I’ve been told that there are three things that you lose when you get old: your memory, your hair and…. I forgot the other one. Funny, right? Not so much. Today I spent more than an hour trying to remember the name of the book I read about a woman who had such an incredible memory, that she remembered every single day of her life since she was 14 years old. If not for the Internet (or as I call it, my exomemory), I would have had to rummage through the whole house until I found the book. The book is “The Woman who Couldn’t Forget” by Jill Price. It is a wonderful memoir, which I recommend.
I’m fascinated by photography, which helps me remember. My Dad took this picture of my little brother and me at the house where we grew up. Michael, my older brother, who is profoundly retarded, autistic and nonverbal, was also there for a time.
Photographs also document change. I took the photograph below more than 35 years later. I remembered the previous photo and set up the shot to be the same. The only change was the passage of time – and my brother and I should have been standing a little more to the right.
In previous posts, I mentioned the work of A.R. Luria, a Russian physician who wrote about two different people with remarkably different memories. In The Man with a Shattered World he describes a brain injured soldier whose ability to remember recent events was destroyed. Luria uses the soldier’s own words to describe his struggle to regain function and his narrative about what his horrible affliction was like. In a second book, The Mind of a Mnemonist he describes a man who could remember lists of complicated nonsense characters and numbers for many years. Memorization for this man was a matter taking an imaginary stroll. He was a synesthete, who had sensations of vision, and textures when he heard words. He used his sensory-rich experience in placing the items on the list at stations along his walk. Remembering, for him, was a matter of perceiving the items as he passed by.
I am glad that I don’t remember everything exactly the way it was, but I also do not want to forget anything important. Photography can help fill in the blanks. For me it all comes down to editing. But that’s another story.