March 29, 2009

Filtering thoughts

Sorry for the dearth of posting (or you're welcome as the case may be). Thoughts, ideas and plans swirled around my pitiful noggin this week, and I just couldn't pin anything down in the mini-tempest. The other day I was feeling overwhelmed with thoughts while I was driving, and it felt as though my vision was going tunnel so that I could focus exclusively on the present. Only by focusing on the road ahead could I hide everything else behind blinders.

There was a post I came across a little while ago that talked about how we let so many details slip out of consciousness. And for good reason sometimes. Can you imagine if you took in all the detail of every minute of every day. Your brain would quickly overload and crash.

This is an interesting experiment on what they call 'change blindness' about how little we actually process. Even large changes can go by without our noticing. It is probably even worse these days as people (me included) walk through life more distracted. More and more data is streaming into our lives, worthwhile or not, and there is relatively little time of mental quiet. The video demonstrates a pretty dramatic change that 70% of the people tested missed.

This one is even more entertaining.

Then I saw the story on this woman earlier this week. She has the opposite problem. Jill Price: The Woman Who Can't Forget.
The three UC Irvine scientists who studied her decided that her case deserved its own name—hyperthymestic syndrome, academic Greek for "exceptional memory"—and it’s not hard to see why.

I ask, for example, if she can tell me some dates of famous accidents and airline crashes; she’s all but unstoppable. She instantly retrieves from memory the exact dates of the explosions of space shuttle Challenger and Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. She remembers not just that September 25, 1978, was when a PSA flight crashed in San Diego but also that the jet collided with a Cessna. She can go in either direction, disaster to date or date to disaster. When I say "January 13, 1982," Price has no trouble recalling the Air Florida flight that plummeted into the

According to McGaugh’s Neurocase article, Price is even more astounding on the events of her own life. At the scientists’ behest, for example, she recalled—without warning and in just 10 minutes—what she’d done on every Easter since 1980. "April 6, 1980: 9th grade, Easter vacation ends. April 19, 1981: 10th grade, new boyfriend, H. April 11, 1982: 11th grade, grandparents visiting for Passover .

And before you think it’s a wonderful thing to have such a prodigious memory, imagine this: Jill Price remembers all the sad and bad things in her life - the death of loved ones, for instance, like it’s happening right now. Time heals all wounds, but not for Jill Price.
As she says, "You don't realize how much of yourself is created by editing our memory." She constantly relives events and choices she has made, and tortures herself with 'what if'. Her father compares it to a grain of sand in an oyster - "it builds a pearl around it to smooth out the sand. And that is what our memories are - we forget all the bad things, or a lot of them, or they're dulled. The emotions are dulled. But with Jill, she is right there."

I can't imagine.

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