by Dennis Abrams
I saw this piece on 60 Minutes last night. There’s been a new discovery in the field of memory, known as “superior autobiographical memory.” It’s very rare, only six people have been identified with it so far, including, oddly enough, actress Marilu Henner. These people, quite literally, never forget anything that took place during their lives. What they wore on March 23, 1987. Who they were talking with that day and what they were wearing. What day of the week it was. What the weather was like. It’s amazing. And frightening.
Henner described it like this:
“You really do remember your whole life,” Stahl remarked.
“It’s like putting in a DVD and it cues up to a certain place. I’m there again. So, I’m looking out from my eyes and seeing things visually as I would have that day,” she replied.
“Do you remember all your old boyfriend’s birthdays? I’ll bet you do,” Stahl asked.
“Oh, yeah. Not only that, the date of the first time, you know. It’s like…in order,” she replied, laughing.”
Of course, there’s a downside, as Leslie Owen described,
“But what exactly does “normal” mean, when you remember every day of your life? When everything good – and everything bad – that has ever happened to you is right there, instantly accessible?
“When you look back at painful memories, is it just as raw?” Stahl asked.
“Sometimes it’ll be as though it happened yesterday. Sometimes, it’s as though it happened last week,” Owen said.
Just the mention of a sad day, like the one in 1986 when Owen learned she’d have to change schools , and she relives it emotionally. “I felt like my whole world was collapsing. And you say that and it’s like all of a sudden I feel like this really heartbroken little 13-year-old all over again,” she explained.
She said the feeling was vivid and awful, even after all these years. “I mean, my heart is actually pounding right now in telling you this,” she told Stahl.
She says her memory is a gift, but there are definitely downsides.
“Sometimes, having this sort of extreme memory can be a very isolating sort of thing. There are times when I feel like I’m fluent in a language that nobody else speaks. Or that I’m walking around and everybody else has amnesia,” Owen explained.”
Naturally, I couldn’t help but think would Proust might think about this, given his view that it’s our ability to forget, the very fact that memory fades, that makes life bearable.
If you’re interested in reading more, here’s the link.
Let me know what you think.