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Apr 14

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Fact of the Day: The woman who can remember everything

The woman who can remember everything.

A woman who has baffled doctors with her ability to remember every detail of every day has broken her anonymity to speak of her condition. Jill Price, 42, can remember every part of her life since she was 14 but considers her ability a curse as she cannot switch off. She described her life as like a split-screen television, with one side showing what she is doing in the present, and the other showing the memories which she cannot hold back. Every detail about every day since 1980 – what time she got up, who she met, what she did, even what she ate – is locked in her brain and can be released to come flooding back by common triggers like songs, smells or place names. Mrs Price, a widow who is a school administrator, sometimes struggles to sleep because the vivid memories crowd her mind and stop her relaxing.

Her condition is so rare that scientists had to coin a term for her condition – hyperthymestic syndrome from the Greek thymesis, for remembering, and hyper, meaning well above normal. For years she remained anonymous, referred to only by initials in scientific journals while experts at the University of California-Irvine tested her ability. Mrs Price said her memory started working overtime after her family moved to Los Angeles when she was eight and from the time she was 14, in 1980, she can remember absolutely everything. Neuroscientists say a trauma such as moving the family home can trigger major, lingering changes in the brain, especially in children who cling to memories of how their life had been. Mrs Price said: “Some memories are good and give me a warm, safe feeling.

“But I also recall every bad decision, insult and excruciating embarrassment. Over the years it has eaten me up. It has kind of paralysed me.” Mrs Price was so worried by her condition that in 2000 she asked neuroscientist Professor James McGaugh, a world expert on memory, what was wrong. She wrote to him: “My memory is too strong. It’s like a running movie that never stops. “Most have called it a gift. But I call it a burden. I run my entire life through my head every day and it drives me crazy!”

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2 comments

  1. Andy Echevarria

    Interesting post.

    I do have my doubts, however. Can she really remember EVERY detail of her life, every single moment that she’s ever lived? I mean, I’m no James Randi, but I’d love to test her myself. But then again how would I be able to prove that, say, on July 3, 1954, as she was eating dinner and watching the evening news, she could recall every word the broadcaster said? Or that later, on her way to the grocery store, as she crossed the street, she remembered that there were five cars that passed her–two Hondas and three Fords?

    Nonetheless, the article got me to think about how–I saw this on the TV the other day–scientists might someday be able to come up with a pill which could completely obliterate one’s memory. Now I don’t know if this will ever happen in my lifetime, if ever, but remember that only a hundred years ago the idea of someday sending someone to the moon seemed utterly ridiculous.

    The implications of such a “forgetting pill”? How about dropping it in poor Richard’s drink to make him forget he’s your husband and have him never have him return? Or taking the pill just to forget that you’ve got $25,000 in debt?

    And if thinking of using it on our enemies and on terrorists, sounds like a good idea–as long as they don’t use it on us first. Everyone would then forget about 911, the Holocaust, etc.

    And remember that if we lose our memory, we lose the ability to remember the wrongs we’ve committed in the past–thus making ourselves liable to repeat those very same mistakes in the future.

    In any case, it’s fascinating what science can accomplish–for better and for worse.

    And as far as the lady is concerned–if she indeed can remember every detail of her life, that’s quite remarkable. That to me sounds like a freak of nature. There are many cases of those in our vast universe, aren’t there?

  2. Paul

    I don’t thinnk she can remember the number of cars and the type of cars that passed her on a particular day. I think they are way tooo common. But as the guy who wrote this mentions of some common triggers like songs, smells etc….. so if such thing like she smelt something unique on a daily walk and then if she smells the same smell today while doing something she might remember how many cars passed her while she smelt it in the past….. just my conclusion. But it’s got to be soooooo confusing that way! I wonder how she differentiates between past and present!

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