When memories never fade, past can poison the present. (Alix Spiegel)
What if you could remember every day of your life? How would your present be like?
People, faces, porfumes, words, occasions, pain… forgetting is an adaptive function that keeps us alive.
However, there are 55 people in the world who are able to remember an exceptional numbers of memories (with accurate detail) even decades after the original event.
I am talking about a rare memory disorder: Hyperthymesia.
- What is Hyperthymesia?
Hyperthymesia (from the Greek words thymesis – remembering and hyper – excessive) is the rare condition of possessing an extremely detailed autobiographical memory.
People with hyperthymesia remember the clothes they wore, whom they met, what they ate thirty, fourty years before.
This extensive and highly unusual memory does not derive from the use of mnemonic strategies: it is encoded involuntarily and retrieved automatically.
People with Hyperthymesia were born with this condition, people with a great memory develops it over time.
- Personal characteristics of people with hyperthymesia.
People with Hyperthymesia are often compared to autistic people for their unusual and obsessive interest in dates. However, due to the fact that the number of hyperthymestic individuals is very low, research can give us only few information about the phenomenon.
We know that hyperthymestic people differ in the brains and mental processes and have a significant obsessive-compulsive tendence: many of these individuals have a large, minutely collection of magazines, videos, stamps, postcards.
Hyperthymesia was reported for the first time from the University of California. Researches talked about AJ, a woman who recalls every day of her life from the age of 14.
Aurelien Hayman, protagonist of the british documentary The Boy Who Can’t Forget, lives her same story: from the age of 10 he perfectly remember every particular experience that happened to him.
It’s like someone saying to you what’s your name? You just know that it’s your name, it’s just something that comes straight to you.
But how does it feel remembering too much?
According to the neurobiologist James McGaugh, “The effects of having this ability depends on the kind of experiences people have had in the past as well as their present circumstances”.
Although the past seems always too near for a new day, it is possible to manage the memories. Bill Brown says that he has learned how to do that over time and now it is easier for him because he can use his memory like an entertainment.
But sometimes, he says, it might be nice to forget.