Twenty minutes, that’s not a very long time.  Ignoring all distractions, you could probably read this 300+ word post at least 15 times before 20 minutes pass.  We’re not even going to bother trying to guess or calculate that for a speed reader but we’re confident it’s a lot more.  Now think of all the things you can do in 20 minutes: Watch a sitcom (without commercials, the theme song, or credits); or order, receive, then consume your order at a fast food joint; or run 2-4 miles depending on your pace; or write a letter to a friend; or call your parents just because.  In any one of those instances, you receive a lot of information and detail.  Some of it is stored in your short term memory then lost forever in the near future, and far less, if any, is stored long term then recalled years later.  Chances are, at the end of 20 minutes, you couldn’t tell me the name of the person who took your order at the fast food restaurant, or the color of the shirt the main character was wearing at the start of that TV episode. After 20 minutes of reading this article repeatedly, I doubt you could write it or repeat it from memory with 50% or more accuracy.

Try spending 20 minutes admiring a view and taking in the sights and details, then step away and try drawing, from memory and in detail, the view you just admired. It might be pretty difficult and near impossible for most people. Believe it or not, Stephen Wiltshire is able to do this. An artist from London, Wiltshire has drawn and painted from memory multiple works representing skylines and cityscapes including those of New York City, Tokyo, and Dubai.  In order to get the view and image in his memory, he took a helicopter ride of the city, which lasted about 20 minutes, and then he did some sightseeing for his own pleasure. Furthermore, as if drawing from memory is not impressive enough, these works of art are not on a small scale 8.5” x 11” paper (not to say that’s not a feat), but are drawn over days on canvasses that are multiple feet long measuring in the teens.  Did you catch that part where we said days, plural? Days have passed.  More information and stimuli have reached his brain since his ride finished, and have been processed and stored. We struggle just trying to remember and visualize where we parked this morning.

Discover more unbelievable facts at “The Science of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!®” at Arizona Science Center through May 4, 2014!

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