Posts Tagged ‘Marilu Henner’

There was an interesting story on 60 Minutes last night about a condition that it is very rare called hyperthymesia where the affected individuals have superior autobiographical memory.  That is the the ability to recall practically every moment from their lives and all the events they encountered in those moments.  They are able to somehow, withoutany effort or without  resorting to the use of mnemonics of any sort, organize this vast store of memory and randomly pull the information out as needed.

It’s an extremely rare  condition with only 6 known cases in the USA, although there are probably many more out there who have not come forward for examination.  Actually, before this 60 Minutes story there were only 5 known cases.  Reporter Leslie Stahl, who was doing this report, upon hearing the effects of this condition thought it sounded like her friend, actress Marilu Henner, best known from her role as Elaine on the show Taxi.  She agreed to be tested and was added to the so far small group of individuals.

The story was fascinating.  If anything it raised more questions than it answered.  Would this be a good thing or a curse for those who possess it?  How does it affect their day-to-day life?  Does this recall have any effect on these individuals’ overall intelligence?  Is there a tradeoff of some sort for this ability?

These are not savants or people who are crippled by the seemingly compulsive nature of their condition.  The 5 of the 6 known cases that were shown (one did not want to appear as part of this story) all appear to be extremely high functioning people.  Besides Henner, there was a concert violinist, a radio talk show host, and  a man in the production end of the entertainment field.  The final man’s occupation was not disclosed. 

Only Henner was married or in a relationship.  Perhaps the inability to set aside another person’s flawed moments would hinder any relationship or perhaps there is a certain alienation caused by the condition that inhibits intimacy.  The concert violinist expressed a certain alienation when she spoke of feeling as though she were fluent in a language that nobody else knew, one that she couldn’t share with anyone.

Not mentioned in the story was a recent documentary film about one the subjects.  Called Unforgettable, the film, made by his brother Eric Williams, focuses on the life of Brad Williams who is a radio talk show host and is known as the Human Google Jeopardy super champion Ken Jennings makes an appearance.  I don’t know if they show the two of them competing but,  in his blog, Jennings talks of Williams “wiping the floor” with him when they ran into one another at a trivia contest at a local bar.  He also makes the distinction between the way his and Williams’ minds work, pointing out they are functioning in completely different ways.

I’ve been thinking about this ever since seeing it, wondering if it would be great to possess such an ability.  I obsess, as it is, over the loss of memory so why not be able to have such an organized brain that you could easily find that which was put in there to begin with?  Would it make our lives different?  The concert violinist made an interesting point when she spoke of it as a gift that allows her to live her life with great intention.  By that she meant that because she knew she would remember every moment she strived to make every day significant.  No throwaways.  An intriguing concept.

I feel like someone in the 1970’s who has Commodore computer and is suddenly given a glimpse of the best computer available in the year 2020.  Envious, but stuck with what I got.  Oh, well…

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