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 "Better by far that you should forget and smile than that you should remember and be sad." Christina Rossetti

Featured on 60 Minutes and dubbed "the Human Google" by Good Morning America, Brad is only the second person ever studied for HYPERTHYMESIA, an extremely detailed memory for the events of his life.

It is a nice song too, but do we really want to remember everything intensely: a cautionary fictional (I think) story from Nature .

"The pressure to succeed steadily increased and so did the need to stay alert, to focus relentlessly. I prowled the smart-drug chat-rooms and message boards. During the day I traded stocks and shares, during the night I was trading ideas and experiences. I learned about stacking and cycling, optimizing the stimulation and minimizing the side effects. All of us avidly sought the pot of gold at the end of the pharmacological rainbow, an eidetic memory, capable of perfect recall. I got the drugs from incurious online pharmacies."

And are there virtues to be found in the ability to forget? also a good read here.


The default view in the epistemology of forgetting is that human memory would be epistemically better if we were not so susceptible to forgetting—that forgetting is in general a cognitive vice. In this paper, I argue for the opposed view: normal human forgetting—the pattern of forgetting characteristic of cognitively normal adult human beings—approximates a virtue located at the mean between the opposed cognitive vices of forgetting too much and remembering too much. I argue, first, that, for any finite cognizer, a certain pattern of forgetting is necessary if her memory is to perform its function well. I argue, second, that, by eliminating "clutter" from her memory store, this pattern of forgetting improves the overall shape of the subject's total doxastic state. I conclude by reviewing work in psychology which suggests that normal human forgetting approximates this virtuous pattern of forgetting.


"At first glance, AJ might appear to have an enviably good autobiographical memory. But closer examination of the case suggests that though we naturally assume that increased access to stored memories (less forgetting) would amount to an improvement to memory, this is not in fact the case. There are two points to note here. First: Though it is natural to assume that a \better" memory would provide us with a signi cant cognitive advantage, this is likely not the case. As Parker, Cahill, and McGaugh point out, AJ's exceptional memory has provided her with no apparent advantage in daily life or in her studies; nor is it helpful on IQ tests and the like (2006, 48). And at the same time, AJ's unusual retrieval capacity carries heavy cognitive costs. In particular, she \spends much of her time recollecting the past instead of orienting to the present and future" (2006, 48).An increased retrieval capacity comes at a price: time that would otherwise be spent on other cognitive tasks is devoted to retrieval; time that would otherwise be spent acquiring new knowledge is spent simply processing \surplus" retrieved memories."

Sam Marx writes:

The 60 Minutes program piqued my interest in people who have this super memory as a natural talent. It is obvious that there are people who are super geniuses in certain fields such as chess, music, math, etc. Maybe Thomas Edison was a super genius, he certainly accomplished a lot. Super geniuses in these fields can be easily discerned.

There may be super geniuses in other fields, business for example, but luck and other variables may affect their success.

I once knew a fellow who was just a clerk on the trading floor but he could complete the NY TIMES crossword puzzle in minutes. He was amazing. Maybe he was a super genius in just this one field because he never advanced further than that of a clerk.

These study of these super geniuses may someday lead science into creating a race of super geniuses to hopefully help mankind.

I've wondered as I watched football is there a super genius offensive director who can anticipate the moves of each defensive player for each offensive play he calls, a Prof. Nash in the booth.

Ralph Vince writes:

About your last point–No. Great offense — like great chess — or brilliantly playing a
mediocre bridge hand– requires the element of surprise moreso than
knowing what all the pieces might do.

"Surprise," is anticipatating what most are quite certain will happen,
fienging it, then taking advantage of that en masse, not individually.
-Ralph Vince 

T.K Marks writes:

 My recollection of Jerry Lucas' memory methodology is that it had much more to do with technique than talent. Something he readily admitted. There's an old axiom in legerdemain: A magician never tells. Lucas told. Heresy happens.

But, first of all, Lucas was delightfully different from the get-go.

While on the Knicks he played center so far from the basket that the other team's defender would look confused as to what to do because if he went out to meet Lucas he effectively just took his own team's best rebounder out of the equation. Therefore it would oftentimes appear as if Lucas was playing offense undefended. A bizarre sight to behold.

My first brush with his mnemonic capabilities though was when he demonstrated his ability to recite pages from a New York phonebook to Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show.

Intrigued by how he was able to do that, I read some of his materials. He freely provided how one could easily and quickly memorize long lists of objects and actions in precise order by using rhyme and incongruity.

It worked like this. There was a rhyming scheme linked to the number of the sequence of items/actions to be memorized. For instance, 1 corresponded to gun, 2 to shoe, 3 to tree, 4 to door,…8 to gate, …44 to knock on a door….

Rhyme resonates in memory and Lucas, a luminous soul, knew this. As such, It was very easy to learn the initial rhyme key, and one could readily extrapolate further from what was provided.

The second part of the equation involved somehow associating the number-linked rhyming sequence with the object or action to be memorized. And the incongruity involved helped make it stick as an image.

For example, if the second thing to be remembered is a bottle of aspirin, the memorizer pictures in their mind a bottle of aspirin in a shoe. That's an unlikely scenario, and that's what helps make it stick. And just keep on going. If item 8 were a cat, picture a cat walking up and opening up a gate to a country estate. If item 44 were a rogue politician, picture him knocking on the door of a convent for a shakedown donation. The idea obviously was to make it as incongruous as possible, provided it remained consistent with the rhyming key.

It was remarkable how quickly this information could be retained based on this easily learned technique. So much so that I fondly recall as a kid having a little fun with my father as soon as I learned it. I said, Da, write down 20 items and I bet you I can recite them back to you in less than 5 minutes. Frontwards, backwards, randomly, any way you want. He said, no way you can do that in 5 minutes.

After we concluded the little demonstration, he asked — demanded actually — how his kid had just done that. Told him I couldn't tell him. It was magic.

He smiled.

I sensed as well that there was also a little "magic" involved in the 60 Minutes piece on autobiographical memory. Some of subjects too quickly and unsolicitedly mentioned what day of the week it was when asked about what had transpired on a random date. That suggested a key-scheme gimmick peculiar to days of the week in any given year. And with such, a presumption of legitimacy in a larger sense.

But there were other non-scientific methodologies mentioned as well. The least of which was certainly not the fact that the lead reporter, Leslie Stahl, had remembered midstream that she just happened to know well one of the final 5 subjects, actress Marilu Henner, and so brought her into the tiny sample group.

She just happened to know a 1 in a supposed xx million shot? How is that not curious.

I was initially intrigued by that piece when I had first heard that it would be aired, but after watching it, found it to be much more science-cum-show biz than peer-reviewed journal. The editorial board of The New England Journal of Medicine would get them on the Leslie Stahl/Marilu Henner abject lack of randomness angle.

One would hope.


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