Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The fallibility of human memory

One of life's certainties has been the fallibility of human memory. Unfortunately for the rest of us, that's not the case anymore. It seems there is a woman out there with perfect memory.
James McGaugh is one of the world's leading experts on how the human memory system works. But these days, he admits he's stumped.

McGaugh's journey...began six years ago when a woman now known only as AJ wrote him a letter detailing her astonishing ability to remember with remarkable clarity even trivial events that happened decades ago.

Give her any date, she said, and she could recall the day of the week, usually what the weather was like on that day, personal details of her life at that time, and major news events that occurred on that date.

Like any good scientist, McGaugh was initially skeptical. But not anymore.

"This is real," he says.
McGaugh adds,
Also, her degree of recall is so much greater than any other person's in the scientific literature... She is...quite different from savants who have surfaced from time to time with extraordinary abilities in music, art or memory.

Some of them can remember every single detail about the particular hobby that they have, such as baseball or calendars or art, but they are very narrow.
McGaugh described one person who could memorize a piece of music instantly, and not forget it, but who,

...couldn't make change or couldn't take a bus because he didn't know where he was.
By contrast, AJ is a "fully functioning person."

I'm not sure whether this is encouraging or discouraging for the rest of us, but McGaugh hopes to determine what makes AJ so special. They will be using brain scanning techniques to see if there is anything unique about her brain.

We are truly left in awe of what the human mind could be capable of.

You may also have noticed my posting frequency dropping recently. As it turns out, these topics are related. The thing is, I do not have infallible memory. Thus, I am reviewing all those things from college that I've forgotten for an upcoming professional licensure exam. Therefore, until the test is over, I will be less profuse in my thoughts. I hope to be back fully into the swing of things in a month or so. Until then, pardon my infrequency.

1 comment:

Oneway said...

The PE exam. This is huge, man. Your door to direct liability for engineering designs, finally unlocked by an eight-hour exam/grinder. I'll pray for your success, homey.