Thursday, December 30, 2010

Memory: Curse and Blessing

A few weeks ago, I was watching 60 Minutes. Leslie Stahl offered a report about a fascinating phenomenon: Super Autobiographical Memory or hyperthymesia". An extremely rare condition, perhaps only a handful of people in the U.S. have it, these individuals are capable of recalling their lives in movie-like detail including recall of days of the week and and the dates on which they fell. One man could accurately recall the outcomes of football games, even to the point of being able to recall plays.

I remember one individual interviewed talked about how memory recalls would generate the same intensity of emotion as when the even first occurred, for example a break-up causing as much pain as if it had just happened yesterday.

Although evoking such powerful feelings at the recall of a wonderful event would be nice, having to re-experience the intense sorrow generated by past painful events would be torture. There is, in this light, a blessing to not being able to recall pain. There are some events that cause sorrow upon recall, but I would never want to experience again the same initial agony.

The same lady said that, in light of this ability to vividly recall the past with minute detail, she is more careful in what she says to and how she treats people, wishing to not have to forever relive a hurtful word or action.

How fascinating! I wondered: How would this condition of hyperthymesia influence my interactions with people? With my "normal" memory as it is, I am nevertheless bothered by stupid and hurtful things I have said or done in the past, but those are only fleeting twinges of guilt. However, if, like these individuals of the 60 Minutes story, I would forever be "condemned" to fully re-experiencing such embarrassing moments, would my future actions and words be more carefully and consciously dealt?

If I could replay this past week in vivid detail, what would cause me shame and make me wish for a "do over?" What would I wish to repeat or at least be happy about my action or response?

So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man. -- Acts 24:16

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