Forget It

Jim Todd. Tournament of Time

Jim Todd. Tournament of Time

Sands of time… If each grain of sand is a day in the life of a person, who remembers each and every single one of it? Who can distinguish one day from the other if the day wasn’t yesterday, max a week ago? Unless is was a very special day, of course.

More people than not, at one time or another, wished to have a better memory — more retentive, more detailed, more backward-reaching too — memory that would give them access to the past.

It’s our own life, isn’t it? We lived every minute if it. Why can’t we remember and account for every moment of it? How many of us can?

About 20 people can, actually. Not 20 thousand. Just 20. Some research, however, says the number is 55. These people have HSAMS. HSAMS is an acronym of Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory Syndrome or hyperthymesia (excessive remembering.)treeHead

For these people the day-by-day of their lives days, month and years ago is no blur. They don’t ever forget. Their lives — in all entirety, to the last instance — forever staffed in their brains.

The past — so visceral, physical and unshakable — gets in the way of present. It overwhelms. Always available past lures the person to hide from today in, say, June 3, 2000, or any other day for that matter. They remember them all. Some — from the age of about 4, others claim ever earlier times. It’s like having a time machine available to take you to the past on the whim. But human life is no science fiction. We must LIVE in the present, not zoom out of it into the past, to relieve a more pleasant times.

Most of those with HSAMS consider their extraordinary abilities a curse, rather than a blessing. They’d happily shake off their memories but they can’t.Hand And Sand

There’s a reason why we forget.

“It has long been believed by research scientists that forgetting is adaptive,” says James McGaugh, the University of California, Irvine neurobiologist. Dr. McGaugh was the first who documented HSAMS.

The discovery was rather accidental. A woman named Jill Price emailed McGaugh complaining on her inability to forget anything, and this disconcerted and bothered her a great deal. What troubled Jill Price the most was that bad things that happened to her in the past evoked just as strong emotions now as years ago.

Obviously, there is very little advantages in having HSAMS. The ability to never forget doesn’t make them any smarter. “It’s not that they are better learners, it’s that they are very poor at forgetting,” says McGaugh.

The study of HSAMS made it clear that there are differences in the brains of people with this king of memory. Are these differences the cause of hyperthymesia?  Maybe. Or maybe not. Might as well, these deviations from the normal are the consequences of excessive remembering.Think

And though it’s not clear why the brains of people with HSAM can do what they do, what is clear is that this ability gives them an access to the past that’s profoundly different from more than 99.9999999999999999999% of all people. (This isn’t math, merely a figure of speech.)

Bill Brown, a person with HSAMS, says that he’s been in touch with most of the people in the group, and that everyone he has spoken to has struggled with depression. Very few of them have been able to maintain a long-term marriages — only 2 out of the 55. Brown, too, is separated. The difference in memory, it seems, has led to major misunderstandings in his personal life.




One comment on “Forget It

  1. There is no ” advantages in having HSAMS”. Clearly some brain abnormality allows these people unnaturally quick access to “past memories”. But this trait if anything, is disruptive rather than helpful. They just can’t control its perverse “side effects”.

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