This woman remembers every detail from her life since she was 12 days old


#1

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/04/23/this-woman-remembers-every-det.html


#2

What a horrible age to begin remembering everything perfectly.


#3

I’ve heard about this before, and while it’s a remarkable ability, I’m a little skeptical. I believe they believe they remember everything in perfect detail. But it’s been demonstrated in studies that memories change when they’re accessed. For example, how would a newborn be able to have a concept of the question what is that?

Which is not to say I think it’s impossible. I’m just skeptical.


#4

Several years ago, NPR interviewed* a woman with this ability who described it not as a superpower but a supercurse.

Imagine being able to not just recall but relive every major death, breakup, and other upsetting event as if it happened yesterday. Yeah. I’m curious if there is a specialized type of psychotherapy for such enduring acuity of recall.

*When Memories Never Fade, the Past Can Poison the Present [NPR, 2013]

[Edited to include story link]


#5

That was my thought as well. She claims she remembers sitting in a car at 12 days old looking up at the steering wheel and thinking “what is that?”

Just as you point out, a newborn doesn’t have the conceptual framework to form a question like that, and it goes beyond that. A newborn doesn’t have the sensory perception to be able to focus more than about a foot in front of their face, much less track objects in the distance.

This sounds like an incredible phenomenon, so I wonder why it needs to be embellished like that?


#6

I seem to recall there’s a minor celebrity with this condition. Marylou Henner, IIRC.


#7

I don’t need that kind of guilt-inducing rolodex in my life: what should I feel crappy about today? I’ve got a decent memory and often enough I think about some damned fool thing I did 22 years ago or whatever and I spend more than a few moments dwelling on that. Imagine having your whole life to choose from?


#8

I don’t think it’s deliberate. And I do think it’s important to be sensitive to dismissing the experience of others (so if I did that, apologies for the miscommunication on my end), which I think is quite real, and a little googling suggests there’s enough scientific evidence to show it is. The controversy seems to be over the explanation, which understandably has no clear consensus since we have very limited understanding of how the brain stores and accesses memories. Here’s a paper that seems to suggest the brain might fill in the gaps in a convincing manner in all people, and the effect is much stronger in individuals with hyperthymesia. I’m no neurologist or psychologist, but this makes me think of interpolation in numerical analysis.


#9

Not even being sarcastic here, I wonder if people with this condition have a great tendency to hold grudges?


#10

That’s correct - Marilu Henner is good friends with Lesie Stahl who interviewed her for this 60 Minutes segment in 2010 about HSAM.


#11

From the NPR story link I added to my post above, here is a quote from Bill Brown, who also has HASM:

“Just because I remember something that you did wrong doesn’t mean that I still hold it against you,” he says. “But it’s taken me a long while to realize that folks without my ability probably don’t understand that distinction. Because after all, if you’re bringing it up, the logic from the other side would be: You must still hold it against me.”

This is not, in fact, the case, he says. “It has more to do with wanting you to be honest in your dealings.”

I suppose in their case, the saying ‘I forgive but don’t forget’ is as much a statement of fact as it is a statement of their personality.


#12

I don’t think it’s likely that it’s deliberate either, but the claim simply contradicts the basic biology of infants. If, for example, an incredibly gifted athlete claimed that he was able to run and jump at one month old, it would be extremely unlikely to be true even if the athlete sincerely believed it to be so, right?


#13

I guess what I’m saying is that they may have superior memories, but if the process of remembering is closely related to the process of interpolating missing data, their memories could be no more or less false than the rest of us, but rather both the actual data and the retroactively interpreted data could both be stronger. This would make sense since clarity of memory seems to be a function of both. But again, my field isn’t even biology, so take that with a shaker of salt.

I have done some work with neural networks, and while I suspect the human brain is more complicated and not discreetly layered, if you coded and trained a neural net to use interpolative methods to reconstruct data, there’d be no easy way to determine how it mixes the data sets.


#14

For anyone still curious about life with HASM—and I certainly am—you’ll enjoy this in-depth by Gary Marcus on Jill Price, a California resident with HASM hyperthymestic syndrome. Marcus, a cognitive psychologist, approaches the topic with a productive combination of skepticism and empathy:

Everyone seems to have an uncle or cousin with “photographic” memory, but damned if they can actually give you a phone number to reach that person. The only serious scientific paper documenting photographic memory was published nearly 40 years ago, and that study has never been replicated.

Price, however, is eminently real. […] I can honestly say that in my decade as a professor of psychology, I’ve never encountered anyone remotely like Jill Price.

Total Recall: The Woman Who Can’t Forget [Gary Marcus, Wired, 2009]


#15

I assume this is well tested? it’s not just that she can’t tell when she’s making stuff up and when she’s actually remembering right? Show her a random page out of a book, then come back a couple of months later and ask them to read it out of their mind or some other similar test?


#16

The condition has been studied and documented but most others can only go back to when they were around 10-12 years old. This woman is the first to claim memories at such a young age. Not sure if there’s a way to validate her earliest memories but she can certainly be tested to verify whether she has hyperthymesia or not.


#17

#18

I would be interested to hear a narrative of one of those days in her infancy. I wonder about describing things perceived pre-language, and how her understanding of what was going on around her developed. Of course the narrative would be punctuated frequently by ‘I filled my diaper again, and began crying for relief.’

Speaking of learning and language, I learned that ‘Haich’ is Aussie for ‘aich’ (H).


#19

I remember hearing about that.

It still seems like a waste, if this is possible, that most of us can’t do it.

If everybody remembered everything you’d think society would adjust somehow.

These days we say the brain is a neural network, as if that explains anything. A hundred years ago the brain had “circuits” in it. Before that the analogy was, like, steam pipes or clockwork or something. We have no clue.


#20

I’d think that society would wipe itself out, fast… or more to the point, there wouldn’t be much of a society in the first place.