From Wikipedia's article on Eidetic memory's prevalence

According to Herman Goldstine, the mathematician John von Neumann was able to recall from memory every book he had ever read. [15]

Refering to Page 167 of Goldstine's The Computer from Pascal to von Neumann

As far as I could tell, von Neumann was able on once reading a book or article to quote it back verbatim; moreover he could do it years later without hesitation.

He then goes on with a story about him challenging von Neumann to tell how a particular book's first chapter started with and JVN being able to recite it flawlessly.

The same section of the Wikipedia article starts with the following sentence

Eidetic memory is typically found only in young children, as it is virtually nonexistent in adults

Now , extraordinary does little favor in describing von Neumann's mental capabilities and scientific contributions but I think Goldstine's claims are bold even for someone like him. There are many more anecdotes about his abilities and, indeed, there are people who have savant skills, however even the ones who have had those skills "over-developed" performed significantly below average in other cognitive tasks. That makes the story about Von Neumann even less plausible, considering he was a polymath.

Finding a source disputing Goldstine's claims about von Neumann is obviously not the answer one should be looking for however it would be interesting to discuss, from a neuroscientific point of view, if it's really probable that the human brain can store such large amounts of information.

  • if you want a discussion, psychology and neuroscience SE would be a better place. Are you asking here if JvN never forgot anything? There is a book which makes that even stronger claim books.google.com/books?id=_GpQDwAAQBAJ&pg=PA104 Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 4:39
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    An no, "eidetic memory" is not the same as remembering any text read. The latter is a feat that was claimed by others e.g. " Kim Peek *, the 53-year-old savant who was the basis for Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man, is said to have memorized every page of the 9,000-plus books he has read at 8 to 12 seconds per page (each eye reads its own page independently), though that claim has never been rigorously tested." 9000 books easily fit on a DVD. Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 4:51
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    He also wrote six operas in two years, and learnt to walk when he was only 3 weeks old.
    – pipe
    Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 10:10
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    Goldstine and von Neumann worked together for many years; first during WWII and then at the Institute for Advanced Study en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herman_Goldstine
    – GEdgar
    Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 15:50


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