Photographic Shas

Joshua Foer wrote an article in Slate about Ms. Kaavya Viswanathan’s newest explanation of plagarism. Apparently, she claimed in today’s New York Times, she has a photographic memory.
Right, of course. She was writing, and she got confused between the picture in her head of McCafferty’s book, and her own. It’s completely understandable. Though, to be honest, wouldn’t this be a proof for the charges of plagarism? I mean, if she really had a photographic memory — wouldn’t she remember who wrote which? “No, I mean, I have selective photographic memory.”
So Foer goes through a number of other famous photographic memory cases. One of them: The Talmudic pin test. Anyone who went to a certain kind of Yeshiva (the kind that calls all academic subjects ‘English classes’ may qualify), knows about the pin test. You basically take a copy of the Talmud and push a pin through the cover. The testee passes by calling out every word on every page that the pin went through.
Foer isn’t impressed:

According to a paper published in 1917 in the journal Psychological Review, psychologist George Stratton tested the Shass Pollaks by sticking a pin through various tractates of the Talmud. They responded by telling him exactly which words the pin passed through on every page. In fact, the Shass Pollaks probably didn’t possess photographic memory so much as heroic perseverance. If the average person decided he was going to dedicate his entire life to memorizing 5,422 pages of text, he’d probably also be pretty good at it. It’s an impressive feat of single-mindedness, not of memory.

Or they are all just robots. Yeah. That’s it. They’re computers wrapped in black jackets and Borsalinos.

One thought on “Photographic Shas

  1. I can imagine such a skill, either the photographic memory or the perseverance, can have much use in secular academy.
    Let the haredim all become engineers.

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