high ability of remembering everything, will weaken the ability of understanding, for example the forgotten things will alert you there are something you do not really understand.

    Of course, photographic memory will be very convenient while one studies math in print, I wish that I could have such ability, and I also wish that once I have photographic memory, it is just of short-time ability, i.e. I can photographic remember the math print which I read this week, but cannot photographic remember that of last month.

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