Monday, March 30

#13 - hypermemory

A group of brilliant surgeons have pioneered a new operation and are looking for volunteers. Their research was initally focused on developing a treatment for those with Alzheimer's Disease. Though their findings have met with limited success thus far, they believe that applied to a non-Alzheimer's subject, their procedure might very well result in what they term "hypermemory".

In short, if you signed up, went under the knife, and the operation were fully successful, you would emerge with a memory that was beyond photographic (if such a thing is possible). From that point forward, you would have the ability to recall basically anything you came across in your day to day life. In fact, you would largely lose the ability to forget.

You would not be compensated in any other way for volunteering, the potential for hypermemory is the only benefit to you in this scenario. Also of note, the doctors see zero risk of side effects if the operation fails, and the scientific community at large asserts this claim. If the procedure does not succeed, you will be no worse off than you are today.

Do you volunteer for this operation?


Wayne said...

I was initially going to say yes wholehearted, since I have a terrible memory as it is, and it would be awesome to be able to close my eyes and simply re-experience memorable memories as if I were there again (that's how I'm choosing to interpret more-than-photographic "hypermemory"). However, then it occurred me that there are memories that are better left forgotten -- embarrassing memories, awkward memories, shameful memories that I would hate to re-experience. So, no, I think I would pass on the operation.

HeatherR64 said...

My initial reaction was a no, for basically the reasons Wayne just mentioned. But, now I'm starting to consider the possible advantages of entering trivia contests and such after looking over tons of info a single time and knowing that I'll remember...Hmm...

Andrew said...

I'd say yes. Assuming the odds of success are fair... (I'm not keen to go under the knife if there's only a 1% chance of success, for example).

Wayne's concerns are valid, however I assume that we still have the ability to control what we think about. True we couldn't forget bad things that happen (in the future), but equally we wouldn't be forced to think about them.

If you're tempted to think about something bad, simply think of Ron and Hermione, and say "expecto patronum".

So: yes, because
- I'd be able to pass any exam and or quiz with flying colors. [although unfortunately I've passed the time in my life when that's useful]
- I could flick through the bible once, and then forever after be able to quote any scripture I wanted
- my ability to analyze data etc would be incredible.

Of course, one issue is that while I'd be able to remember a whole bunch of stuff, it's not clear that my brain processing capacity would increase sufficiently that I would be able to understand everything in my memory - which could be one flaw in my plan for world domination.

laura said...

Hmm, I'm with Heather and Wayne on this one.

I guess something that I find alternately interesting or dystopian about our lives is that there is so much documenting, storage, and sharing of Things That Happened. It's like everything is documented and factual (and then analyzed), which is fine but also kind of prosaic. I get that enough in the rest of the world that I don't think I'd want it for my brain.

I think that forgetting--or better yet, partially remembering--is one of the more beautiful parts of the human condition.

Luke said...

Gotta go with Laura on this one. There is something beautiful about how memories take on new shapes over time. How pieces of memories are forgotten (for no apparent reason) or morphed into something new. For example, my memory of 'The Neverending Story' after 15 years of it being in the back of my mind having a chance to play and interact with my thoughts and imagination have made the story turn into something completely new. I know this because I made the unfortunate mistake of watching this movie recently and realized that if I had a rote memory interpretation of everything that happened in my life my memories would suck.

There is a reason why our brains evolved to forget things.

Sheila said...

No way. For the reasons Wayne set forth. I already practically have hypermemory of hurtful things people have said to me and dumb things I've said to others, and I have a ridiculously hard time letting them go. I wish I forgot far more than I do right now. I would sacrifice greater knowledge for greater peace any day.

Matt said...

I totally respect and on some level agree with the hesitation expressed by Wayne and others, but I almost feel like arguing for the other side.

First of all, I feel like I would have to carefully consider all of the advantages. Directions, song lyrics, general useful knowledge. It would be pretty incredible.

Sheila, I can relate to your comment, as I often dwell on events in the past, but would this situation really change things? Extreme experiences stick with people for a while. If anything, I think the hypermemory would force you to recall the mildly bad things and allow you to remember the mildly good things your brain would otherwise file away.

An angle I would maybe take against having the operation would be the possibility of day to day annoyances. You'd be Mister Memory, called upon at parties and everywhere else to show off what you could do. And it'd probably annoy you to hear people tell stories that you were a part of, hearing all of the inaccuracies. The whole thing would probably get tiresome.

So I could see going either way. I would probably seek out someone with a photographic memory to get their viewpoint before making a final decision.

julia said...

I read a time article about this - people who remember EVERYTHING. one girl interviewed said that it was a curse, because it's like having to sift through 10,000 pieces of data that have the same value. the most mundane and most important memories of her life both come to mind at the same speed, so she has no filter for selection

Chris said...

I went to the art museum yesterday and there was a quote on the wall from photographer Lee Friedlander:

"I only wanted Uncle Vern standing by his new car (a Hudson) on a clear day. I got him and the car. I also got a bit of Aunt Mary's laundry, and Beau Jack, the dog, peeing on a fence, and a row of potted tuberous begonias on the porch and 78 trees and a million pebbles in the driveway and more. It's a generous medium, photography."

I think hypermemory would be a bit like that. You only set out to remember the important bits, but you get everything else, which can be beautiful and funny and disorienting and overwhelming.

I wouldn't have the surgery. I like forgetting things. I like pretending that I have forgotten things so my friends can tell me the same story over and over thinking it is the first time I have heard it. Plus, it's always wonderful when you rediscover a long lost passage from a book or a scene from a movie.

laura said...

@chris: I hope you aren't *only* thinking of my uncanny ability to tell the same story over and over. :)

Matt said...

Okay, I think the last few posts convinced me. I'd say no.

mikeygee said...

I'd definitely say no.

Part of it is definitely what Wayne and others said about not wanting to remember sad or embarrassing memories. But I think the biggest reason is not wanting to remember things that others did to upset me. Knowing myself, I'd probably just hate everyone because of things that I just couldn't stop thinking about (now with crystal clear accuracy).

That or I'd grow in my ability to forgive others and then have a very sweet memory.

Ask me in like, 5 years, and maybe I'll be mature enough to have hypermemory w/o hating everyone.

Derek said...

I'm almost positive that my answer is yes, I'd take the procedure.

The reasons that most readily spring to mind include...

1. The rest of my time in college would be easier, and more lastingly informative. No more shitty weeks spent studying my ass off and missing out on fun with friends, only to get a B or a C (or worse) on an exam. Paying attention in lecture and looking over the material or textbook once would be more than sufficient, resulting in much more efficient studying, and would actually result in me knowing more than the course required.

2. I'd be a wizz at "connecting the dots" with themes and narrative details of both novels and movies. A superlative and holistic grasp of The Lord Of The Rings, for example, could be had without having to read the thole thing five or six times. The three-part rubric I've got rolling around in my head that I think maps to The Matrix (first movie) and The Matrix (as a trilogy) and makes both more enjoyable would be much more evident and clear to me, for example. I'd be better able to explain it because I'd have a detailed grasp on the entire plot and presentation.

3. Near-perfect recall of information during discussions (debates?) on important topics would be quite useful, I think.

4. Whipping ass at video games would be a definite benefit, it seems. Trying to finally beat Battletoads would be a less arduous task, because each level would only have to crush me once before I'd remember the sequence and be able to pass it. Finding a new item or ability in a Zelda or Metroid game and being able to clearly remember the place I'd found before that required its use - that would be pretty fun.

5. I'm going to be a teacher, and I think this kind of memory ability would definitely improve my ability to be a good one. I'd have almost-perfect access to not only the lesson plan and method of presentation for whatever material I was covering, but I'd also have the larger detailed background information in my head as well, which would have to help with answering questions or in changing my approach to help struggling students grasp the concepts.

I realize that some of the pleasure of re-experiencing things (music, movies, or games) years later, after having forgot much, would be greatly diminished. But I think I'd be okay with the trade-off.

Amy said...

I think I would have to go with no, as well, based on two reasons.

1. Julia's post re: processing and prioritization of memories. It's seems like a huge loss if my memories become clearer but less important.

2. Relational Affects:

How many times have you been in an argument (with a friend of significant onther) and you both have different memories of a same event? Well, having hypermemory means that you "win" every one of those arguments. In a selfish way, that sounds pretty nice, but you would be losing a sense of fair play in your relationship. You would not be evenly matched in arguments and conversation any more. Now that one person is always winning that leaves the other person to be the constant loser, and very few people will out up with a situation like that for long. The relationship, for all intents and purposes would be over. If you try to remedy this by both having the surgery, then you are basically risking the loss of your relationship should one of your surgeries be unsuccessful. I would not be able to take this risk.

For argument's sake, say you risk it, and both of your surgeries are successful. What does the relationship between two hypers look like? Would it be viable? It certainly seems like it would be an overly rational/realistic existence, and if Julia is right, one with a lessened emotion. Certainly not the kind of relationship I'm interested in having.