Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Woman with Perfect Memory (Analysis)

Today there is much discussion in the news about a 40-year-old woman who has the ability to recall virtually every experience of every day of her adult life, or at least every experience she was interested in. Sadly, she is not a scholar, because she found school boring. (Given our propensity to have students merely memorize facts instead synthesize and create ideas, I can see why she wasn't excited during her impressionable years.)

She writes that her earliest memory is "of me, in the crib, about 18 months old, and being woken up by my uncle's dog." This is very unusual in itself, since the corpus collosum does not form in humans until about age 4. (This is why people typically have no memories before this age.)

Also, in a Q/A intervew with "AJ", the subject's psuedonym:

  • Question: Are there some things you would like to forget, but can't?
    Answer: THERE SURE ARE!!!!!!!!!!

Certainly we can relate to this with even our admittedly limited memory capabilities. AJ's fortunate advantage is that she can seperate what is accessible to memory from what is perennially present to consciousness.

Typically, memory has three components: encoding (processing and combining of received information) storage (creation of a permanent record of the encoded information), and retrieval/recall (calling back the stored information in response to some cue for use in some process or activity).

In AJ's case she has control of the components, and this allows her to live a normal life, which is singularly unusual, since up to now only savants have approached her abilities. Imagine, however, if she were a holocaust survivor, or the victim of some other heinous crime. In such case, she might have a much more malign view of her ability.


At 10:01 PM, Anonymous tim said...

I don't want to make this a pissing contest, but my earliest memory is when I was 6 months old. I have a photograph from the event & can describe the events leading up to the picture that explain my reaction in the picture.

At 6:07 PM, Blogger brinticus said...

Some people do have some memories from early in life, and it is not a hard and fast rule that NO memories can precede the formation of the main connection between the hemispheres, but my main point was note just when (and why) long-term memories kick in at a certain time in the normal brain development of humans.

At 6:19 AM, Anonymous woofmutt said...

When one has a very early memory about an event for which there is also a photograph that memeory is usually highly suspect. If I were Tim I would reconsider my whole life as I recalled it.

That said half jokingly, my earliest memory is also from when I was less than a year old. It's just a flash of memory, about getting my childhood teddy bear. I have other early memories which are just flashes and they all seem to be built around what would have been intense situations at that age. Such memories have made me wonder if the intensity of the situations is what burned them, like photographs, into my mind.

At 5:06 PM, Blogger John said...

I have many things "I choose to forget" however one of my earliest memories is of my oldest brother and game we played called "Radio Station" I could not have been much older than 6 or so...but the impact of the game (of which I use to detest)to this day still makes me chuckle and think quit fondly of him.... Ultimately neither of us got into radio, however we do communicate to the masses in our professions. Coincidence...I think not.



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