How to develop a photographic memory 2/​3

As you may have guessed, these first two (2) posts give you the building blocks of mnemonics. The final post will polish some theories I’ve developed, refine the process in building personal mnemonic techniques, and finally: how to acquire a photographic memory.

As was the case with my first post, I invite suggestions and constructive criticism. Thank you to @Brendan Long for helping me there.

Techniques covered: Sirianni, Sirianni-Soul, Dark Room, Memory Board, Shaper System, Association System. Alongside this, a brief summary of tools; Spreeder, Notion, Anki, Trello, Obsidian, Bionic Reading, arXiv Vanity, and ChatGPT. (Credits to @Algon for suggesting this.)


I’ve called these three (3) techniques ‘unorthodox’ because there is not substantial research behind them, nor is there widespread use. While my first post dealt with techniques that had studies directly dedicated to them, these are backed by indirect conclusions drawn by a cluster of vaguely related studies. These three (3) seem to be effective for the same reasons that ‘orthodox techniques’ work (I’ve dedicated a section in this post listing those reasons titled ‘foundations of memory’.) Importantly, these follow the general rule of thumb: it shouldn’t be more difficult to remember the memory tools, than it is to remember in itself.


The Sirianni technique was created by youtuber ‘State of Mind’. It falls under the ‘library’ category.[1] Those familiar with the Zettelkasten technique, will recognise that this is heavily inspired by it.

While this technique is effective, it has several biases. As a result, I’ll explain some of those. After, I’ll explain why (and probably against all your rationality ringing bells) some biases are beneficial when it comes to memory. Last, I’ll propose what I think is an even better working model: ‘SIRIANNI-SOUL’.

I’m outlining this process (a)-(c) so that you understand how I invented the technique for photographic memory. It’s always been; know the problems with memory, understand the anatomy of other memory techniques, and give your own theories a nice title like ‘SIRIANNI-SOUL’. The Solakios technique is just the magnum opus of refining this analytical process.


Our memory isn’t perfect, as you’ve probably discovered. Either through overwritten child memories with displaced people and objects, or faulty test scores down the road. There are five (5) specific biases I’m summarising (for the purposes of this post.) I’ve attached a full list of biases in the footnote if you’re into extra reading.[2]

  1. Mood-congruent memory bias: you are more likely to remember something that is consistent with your emotions at the time of recall. There are four (4) theories regarding this. Briefly, the consensus seems to be that our brains develop new neural pathways, retrieve like-minded memories, and subconsciously guide our pattern recognition based on the emotions we feel. It seems that chronically depressed individuals are far more likely to recall sad memories from sad words and vice versa with happy individuals from happy words.[3]

    It seems probable (this is a claim of my own) that you can artificially induce certain emotions during study sessions, and then induce those same emotions during tests or high-pressure situations to recall what was learned. I think this is why it’s extremely important to have a ‘problem-oriented approach’ when learning something (a sufficiently strong motivation that generates memorable emotions.) I’ll talk more about this bit in [Chapter IV].

  2. Hindsight bias: a core reason behind this trio of posts, other than competing with AI, is found in this type of bias. It posits that person’s with worse memories are more confident. Such persons recognise the outcomes of events as having been predictable all along, only because they’re looking at it from the present. I like to say: ‘Everybody sees the best moves, and a bigger chessboard in hindsight.’[4]

    I think we all know a few friends who have said: ‘Ah, the outcome was as I predicted!’ when in reality, the outcome was not because of the causal relationship they identified, or it was pure coincidence (careful not to confuse this with egocentric bias.)[5]

  3. Fading effect bias: negative memories leave long-term storage far faster than positive ones do. Studies suggest it is because we’re biologically predisposed to positive emotions since it helps with our survival (high morale means we’re more eager to hunt.)[6]

    Now, I’m not suggesting that you write on the board with chalk ‘I am happy’ fifty (50) times before studying. Rather, I’m stating that some positive affirmations, and placebos could go a long way when it comes to memory and learning.

  4. Recency effect bias: it’s well known that people are more likely to remember the last thing they hear than the first. This is why closing arguments in court trials are so important because the jury will probably remember those final words more clearly than any of the arguments presented in previous weeks.[7]

    This is important to be aware of when blurting (reciting key points of material immediately after reading it to test how much has been remembered).[8] You’re more likely to blurt out the conclusions to the topic than the premises that built to it. Since premises tend to be the most important part in understanding material, this bias should be avoided in most cases.

  5. Confirmation bias: our desire to view the world through our personal lens (I cite the usefulness of the term ‘colour blindness’ instead of ‘blind spots’ here.) If someone thinks they’re being watched; every camera seems to be pointing at them, all accidental eye contact seems purposeful, and so on. This can be applied to memory as well.[9]

    To illustrate this further: you may have gotten a bad score on a test. You blame Mrs ShrillVoice because she’s a bad teacher and knew her techniques wouldn’t work. This student interprets their memories of ShrillVoice as confirmation of their hypothesis that they were going to do badly on a test. In reality, it’s because they didn’t study.

For more nuanced examples, see Daniel Schacter’s ‘Seven Sins of Memory’.[10]


We’ve identified five (5) types of biases. Instead of swearing them off like you’ve been rightfully taught, we’ll be manipulating them for our benefit. Now, be careful. I’m not claiming that remembering things incorrectly is a good habit. I’m saying that instances exist in which there’s a distinction between being aware of how the brain incorrectly interprets memories and betting on it and being blissfully ignorant of a faulty memory. We are aiming for the former.

The Sirianni technique relies on simplicity, the personal vibe of the study note, and the benefits of memory biases to work. The anatomy of the ‘Sirianni flashcard’ is:

  1. Heading: title an A5 or A6.

  2. Body: summarise that topic, extracting the key elements. Use as much informal language and personal jargon as possible. It should be immediately recognisable that it was written by you.

  3. Personal connection: leave space at the bottom to explain to your present and future self why this summary is important to your life.

  4. Icon: draw a picture, or symbol in the top right that distills the summary to a visual format (it won’t line up perfectly, it should just be personally significant.)

State of Mind emphasises the ‘mindshift’.[11] Convince yourself that this process is ‘gamifying’ the expansion of knowledge in an exciting way. At least enough to get that juicy placebo effect going.

Alike to the Zettelkasten, each flashcard should be its own ‘hulk’ (requires no further explanation other than what is presented on that paper to understand the topic .)[12]


Let’s improve this technique, using some of the biases I mentioned earlier:

  1. Coloured title: I’ve hinted at the influence primary/​warm colours has on memory. Use the colour red (induces anger, love; strong emotions) for the flashcard.[13]

  2. Body: summarise the topic. Then, at the bottom include a hypothesis or question which the summary serves as an answer to (remember the ‘active rehearsal’ technique in the first post.)[14] After this short sentence, include an antithesis or a personal crutch you have with that piece of knowledge (confirmation bias.) The shortness and placement of these two (2) sentences creates a quick ‘keynote’ which can be read in a hurry (recency effect bias.)

  3. Personal connection: provide an immediate example of where you can use that piece of knowledge in your real life (hindsight bias.) The more ridiculous, and vulgar the example, the higher the likelihood it’ll be stored in long-term memory.[15]

  4. Icon: instead of just using a random visual representation of the summary, use what’s called ‘sketchnotes’. Use whacky and laughable diagrams that connect the symbol with the ideas on the page to activate both sides of the brain (fading effect bias.) There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that when we handcraft and design our notes (even at PhD level), our brain not only understands better, but remembers it for longer.[16]

I used a random topic generator and used this technique. Said note is attached below:


There is a persistent internet rumour regarding the ‘Military Method’ or the ‘Dark Room Technique’.[17] Briefly, it argues that you can develop a photographic memory by doing the following for at least fifteen (15) minutes a day for thirty (30) days:

  1. Position yourself in a dark (preferably windowless) room;

  2. Have cardboard with a paragraph-sized cutout (A6 or A7);

  3. Place this cardboard atop the target paragraph, revealing it to the eyes;

  4. Have a nearby spotlight that is focused on the paragraph;

  5. Allow your eyes to adjust to the dark and have them rest on the paragraph;

  6. Flick the light on and off quickly, letting the words burn into your mind;

  7. When the outlines of that paragraph fade from your mind, repeat the process; and

  8. Do this until you can repeat the words correctly without looking at the paragraph.

To date, no members of the military anywhere have verified this. It seems to be (at least partially) inspired by a novella called Gulf. However, a user from Reddit did try this for twenty-one (21) days and seems to have had some success (take this with a mouthful of salt.)

From my own research, I have a hunch this method is inspired by something called ‘retinal optography’.[18] People used to believe that the last thing a dead person saw could be extracted from their retina (this turned out to be highly impractical.)[19] Thanks to @Richard_Kennaway for pointing out that it may also be inspired off of Renshaw’s Tachistope training.

Regardless, I tried this technique myself. Surprisingly, there does seem to be a causal relationship between repetitive bright lights and recalling it immediately after. I have reservations though; how much of this is placebo? Am I suffering confirmation and ego-centric bias due to a preconceived conclusion in writing this post? Does this damage the eyes? I will be confronting these questions objectively in [Chapter V].


There are several techniques that fall into the ‘dormant’ category of memory (useful for specialised contexts only, in this case: competitions). I’ll be summarising a few that I think are useful for the purposes of this post. The rest are linked here.

  1. Memory board: a physical representation of a memory palace. It is designed by its wielder with wood, arts and crafts, different smells and colours. If you’ve ever read Stephen King’s ‘In the Tall Grass’ where the characters touch a mythical rock and have all of humanities memories injected into their skull from that...yeah.

  2. Shaper system: training the brain to recognise numbers as images instead. For example, twelve (12) might be a swan swimming towards high grass. The brain remembers abstracted symbols (think hieroglyphics) far better than numbers and words.[20]

  3. Association system: this encodes memories with arbitrary but personal links. For example, you might remember all the numbers in a string that reflect your birthday date. Or, twenty-five (25) could be encoded as a Christmas tree. This works largely because of how the human brain favours pattern recognition (we like buying products in the store that we saw in advertisements a week earlier.)[21]

The important thing to remember is that a lot of these were created by the contestants themselves, for themselves. Throughout this trio of posts, you should be getting a good idea of what a technique tailored to your tastes would look like.


There’s a movie called ‘Limitless’ and a later show based on the same premise. A drug that boosts cognitive ability, IQ, and memory to astronomical heights. This premise helps serve as an analogy for this chapter (I might cover nootropics and their effects on memory in some sort of bonus chapter, we’ll see.)

Memory modules consist of; the understanding and analytical bit of remembering (foundations of memory), and the instruments that allow automation of otherwise complex techniques (tools).


Throughout these two (2) posts, I’ve hinted at (a) building your own technique, and (b) the ‘reasons’ or principles behind what makes a good technique. I’ve summarised them below as a sort of criterion for any theories of your own. I’ve also re-summarised the arbitrary categories from the first post. Why? You might want to create multiple techniques for different scenarios, this mental compartmentalisation helps with that.


  1. Dormant: techniques that are specific to very niche contexts; reciting the numbers of PI, or international memory competitions.

  2. Observe: modules or techniques which make the mind ready to absorb information efficiently, effectively and in coherent chunks.

  3. Livewire: quick mental models used so frequently they become intuition. Can be applied in unexpected moments; remembering a conversation with an academic celebrity you meet out in the street.

  4. Library: permanent, long-term techniques that assemble complex and large quantities of information for long-term memory.


  1. Be proactive with biases: our brain stores memories and information in ways that can be capitalised on.

  2. Personal involvement: the more active you are in developing the curriculum and the way in which you think, the more your brain recognises the target of that learning as important (remember the Feynman technique.)[22]

  3. Intention: placebo effect aside, you need to approach learning with a good mindset. There’s increasing scholarship that suggests the reason children learn quicker is because they approach the world with curious wonder and take ‘mind breaks’ more quickly (it’s a little more complicated than that, see the attached study).[23] Convince yourself that all material is brand new; the most interesting thing you’ve ever learned. Further, understand how purposeful encoding works (akin to how Sherlock Holmes takes in the sights, sounds, and smells of a crime scene, then draws a meaningful analysis in his mind.)

  4. Aesthetic: order your notes logically, in a meaningfully colourful way, with pictures iconic to your personal psyche. Amplify effectiveness with sensory usage; music, smells, and touch.

  5. Simplification: keep things simple but true to the source material. The more complex, the less you understand it, and the harder it is to store in long term memory.[24]

  6. Preparation: ready your mind for the intake of new information; give it an overview (sponge technique), have tools at the ready (discussed ahead), and be aware of timing (spaced repetition.)

  7. Emotional control: we seem to be able to remember cringe memories forever; why not induce similarly powerful emotions when it comes to studying?[25] Have proper reasons for learning, positive affirmations for higher retention rates, and try beginning each session with high adrenaline.

Dr. Pietr Wozniak also has a great list of rules to follow when formulating knowledge. Feel free to use them, covering all bases.


Limitless has a ‘moral of the story’ which is this: don’t let these tools substitute your own mind. They’re instruments that aid, not oust. When you’re dealing with remarkably difficult exams, a dedicated three (3) - six (6) month period of burst learning, or to mitigate learning disabilities, these can be helpful. In any case, if I’ve done my job right, you’ll be able to discard most of these tools upon the conclusion of these posts.

I’m not going to explain how to use these tools in detail, tutorials can be found elsewhere. I’m briefly outlining their usefulness as houses (where our study notes can be better utilised), and roads (means to present raw information in a better way prior to taking down notes.)


  1. Spreeder: low learning curve, medium utility, free in most respects. This tool centres words on-screen and allows quick reading. We typically waste time in this respect, saying words fully in our mind when there’s no need. Further, our eyes wonder up and down instead of in a perfect horizontal line when reading. This tool remedies that.

  2. Notion: medium learning curve, high utility, free in most respects. This tool is especially effective for creating past papers. It has ‘toggleable questions’ which open up into self-contained answers. You’re also able to create wiki’s in here, thus allowing a digital Zettelkasten.

  3. Anki: medium learning curve, high utility, free in most respects. Good for flashcards, language learning, and spaced repetition (has a multitude of algorithms which automatically calculate the best times for revision based on how easily you remember something.) This tool is very popular, and if you’ve been left out, here’s a useful guide.

  4. Trello: low learning curve, medium utility, free in most respects. This is great for digital memory palaces; each column can have visual images, and checklists. It’s also very aesthetically pleasing and customisable theme-wise.

  5. Obsidian: high learning curve, high utility, has an equal share of free features and one’s that cost money. This program is specifically designed for the Zettelkasten, but also allows other techniques to be visually represented on a 3D neural web. I’ve had great success in digitising the Sirianni-Soul technique using it. Here’s a guide.


  1. Bionic Reading: low learning curve, low utility, has an equal share of free features and one’s that cost money. It’s a visual aid for people with ADHD and dyslexia that enhances your ability to speed read by colouring specific letters in bold.

  2. arXiv Vanity: low learning curve, high utility, free in most respects. The website allows academic papers to be converted from boring PDF’s to a mixture of diagrams, good spacing, and logical hierarchies. It’s useful in that it activates both sides of the brain. Of course, the limitation is that papers without an arXiv link cannot be converted.

  3. ChatGPT: low learning curve, high utility, high cost. The CustomGPT features (which I’ve experimented with) allow you to build an arXiv Vanity equivalent tailored to your specific needs. Right now, I can upload a PDF; it’ll colour it in red, insert certain diagrams for certain tag words, and do a bit of sketchnoting here and there. Unfortunately, the cost to use these features is very high at the moment.


We’ve reached the end of [Chapter II] and [Chapter III]. Below is an outline of everything covered (recall the sponging technique.) Depending on how much interest this gets, I’ll upload the last and most important post.

  1. C II | Unorthodox Techniques (conclusions on memory drawn indirectly from many different studies.)

    1. Sirianni technique (red cop badge with an ID card; inspired by Zettelkasten.)

      1. Problems with memory (manipulating biases for our benefit; mood-congruent memory, hindsight, fading effect, recency effect, and confirmation bias).

      2. Anatomy (Sirianni flashcards; heading, body, personal connection, and icon.)

      3. Sirianni-Soul (improving the method by including biases in a more purposeful way.)

        1. Using more emotional colours to induce importance;

        2. Hypothesis & antithesis to act as a keynote;

        3. Practical and immediate application; and

        4. Sketchnotes.

    2. Dark Room technique (laser passing through a lens picture, unverified.)

      1. Dark room with light pointing at cardboard cutout.

      2. Flick light on and off with eyes focused on paragraph. R

      3. Repeat for fifteen (15) minutes a day, for thirty (30) days.

    3. Contest scenarios (five (5) pointed star, specific to niche contexts like competitions; memory board, shaper system, and association system.)

  2. C III | Memory Modules (readying the brain to remember more easily.)

    1. Foundations of memory (two (2) Roman pillars picture, importance of building your own technique, and the criterion to test the ‘effectiveness’ of that technique.)

      1. Categories; Dormant, Observe, Livewire, and Library.

      2. Principles; be proactive with biases, personal involvement, intention, aesthetic, simplification, preparation, and emotional control (acronym: ABPIPES).

    2. Tools (a weird looking sceptre, boost the way in which information is delivered to your brain.)

      1. Houses (maximising utility of study notes.)

        1. Spreeder, Notion, Trello, Anki and Obsidian (NOTAS).

      2. Roads (presenting information in a better way.0

        1. Bionic reading, arXiv Vanity, and ChatGPT (BAC).

  1. ^
  2. ^

    A Cunff Memory bias: how selective recall can impact your memories 17 Nov. 2020 Ness Labs.

  3. ^

    G Lange, A Carr Mood congruent memory bias of individuals with depressed mood and anxiety 1999 Irish Journal of Psychology.

  4. ^

    M Welsh Overconfident in Hindsight: Memory, Hindsight Bias and Overconfidence Aug. 2020 Cognitive Science Society.

  5. ^

    L Sevi, M Stantic and Others Egocentric Biases are Determined by the Precision of Self-related Predictions 4 Apr. 2021 ResearchGate; S Sreenivas, S Rao Egocentric Bias and Doubt in Cognitive Agents Mar. 2019 AAMAS.

  6. ^

    J Gibbons, S Lee and Others The Fading Affect Bias Begins Within 12 Hours and Persists for 3 Months 5 Aug. 2010 Applied Cognitive Psychology.

  7. ^

    D Fudenberg, D Levine Learning with Recency Bias 28 Oct. 2013 Scholar.Harvard.Edu; F Arni, I Narsa and Others Are Emotions Exacerbating the Recency Bias: An Experimental Study Jan. 2020 International Journal of Trade and International Markets.

  8. ^

    E Heerema Understanding Elaborative Rehearsal in Psychology 27 May 2023 Very Well Health.

  9. ^

    R Nickerson Confirmation Bias: A Ubiquitous Phenomenon in Many Guises Jun. 1998 Review of General Psychology.

  10. ^
  11. ^

    State of Mind (n 1).

  12. ^
  13. ^

    M Dzulkifli, M Mustafar The Influence of Colour on Memory Performance: A Review Mar. 2013 Malays J Med Sci.

  14. ^

    M Saran, M Gober and others An Introduction to the Cornell Note System 22 Dec. 2022 Ear, Nose and Throat Journal.

  15. ^

    S Jesus THAT’S SO CRINGE: Exploring the concept of cringe or vicarious embarrassment and social pain Sep. 2022 European Psychiatry.

  16. ^

    D Baff Using Sketchnotes in PhD Research and Academic Practice Sep. 2020 International Journal of Management and Applied Research.

  17. ^

    S Russell How to Develop a Photographic Memory 12 Dec. 2023 Mindset.

  18. ^

    A Minshew Retinal Optography: Fact or Fiction? 2023 American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  19. ^

    D Lanska Optograms and criminology: science, news reporting, and fanciful novels 2013 National Library of Medicine.

  20. ^

    B Roberts, Collin Macleod and Others Symbol superiority: Why $ is better remembered than ‘dollar’ Sep. 2023 Elsevier.

  21. ^

    R Barkman Patterns, the brain, and learning Nov. 2000 The Science of Learning.

  22. ^

    E Reyes Feynman Technique as a Heutagogical Learning Strategy for Independent and Remote Learning Dec. 2021 Recoletos Multidisciplinary Research Journal; S Tamm Feynman Technique: A Complete Beginner’s Guide 18 Jan. 2023

  23. ^

    S Frank, M Becker and Others Efficient learning in children with rapid GABA boosting during and after training 5 Dec. 2022 Current Biology.

  24. ^

    M Hoque Memorization: A Proven Method of Learning Feb. 2018 The Journal of Applied Research.

  25. ^

    C Tyng, H Amin and Others The Influence of Emotion on Learning and Memory 24 Aug. 2017 Front Psychology.