Remembering It All, Living with Hyperthymestic Syndrome

The Persistence Of Memory by Salvador Dali
The Persistence Of Memory by Salvador Dali

Most of us would like to have a better memory and be able to recall our childhood days. Often many of our memories are just fragments of our past, bit and pieces of scenes from our lives. Unlike the rest of us, Jill Price has the extraordinary ability to recall facts and events, including the dates of these events, from the time she was fourteen. Her memories are vivid and the emotions she felt during those times are still as fresh as when she originally felt them. In Psychology Today Magazine in an article titled “Total Recall’ Jill Price describes her memories in the following way: “My memories are like scenes from home movies, constantly playing in my head, relentlessly flashing forward and backward through the years, taking me to any given moment, entirely of their own volition.” Jill has what is known as Hyperthymestic syndrome.

Hyperthymestic syndrome also known as Hyperthymesia is a condition where the individual is affected with a superior, autobiographical memory. Thymesia comes from the Greek word themesis meaning memory. The two defining characteristics of Hyperthymestic syndrome are: 1) the person spends significantly large amounts of time thinking about their personal past. 2) The person has an extraordinary capacity to recall specific events from his or her personal past.

There have only been four confirmed cases of Hyperthymestic syndrome. The first case that has been discovered was around 2002. Jill Price, whose unique ability to remember events and dates were studied by researchers, Dr. James McGaugh, Elizabeth Parker and Larry Cahill from the University of California, Irving. Dr. McGaugh categorized her unique ability as autobiographical in nature. As the research took place Jill came to realize the role that memory plays in everyone’s life. In regards to that she stated the following: “I came to realize in a flash of insight one day that whereas memory generally contributes to the construction of a sense of self, in my case, my memory is my sense of self.”

During the research Dr. McGaugh conducted MRI brain scans that were sent to a specialist to seek out any anomalies that would pinpoint any structural reason why her memory worked the way it did. They discovered that more than two dozen areas of her brain were a good deal larger than normal and some were extraordinarily large. The researchers are hoping that these studies offer answers in the fight against memory loss.

The second case study, was on a man from Wisconsin, named Brad Williams. He has even been dubbed as the human Google by Good Morning America. His brother, Eric Williams, a screen writer and film maker made a film chronicling his brother's amazing memory, titled Unforgettable. Eric Williams follows his brother, Brad’s journey, as his amazing memory catapulted him from being an unknown, to midlife notoriety. Like Jill, Brad had a diary like recall of ordinary events that most people forget. Brad has the extraordinary ability of remembering every event of everyday since the age of five. His extraordinary memory is also being researched by the researchers of the University of California, Irving. Both Brad and Jill are not savants, but both have a capacity for remembering events that goes beyond the norm.

The next person to be identified as having Hyperthymestic syndrome is a man from Cleveland, Ohio, whose name is Rick Baron. Rick is able to recall everyday from the age of eleven on in detail. He is even able to recall many days between the ages of seven and eleven. He would win countless prizes in memory challenge games like Trivial Pursuit. His sister suggested that he contact the memory experts in Irving.

Rick has used his fantastic memory to win restaurant gift certificates, clothing, tickets to sporting events and concerts, as well as 14 vacations. Like Price and Williams, Rick also became of aware of his unique ability in when he was a child.

Video Youtube by Oct195

The last individual to be identified with Hyperthymestic syndrome is Solomon Veniaminovich Shereshevsky, who lived from 1886 to 1958.

Solomon, a Russian journalist, became famous during one event where he was chided for not taking notes during a speech in the mid 1920’s, yet to the astonishment of everyone he had memorized the speech verbatim. Solomon participated in various behavioral studies conducted by neuropsychologist, Dr. Alexander Luria over the span of thirty years. During the research Solomon was asked to memorize complex mathematical formulas, huge matrices, and even poems in foreign languages and he would do so in minutes. Despite having an astounding memory Shereshevsky had average score in intelligence tests.Solomon also had problems were associated with his extraordinary memory. He had an overactive imagination, which produced distracting images and feelings. He also had trouble remember faces.

Based on his studies Dr. Luria diagnosed Solomon as having an extremely strong version of synaesthesia. Synaesthesia is when stimulation in one of the senses cause sensations in the other four. For example is Solomon heard a musical tune, he would then see color, and it would cause a sensation in his other senses as well.One time he went to buy ice cream, but when the vendor spoke, her tone caused Solomon to see whole pile of coals, of black cinders, came bursting out of her mouth, his thoughts were so vivid, that he couldn’t bring himself to buy ice cream.

Having an extraordinary memory might have its advantages, but it also has its drawbacks. These extraordinary individuals have had to face challenges that most of us could never imagine, if the memories are sad or unpleasant, forgetting can be a blessing. There are events in the lives of many that most people would rather not remember, and being able to forget is a blessing. However, people like Brad and Jill are helping researchers find a way to discover the secrets of memory and even come closer to discovering ways of preventing such diseases as Alzheimer. Memory is not what defines us, but without it life would often fail to make sense.

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Comments 27 comments

Sandyspider profile image

Sandyspider 6 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

Thats a amazing. Wouldn't it be cool to remember everything. I can't say I remember everything, but I do have a couple of memories of when I was a baby.


Internetwriter62 profile image

Internetwriter62 6 years ago from Marco Island, Florida Author

Thank you Sandyspider, I can't remember too many things from my infancy except for a few moment in time. I certainly couldn't give dates of events. I think there some things I would like to remember better, on the other hand there are things I'm glad I could forget.


yalenova profile image

yalenova 6 years ago

Thanks for advice. Great Hub!


Internetwriter62 profile image

Internetwriter62 6 years ago from Marco Island, Florida Author

Thank you yelenova, glad you found the advice helpful.


wolfpack5 profile image

wolfpack5 6 years ago from Alberta Canada

Fantastic Hub, thank you so much for all this information on this type of subject. If you don't mind, I would like to put it on my site for everyone to read.

Again great info Keep up the great work :)


Internetwriter62 profile image

Internetwriter62 6 years ago from Marco Island, Florida Author

Hi Wolfpack,

Thanks for stopping by, I'm glad you liked my article. You are welcome to include it in your site. Thanks for asking I appreciate the exposure.


Erin LeFey profile image

Erin LeFey 6 years ago from Maryland

What an interesting hub! I couldn't stop reading and hope I can remember all of it! Great writing and research! Namaste'


Erin LeFey profile image

Erin LeFey 6 years ago from Maryland

What an interesting hub! I couldn't stop reading and hope I can remember all of it! Great writing and research! Namaste'


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 5 years ago from North America

I have synaesthesia, but it seems to be decreasing somewhat in intensity over the past couple of years. I can still taste written words, so some things I cannot read, because of the horrid flavors. Others are delightful - like my New Orleans friend says, words and music can be good and tasty. However, more interesting is a student one of my professors had in his lecture class many years ago --

He decribed her as knitting the entire hour daily and never taking a note, but being able to receite his lectures. She felt the knitting helped her memory.


Internetwriter62 profile image

Internetwriter62 5 years ago from Marco Island, Florida Author

Thank you Erin, I am glad you found this hub interesting, and that you liked my writing. When I researched this subject I was fascinated, I never realized that some people can remember as far back as their childhood with such clarity. I sometimes have trouble remembering what I did yesterday and yet there some that can remember what they did when they were seven, the mind is as amazing as it is mysterious.


Internetwriter62 profile image

Internetwriter62 5 years ago from Marco Island, Florida Author

Hello Patty, and thanks for sharing this with me. I don't know a lot about synaesthesia, but I can imagine what it must be like to actually taste what one reads.

I have a vivid imagination and sometimes I can't read some medical articles because I can actually feel many of the symptoms being described, I even had to leave my third grade classroom once when we were reading about a medical procedure, my teacher had to send me out because I was pale. On the other hand, I love good recipes. The mind is very powerful.


john b 5 years ago

I have this and I dont know how to deal with it ,I can recall and it feels like I am right back in the scene.I even will jerk or grimace if it is a painful memory and unfortunately it usually is a sad or painful memory .Any advice I mean I can recall with vivid detail memories all the way back when I was under 2.I am also left handed if that has anything to do with it.


Internetwriter62 profile image

Internetwriter62 5 years ago from Marco Island, Florida Author

Hi John and thanks for stopping by. I wish I had some advice to give you but I don't. There is a place that these individuals went to at the University of California, I imagine if you are somehow able to contact theses experts there they may be able to help you or at the very least give you a reason for why your memory is the way it is. I hope this helps. I also hope you have more pleasant memories than painful ones.


IN2Deep profile image

IN2Deep 5 years ago

Amazing- I can't say I remember everything-a lot- but definitly not the date. Thanks for sharing


Internetwriter62 profile image

Internetwriter62 5 years ago from Marco Island, Florida Author

Thank you IN2Deep, yes it is amazing how the mind works and how some people can remember so much about there lives when I and others have trouble remember what they did yesterday.


prairieprincess profile image

prairieprincess 5 years ago from Canada

IW, I enjoyed reading your article, and find this subject fascinating. Thank you so much for sharing. I believe that this gift has so many answers for us, on what the brain is about, and on how we process memories. Thanks for taking the time to write. Take care.


Internetwriter62 profile image

Internetwriter62 5 years ago from Marco Island, Florida Author

Thank you prairieprincess, I appreciate your kind words and I'm glad you enjoyed my hub. I do believe having a memory like that can be a gift and a blessing even if sometimes the person does have difficulty with such a gift. I'm so glad Psychology Magazine did an article on this subject.


Jan 5 years ago

This article is quite interesting. I have visiting with my sister following the death of our mother and we have gotten into several conversations of our past. When my sister will come up specific dates of different occurrences way back in time. Them yesterday and we came across a car that we hadn't seem before and she came out with a response that that came first came out in 2009 we were of course were hesitant to believe like how does she know that. When we returned home we looked it up and sure enough she was right and she does this a lot a lot of things we are unable to verify. We have found dates are important part of her memory. Lots are some how related to numbers .this article gave lots of input thanks.


Internetwriter62 profile image

Internetwriter62 5 years ago from Marco Island, Florida Author

Thanks for stopping by, and your sister does have an amazing ability. Memory can be mysterious and amazing.


kimh039 profile image

kimh039 5 years ago

Interesting, Internetwriter62. I never heard of this. It sounds a lot like "photographic memory" but is more kinesthetic, rather than visual. I would imagine it would be disabling for someone with traumatic memories such as john b above, who might benefit from PTSD treatment. Thanks for sharing.


Internetwriter62 profile image

Internetwriter62 5 years ago from Marco Island, Florida Author

Thanks Kimh039, photographic memory I think might be more common and I think it is also the result of trauma due to a shock when that person was an infant, on the other hand I think Hyperthymestic syndrome is genetic although extremely rare. I agree with you, even though having a great memory is advantageous, it can have it's disadvantages, especially if that person has memories that he or she wants to forget, yet it keeps haunting them, that must be awful. I'm glad you found it interesting.


Je' 5 years ago

I recently discovered that I am hyperthymestic. Finally, an answer after decades of wondering why my mind can't forget.


Internetwriter62 profile image

Internetwriter62 5 years ago from Marco Island, Florida Author

Hi Je,

Thanks for stopping by and sharing this with me. I'm glad my article helped you discover your special gift. I hope you put it to great use, having a super memory must be awesome and I know, sometimes a burden. We are all unique and I know you will find your purpose.


josh 4 years ago

Honestly, I think I might be hyperthymestic, and it's not really cool, somethings you don't want to remember, but you can't help it


Ahmad Nawafleh 4 years ago

Hi,

I am pleased that you have this website. I met one of Hyperthymestic persons. I ahave a meeting with him today. Hope things will go for a discovery of something about how people can recall.

you may contact me at nawafleh (at) hotmail (dot) com for updates

All the best


Internetwriter62 profile image

Internetwriter62 4 years ago from Marco Island, Florida Author

Hello Ahmad, I'm glad you like my article and that you found it informative. I hope you find the answers you are looking for in your meeting today and that you make some really interesting discoveries.

Thanks for including your email. If anything developes please send me a message, by going to my profile page, it is attached to my email.


A Writer 3 years ago

Hello,

I was wondering if you could have both an Edietic memory, with symptoms of Hyperthymesia?

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