The sultry weather, the pungent aromas, the pensive faces, the distant inaudible music — we may not remember everything we experience during the day, but unknown to us, these things are accurately recorded in our consciousness. Writing in the early twentieth century, Sri Aurobindo said that “there is a subliminal memory which can hold all things, even those which the mind cannot understand, e.g. if you hear somebody talking Hebrew, the subliminal memory can hold that and bring it up accurately in some abnormal state, e.g. the hypnotic. Exact images are retained by the subliminal memory. All that is subliminal is conventionally assumed by mainstream psychology to be the subconscious, which is not possible because the consciousness that holds exact memories is far wider and fuller than our waking or surface consciousness, and so cannot be called subconscient.”. Modern psychology uses the term eidetic memory or photographic memory to refer to such precision memory recall skills. This article covers a few examples of this action of the subliminal memory.
The difficulty with subliminal memory is our inability to bring it forth accurately. It often requires an abnormal transition into other zones of our consciousness in order to recall it precisely. Where does this subliminal memory reside? As explained elsewhere (see:Constitution), Yoga psychology asserts that man is not just a physical body but five sheaths of increasing gradations of consciousness; it is in the inner mental sheath that this subliminal memory resides. There is no such thing as unconsciousness but merely a transfer of consciousness into other zones of our totality. As we shall see below, it is through transitions into deeper zones through sleep, coma, hynotism, etc that we are able to access the inner sheaths and recall the things we unknowingly recorded.
Croatian girl learns German in a coma
Our first example is a recent news item of a Croatian girl who woke up after a 24 hour coma and began speaking fluent German, a subject which she had been struggling to to master.
Croatian doctors are baffled after a teenage girl who fell into a mysterious coma woke up speaking fluent German. The parents of the 13-year-old from the southern town of Knin said their daughter had only just started studying German at school and had been trying to read German books and watch German television – but had never been that good in German. But since waking up the teenager has been unable to speak Croatian and even refused it, but communicates only in perfect German far superior to her mastery of the language she had when she was taken ill. [2, 3]
This is a good example of the action of subliminal memory Sri Aurobindo that described above, which can be accessed in abnormal states of consciousness. In the state of coma, the Croatian girl became unconscious of the outer physical worlds but was perfectly conscious in her subtle body where she was able to access and organize her knowledge of German. Once she woke up, she was able to surprise everyone with her newly-gained knowledge.
Edgar Cayce: memorizing textbooks with a nap
Another example of subliminal memory can be taken from the life of the noted American psychic Edgar Cayce(1877-1945), who in his childhood spontaneously developed the ability to memorize the contents of school textbooks. His method was to read the textbook and take a short nap, after which he would wake up and recall minute details of the contents of the book. This is an excerpt from the book The Lost Memoirs of Edgar Cayce.
I studied, or thought I did, and was very sure I knew the lesson well, but when I handed him the book my mind became a perfect blank-I had forgotten everything. During those two or three hours I received many a buff and rebuff for my stupidity, as I labored heavily over that spelling lesson. As you remember, I hadn’t slept much the night before, and the fatigue of a growing boy had begun to tell, so around eleven 0’clock I began to fall asleep. Several times I picked myself up off of the floor where I had been slapped for going to sleep. Finally, I suggested, “If you will let me sleep five minutes, I can learn this lesson,” for something had spoken within, “Rely on the promise.” My father told me to go to sleep. When the five minutes were up I handed him the book, for I knew that I knew the lesson. Not only was I able to spell all the words in the lesson, but any word in that particular book; not only spell them, but tell on what page and what line each word could be found and how it was marked. As many of the pupils said later, “Cayce knows every mark in that book, unless somebody has made one since it was printed.” From that day on I had little trouble in school, for I would read my lesson, sleep on it a few seconds, and then be able to repeat every word of it.
To be sure, the next day I was as much a curiosity to my teachers and schoolmates as I had been in the days before, and the peculiar thing about it was that I knew all my lessons as well. I only had to lose consciousness, even in school, to retain whatever I had read in the book. I often felt that Miss Cox, my teacher at the time, must have had a greater insight into what was taking place than anyone ever credited her with having. From then to the end of school I advanced rapidly. I was accused of memorizing all my lessons; but I only read them, slept on them, and they appeared before my eyes as I recited. What this was I did not know. It was a wonder to my parents, my classmates, and my teachers; yet I did not attempt to reason why this had happened, and to this day I do not know how to reason it, for my present position is a combination of many experiences, varying in their way and manner of presentation, seemingly necessary for the evolution of my mind. 
Edgar Cayce in his sleep had transferred his consciousness into the subtle body where he was able to organize the subliminal memory and carry an accurate imprint of it back into the waking consciousness.
Modern psychology: sleep enhances memory
Edgar Cayce’s uncanny ability to memorize the contents of books through sleep has now received experimental confirmation from modern psychology. In the past decade, psychologists have experimentally discovered that sleep is one of the best aids for memory. In a recent study, Erin Wamsley et al [5, 6, 7] from Harvard Medical School, noted the following:
She asked 99 volunteers to learn the layout of a complex virtual maze so that they could reach a specific landmark after being dropped at a random starting point. Five hours later, they were tested again. Those who had stayed awake in the intervening time beat their previous times by 26 seconds, but those who had had a 90-minute nap improved by a whopping 188 seconds. But those who dreamt about the task fared even better. Wamsley either asked her recruits directly about whether they dreamt about the labyrinth, or asked them to give an open-ended report of everything that was going through their mind while they were asleep. Either way, those who had thought about the maze during their short nap improved far more than those who didn’t. They also beat those who mentally replayed their training again while awake. These striking results suggest that there’s something special about the mental rehearsals that happen during dreaming sleep. 
Modern psychology offers its own explanation for this phenomena based on neural signal strengths in the brain. Yoga psychology offers a different explanation based on the subtle (astral) body and the action of subliminal memory as already outlined above. Hopefully, someday the differences will be resolved!
Stephen Wiltshire : autism and memory recall
Another example of subliminal memory can be taken from the life of Stephen Wiltshire who was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. His lack of social skills are more than compensated by the extraordinary ability of drawing life-like, accurate representations of cities. All he needs is a helicopter ride over the city during which the details get imprinted into his consciousness after which he is able to sketch an amazingly precise panoramic view of the landscape. I have embedded a video of him drawing Rome from memory. The picture seen below is his rendering of New York City.
His website is http://www.stephenwiltshire.co.uk/.
- Similarity between Neurological and Yogic models of human memory
- People claimed to possess an eidetic memory
- Kim Peek. The movie Rain Man was based on his extraordinary abilities
- Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga – I: Planes and Parts of the Being – XII
- Croatian teenager wakes up from a coma speaking fluent German. Daily Mail, April 13, 2010. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1265433/Croatian-teenager-wakes-coma-speaking-fluent-German.html#ixzz0llS4pDYX (accessed April 23 2010)
- Croatian teenager wakes from coma speaking fluent German. Daily Telegraph, April 12, 2010 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/croatia/7583971/Croatian-teenager-wakes-from-coma-speaking-fluent-German.html (accessed April 23 2010)
- Edgar Cayce and Robert Smith. The Lost Memoirs of Edgar Cayce (Are Pr 1997), p 18 (google book link) (amazon)
- Ed Yong. To sleep, perchance to dream, perchance to remember. Discover Magazine blog – Not Exactly Rocket Science, April 22 2010. http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2010/04/22/1444/
- Katherine Harmon. To sleep, perchance to dream – and learn. Scientific American – Observations blog, April 22 2010 http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=to-sleep-perchance-to-dream–and-le-2010-04-22
- Erin Wamsley et al. Dreaming of a Learning Task Is Associated with Enhanced Sleep-Dependent Memory Consolidation. Current Biology April 2010. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2010.03.027