Sancy Suraj Pushes The Boundaries of Human Memory

Sancy Suraj Singh

In 30 minutes, 32-year-old Sancy Suraj recited more than 1505 digits of Pi. In 2012, Sancy memorized and recited 160 colours in 5 minutes 20 seconds- a feat that won him the Guinness World Record for The Longest Colour Sequence Memorized. What is it like to be born with a brain proficient enough of such incredible feats of memory? According to Sancy, he wasn’t born with it. “My memory wasn’t innate, it was learned. I started with a normal memory and had to train myself to achieve these memory feats,” Sancy Suraj states.

Sancy also represented his country, Singapore, at the World Memory Championships in 2011 that was held in Guangzhou, China. The World Memory Championships is an organized competition of memory sports in which competitors memorize as much information as possible within a given period of time. The championship has taken place annually since 1991, with the exception of 1992. It was originated by Tony Buzan and co founded by Tony Buzan and Ray Keene.

At the World Memory Championships, Sancy memorized 176 random abstract images in 15 minutes, 98 random words in 15 minutes, 480 random numbers in 60 minutes, 51 random names, and faces in 15 minutes, 460 random binary digits in 30 minutes. “I was able to accomplish those feats after only 6 months of practice. Thanks to neuroplasticity ,” Sancy said.

Neuroplasticity, which is also known as neural plasticity, or brain plasticity, is the capacity of the brain to undergo biological changes, ranging from the cellular level (such as individual neurons) to large-scale changes involving cortical remapping. Such quantifiable changes often happen as a result of psychological experiences. Some examples of neuroplasticity involve brain changes resulting from learning a brand new ability, changes resulting from sociocultural conditioning influences.

Neuroplasticity was once thought by neuroscientists to show only during childhood, however, research in the latter half of the 20th century recorded that many aspects of the brain could be changed (or are “plastic”) even through adulthood. Nevertheless, the developing brain exhibits a higher degree of plasticity than the adult brain. Activity-dependent plasticity can have important indications for healthy development, memory, and learning.

Sancy attributes his success in the world of memory feats to deliberate, and constant practice as well as applying memorization techniques like the Roman Room Technique created by the ancient Romans about 3000 years ago. Sancy says anyone can use these same memory techniques to train their brains like that of a world memory champion.

The Roman Room technique is an old and efficient way of remembering unorganised information where the relationship of items of information to other things of information is not essential. It functions by imagining a room (for example, your living room or master bedroom). Within that room are items. The Roman Room technique operates by associating images with those objects. To recall the information, take a tour around the room in your mind’s eye, visualizing the objects and their associated images.

The human brain’s memory space in the average adult can store trillions of bytes of information. In a Stanford Study, it was stated that the cerebral cortex alone has 125 trillion synapses. In another research study, it was reported that a single synapse could store 4.7 bits of information. Neurons are the cells which process and transmits messages within the brain, and synapses are the bridges connecting neurons which carry the sent messages. Running the numbers – 125 trillion synapses – 4.7 bits/synapse, and around 1 trillion bytes equaling 1 TB.

If you have a reasonably new computer, tablet, or smartphone, you know the phrase “megabytes” and “gigabytes”, this knowledge may help put your brain’s extensive information storage capacity into perspective. Early generation personal computers had – at best – a few megabytes of hard-drive information storage capacity. That is a few million pieces of digital memory – apparently a lot at the time, but tiny by today’s standards. For example, it is not uncommon for today’s smartphones to have “gigabytes” of memory size or more.

According to Scientific American, the memory space of the human brain was published to have the equivalent of around 2.5 petabytes of memory capacity. A “petabyte” equals to 1024 terabytes or one million gigabytes, so the average grown-up human brain can store the equivalent of 2.5 million gigabytes digital memory. To place that in prospect, according to Computerworld, Yahoo has built a 2.0 petabyte data warehouse. Yahoo uses the extensive information storage capacity of this data warehouse to examine the behaviour of its half-a-billion monthly visitors. 

The human brain is certainly a marvel, with more capacities than most of us can imagine. As more research studies are coming out on memory, it is only a matter of time until we surely find out how much the human brain can store. For now, we have memory athlete like Sancy Suraj to continually push the boundary and that can hopefully help us in discovering the true potential of the human brain.