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MONDAY, JULY 04, 2011
Jill Price remembers every single day of her life since she was 14. Here she holds a diary. Her unique situation has caused her depression and heart breaks.
Jill Price, photographed here, has an amazingly unique gift. Imagine if you could remember every day as if it were yesterday, wouldn’t that be great? What if you could actually remember everything that’s happened to you, ever, like what you ate on April 27th 1999. Did you consider that one of the consequences of this would also be remembering your saddest time in life every single moment? This consequence is what would make the whole phenomenon unworthy. At least that’s what Jill Price believes, and she can remember every single day of her life since she was 14 years old.

She’s now 43.

That's 10,585 days that feel just like yesterday to Price. She sounds like a science miracle that’s almost too good to be true. And naturally, her situation sounds almost like a hoax. That is, until scientists at the University of California began running test to determine how good Price’s memory really was and whether she was lying about the whole thing. For doctor Dr. James McGaugh, the unimaginable started to materialize after he asked Jill Price if she remember when Easter was on a certain year. She answered what day Easter had been on for the last 20 years. For any average Christian this question would have required a calendar to flip through. What was most remarkable was Price wasn’t even Christian, she was Jewish, and the date of Easter didn’t mean anything to her. She also correctly answered the most trivial information: Such as when Elvis died, and what happened during the Christmas episode of “Murphy Brown.” She just remember everyday naturally. Her condition, being unique at the time, was given a name by researchers: Hyperthymestic syndrome. Which means that certain sections of her brain that are associated with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) are enlarged. For Price their three times larger than the average persons.

After several more confirmations, the doctors realized they’re dealing with a brain whose memory is so perfectly intact it cannot forget even the dullest of details in Price’s life. Yet, to Price it’s not so much a phenomenon as a curse or even a disease. Because along with the dull details the she remembers, are the most painful ones. It’s natural for a brain to lose certain details in memory, it’s what allows humans to get on with our lives. And any lifestyle-magazine would agree that sometimes people need to let the painful memories “T.H.A.W,” (Time Heals All Wounds). Yet with Price, no such healing process can naturally take place. "Not only do I return yesterday, I can never escape it. I live with a constant, unstoppable parade of yesterdays of my life flashing furiously through my mind." Price writes in her autobiography The Woman Who Can’t Forget.

The cure for Price’s phenomena is a conundrum in itself. How can one willingly give up a memory let alone memories? We live in a culture where data retention is prided on. The slightest sign of memory loss causes us to fear the approach of Alzheimers. I personally used to take Gingko Biloba to help retain memories. Even if it involves putting the love letters of an ex-partner in a shoebox in the closet people will hold on to the sad memories. And people gain a joy on how much memory they can even gain by experience. Whether it be by travelling or visiting a tombstone.
Jill Price's interview with ABC

In the movie Vanilla Sky, the protagonist has the option of losing all the painful memories and keeping only the happy ones or return to reality and remember the good and the bad. He chooses reality. A natural memory, that is the one that is most common among people, is perhaps an advantage being just the way it is by moving forward. “Time has one fundamental principle, it moves forward,” Jill Price admits, even though it doesn’t seem to do so for her.



Interesting stuff.

I once saw a documentary about a guy who was born without his corpus callosum - the part of the brain that connects the hemispheres - and who, like Jill Price, has total recall. But it sounds like Jill Price's total recall has a totally different neurological cause. Similar results, though.

This guy is able to play any piece of music by ear and by memory, and can recite whole books. Does Price do this, too?

The thing is, however, although this guy can play a piano piece exactly as he heard it or read it off the sheet, he doesn't play with any sort of emotional interpretation. No feeling. He can't even play like Data on Star Trek: Next Generation: a fusion of styles that although they are merely imitative are nonetheless human sounding (i.e.: full of feeling). Not so for the corpus-callosum-lacking man. He plays like a machine or computer would.

One implication that arose from the abilities of this person was that even for "normal" (that is, forgetful) people with an average amount of memories the major factor at play is not memory retention but memory retrieval. Maybe this guy (and Price) are simply better (exceptionally so) at retrieving the memories, not just retaining them. Maybe we all have every one of our memories still stuck in our head somewhere but just can't retrieve them like Price and this guy can. After all, we've all had the experience of having a memory triggered by something or other (someone says something to unlock a memory, you see/hear/smell/taste something that reminds you of something you didn't remember whatsoever, etc.), which suggests that we have loads of dormant memories just waiting to be awakened. Usually when this happens to me I wonder at how (I thought) I could have completely forgotten something which then pops back into conscious memory in full freshness. Makes you wonder what other (and how many!) hidden, dormant memories are locked up there in your head just waiting to be discovered, or uncovered, or recovered.

One question that I'm interested in when it comes to cases like Price and the other guy: Just how far can you push the recollection of details? What are the limits?

Will they remember everything that everybody said to them, and everything that they saw: an airplane (or a bird, or a leaf, or a piece of paper) that came into their peripheral vision for just a moment? The colour and make of ever car they see? The faces of everybody? Their hair, shoes, and accessories? The number of steps they took on any given day?

I guess the question I'm begging is this: Do you have to notice something to be able to remember it? Do you have to consciously take in the memory, or do you remember every little detail flooding in through your senses?

Another question: Besides sensory experience, do you also remember every thought you had, too?

You can see where I'm heading, maybe. If you really did remember all the millions of little details that bombard you daily the information would pile up fast. It would seem almost mentally crippling, and similarly, emotionally debilitating. And it can't be great for your social relationships: "But I remember last week you said..."

I once heard Atom Egoyan say in an interview that for people - who are often tormented, or who are at least made anxious, by the past - it's sometimes helpful to forget, which is why his characters do seemingly strange things like burn old photographs.

Anyway, this whole topic fascinates me. Answer my questions, Alamir, I need your help.

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