Scientists at the University of California-Irvine have identified the first known case of a new, superior memory syndrome.
Researchers Elizabeth Parker, Larry Cahill and James McGaugh spent more than five years studying the case of “AJ,” a 40-year-old woman with incredibly strong memories of her personal past.
Given a date, AJ can recall with astonishing accuracy what she was doing on that date and what day of the week it was. Because her case is the first of its kind, the researchers have proposed a name for her syndrome — hyperthymestic syndrome — based on the Greek word thymesis for “remembering” and hyper, meaning “more than normal.” …
“What makes this young woman so remarkable is that she uses no mnemonic devices to help her remember things,” said McGaugh.
From “Unskilled and Unaware of It“:
It seems that the reason for this phenomenon is obvious: The more incompetent someone is in a particular area, the less qualified that person is to assess anyone’s skill in that space, including their own. When one fails to recognize that he or she has performed poorly, the individual is left assuming that they have performed well. As a result, the incompetent will tend to grossly overestimate their skills and abilities. A few years ago, two men from the Department of Psychology at Cornell University made an effort to determine just how profoundly one misoverestimates one’s own skills in relation to one’s actual abilities. They made four predictions, and executed four studies.
Justin Kruger and David Dunning made the following predictions before beginning their investigation:
- Incompetent individuals, compared with their more competent peers, will dramatically overestimate their ability and performance relative to objective criteria.
- Incompetent individuals will suffer from deficient metacognitive skills, in that they will be less able than their more competent peers to recognize competence when they see itÃ¢â‚¬â€œbe it their own or anyone else’s.
- Incompetent individuals will be less able than their more competent peers to gain insight into their true level of performance by means of social comparison information. In particular, because of their difficulty recognizing competence in others, incompetent individuals will be unable to use information about the choices and performances of others to form more accurate impressions of their own ability.
- The incompetent can gain insight about their shortcomings, but this comes (paradoxically) by making them more competent, thus providing them the metacognitive skills necessary to be able to realize that they have performed poorly.
… In short, the study showed that the researchers’ predictions were spot-on. …
Also interestingly, the top performers tended to underestimate their own performance compared to their peers. The researchers found that those participants fell prey to the false-consensus effect, a phenomenon where one assumes that one’s peers are performing at least as well as oneself when given no evidence to the contrary.
Over 3,500 copper canisters like these hold the cremated remains of patients of the Oregon State Hospital that went unclaimed by their families and friends. They sit on shelves in an abandoned building on the grounds of the Oregon State Hospital. They symbolize the loneliness, isolation, shame and despair too many patients of the hospital experienced.
Our members are helping find a final resting place for the remains. We have helped families find their lost relatives. We’re pressing the hospital and the state to create a suitable memorial. We’ve demanded former, current and future patients be advised and consulted about the creation of a memorial, its site, design and any ceremony.
From The New York Times‘ “Long-Forgotten Reminders Of the Mentally Ill in Oregon”:
Next to the old mortuary, where the dead were once washed and prepared for burial or cremation, is a locked room without a name.
Inside the room, in a dim and dusty corner of one of many abandoned buildings on the decaying campus of the Oregon State Hospital here, are 3,489 copper urns, the shiny metal dull and smeared with corrosion, the canisters turning green.
The urns hold the ashes of mental patients who died here from the late 1880’s to the mid-1970’s. The remains were unclaimed by families who had long abandoned their sick relatives, when they were alive and after they were dead.
The urns have engraved serial numbers pressed into the tops of the cans. The lowest number on the urns still stored in the room is 01, the highest 5,118. Over the decades, about 1,600 families have reclaimed urns containing their relatives’ ashes, but those left are lined up meticulously on wood shelves. Short strips of masking tape with storage information are affixed to each shelf: ”Vault #2, Shelf #36, plus four unmarked urns,” one piece of tattered tape says.
Most of the labels that once displayed the full names of the dead patients have been washed off by water damage or peeled away by time. Still, a few frayed labels are legible: among the urns stored on one shelf are a Bess, a Ben and an Andrew.
A Japanese psychiatric counselor has recited pi to 83,431 decimal places from memory, breaking his own personal best of 54,000 digits and setting an unofficial world record, a media report said Saturday.
Akira Haraguchi, 59, had begun his attempt to recall the value of pi – a mathematical value that has an infinite number of decimal places – at a public hall in Chiba city, east of Tokyo, on Friday morning and appeared to give up by noon after only reaching 16,000 decimal places, the Tokyo Shimbun said on its Web site.
But a determined Haraguchi started anew and had broken his old record on Friday evening, about 11 hours after first sitting down to his task, the paper said. …
Pi, usually given as an abbreviated 3.14, is the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle. The number has fascinated and confounded mathematicians for centuries.
Aided by a supercomputer, a University of Tokyo mathematician set the world record for figuring out pi to 1.24 trillion decimal places in 2002.
From Dave Munger’s “Why do we forget our childhood?“:
… [Freud] did discover an important phenomenon which continues to be investigated today. Freud noted that adults do not remember childhood events occurring before they were as old as six. This period of childhood amnesia is now generally believed to end at about age three or four. Though current psychologists donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t put much stock in FreudÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s explanation of the phenomenon (he believed the memories were repressed because they are too traumatic), there is still little agreement on what causes it.
Gabrielle Simcock and Harlene Hayne of the University of Otago noticed that the period of amnesia tends to end at about the time of the onset of language, so they devised an experiment to test whether language ability might be at the root of the problem (“Breaking the Barrier? Children Fail to Translate Their Preverbal Memories Into Language,” Psychological Science, 2002).
They created a memorable event for toddlers of ages ranging from two to three: a magical shrinking machine. …
Six months to a year later, the toddlers were revisited and asked about the experience. Most kids, regardless of their age, could say very little about the shrinking machine. However, when they were shown photos of the toys from the experiment along with decoys (for example, four teddy bears, only one of which was used in the game), they accurately identified the toys from the game most of the time. … The memory existed, but the words were not associated with the memory.
Simcock and Hayne argue that these memories simply are not ever encoded in language, and for that reason, never become part of an adultÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s autobiographical memory.
From Wordsworth’s The Prelude 12.208-218 (1805 edition):
There are in our existence spots of time,
That with distinct pre-eminence retain
A renovating virtue, whence–depressed
By false opinion and contentious thought,
Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight,
In trivial occupations, and the round
Of ordinary intercourse–our minds
Are nourished and invisibly repaired;
A virtue, by which pleasure is enhanced,
That penetrates, enables us to mount,
When high, more high, and lifts us up when fallen.
As a college student in 1964, David J. Hufford met the dreaded Night Crusher. Exhausted from a bout of mononucleosis and studying for finals, Hufford retreated one December day to his rented, off-campus room and fell into a deep sleep. An hour later, he awoke with a start to the sound of the bedroom door creaking openÃ¢â‚¬â€the same door he had locked and bolted before going to bed. Hufford then heard footsteps moving toward his bed and felt an evil presence. Terror gripped the young man, who couldn’t move a muscle, his eyes plastered open in fright.
Without warning, the malevolent entity, whatever it was, jumped onto Hufford’s chest. An oppressive weight compressed his rib cage. Breathing became difficult, and Hufford felt a pair of hands encircle his neck and start to squeeze. “I thought I was going to die,” he says.
At that point, the lock on Hufford’s muscles gave way. He bolted up and sprinted several blocks to take shelter in the student union. “It was very puzzling,” he recalls with a strained chuckle, “but I told nobody about what happened.”
Hufford’s perspective on his strange encounter was transformed in 1971. He was at that time a young anthropologist studying folklore in Newfoundland, and he heard from some of the region’s inhabitants about their eerily similar nighttime encounters. Locals called the threatening entity the “old hag.” Most cases unfold as follows: A person wakes up paralyzed and perceives an evil presence. A hag or witch then climbs on top of the petrified victim, creating a crushing sensation on his or her chest.
It took Hufford another year to establish that what he and these people of Newfoundland had experienced corresponds to the event, lasting seconds or minutes, that sleep researchers call sleep paralysis. …
Sleep paralysis differs from nocturnal panic, in which a person awakens in terror with no memory of a dream. Neither does sleep paralysis resemble a night terror, in which a person suddenly emerges from slumber in apparent fear, flailing and shouting, but then falls back asleep and doesn’t recall the incident in the morning.
Curiously, although the word nightmare originally described sleep paralysis, it now refers to a fearful or disturbing dream, says Hufford, now at the Penn State Medical Center in Hershey, Pa. Several hundred years ago, the English referred to nighttime sensations of chest pressure from witches or other supernatural beings as the “mare,” from the Anglo-Saxon merran, meaning to crush. The term eventually morphed into nightmareÃ¢â‚¬â€the crusher who comes in the night. …
Many who experience sleep paralysis also report sensations of floating, flying, falling, or leaving one’s body. The condition’s primary emotion, terror, sometimes yields to feelings of excitement, exhilaration, rapture, or ecstasy. “A small number of people, while acknowledging fear during initial episodes of sleep paralysis, come to enjoy the experience,” Cheyne says. …
Two brain systems contribute to sleep paralysis, Cheyne proposes. The most prominent one consists of inner-brain structures that monitor one’s surroundings for threats and launches responses to perceived dangers. As Cheyne sees it, REM-based activation of this system, in the absence of any real threat, triggers a sense of an ominous entity lurking nearby. Other neural areas that contribute to REM-dream imagery could draw on personal and cultural knowledge to flesh out the evil presence.
A second brain system, which includes sensory and motor parts of the brain’s outer layer, distinguishes one’s own body and self from those of other creatures. When REM activity prods this system, a person experiences sensations of floating, flying, falling, leaving one’s body, and other types of movement, Cheyne says. …
There is a kinship between waking nightmares starring Night Crushers and reports of alien abductions, McNally and Clancy find. For more than a decade, they have been studying people who claim to have been abducted by aliens from outer space. McNally and Clancy are convinced that these claims derive from sleep-paralysis hallucinations.
From The Washington Post:
Akiko Abe has barely seen her 25-year-old son in six years, yet they live in the same small house. He leaves his room only when he’s sure his parents are out or asleep, she said. She can tell when he has used the kitchen, and she knows he goes to the living room to watch television and use the computer at night.
As many as a million Japanese — most of them young men — are considered shut-ins, either literally cloistered in their rooms or refusing to work and avoiding all social contact for periods ranging from six months to more than 10 years. Forty-one percent live reclusively for one to five years, according to a government survey.
From The New York Times:
Dunning, a professor of psychology at Cornell, worries about this because, according to his research, most incompetent people do not know that they are incompetent.
On the contrary. People who do things badly, Dunning has found in studies conducted with a graduate student, Justin Kruger, are usually supremely confident of their abilities — more confident, in fact, than people who do things well.
Mr. Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced chick-sent-me-high-ee) is chiefly renowned as the architect of the notion of flow in creativity; people enter a flow state when they are fully absorbed in activity during which they lose their sense of time and have feelings of great satisfaction. Mr. Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
From Ben Jones’ Benblog:
I wonder if, the same way we possibly have a residual ancestral memory of snakes eating early hominids that makes certain people fearful of snakes, if the inexplicable fear that some of us have for clowns and realistic dolls and marionettes and that horror of horror a realistic looking clown marionette, which provides so much latitude for interpretation, and hence, ubiquitous, unmitigated terror, is a residual future perception, of a world where clown marionettes eat our progeny.
Linux kernel hacker H. Peter Anvin, quoted in MIT Technology Review’s “Linus’s World“:
“When the BitKeeper fiasco broke, it turned what had previously been a political problem into a technical problem,” he says. “We’re a lot better at solving technical problems.”
From Carl Frappaolo’s “Four basic functions” in Computerworld (23 February 1998)
The four basic functions of knowledge management are externalization, internalization, intermediation and cognition …
Externalization is capturing knowledge in an external repository and organizing it according to a classification framework or taxonomy. At the low end are technologies that simply provide a means to capture knowledge and store it online …
The next level of externalization holds more powerful and promising search tools and document management systems that classify the stored knowledge and identify similarities among separate information sources. …
Ultimately, the role of externalization is to make your captured knowledge available to knowledge seekers through internalization or intermediation. …
Whereas externalization seeks to discover the existence of similar bodies of knowledge, internalization tries to discover bodies of knowledge relevant to a particular user’s need. With internalization, you extract knowledge from the external repository and filter it to identify what is relevant to the knowledge seeker. Internalization helps a researcher communicate a problem or point of interest and map that against the bodies of knowledge already captured through externalization. …
Whereas internalization focuses on the transfer of explicit knowledge, intermediation brokers tacit knowledge. It matches a knowledge seeker with the best source of knowledge. By tracking the experience and interests of individuals, intermediation can link people who need to explore certain subjects with people who appear to harbor knowledge in that area. … Intermediation is automated through technologies such as groupware, intranets, workflow and document management systems….
Cognition is the application of knowledge that’s been exchanged through the preceding three functions and is the ultimate goal of knowledge management.
From ABC News:
Curiosity: desire to learn
Food: desire to eat
Honor: (morality) desire to behave in accordance with a code of conduct
Rejection: fear of social rejection
Sex: desire for sexual behavior and fantasies
Physical exercise: desire for physical activity
Order: desired amount of organization in daily life
Independence: desire to make own decisions
Vengeance: desire to retaliate when offended
Social contact: desire to be in the company of others
Family: desire to spend time with own family
Social prestige: desire for prestige and positive attention
Aversive sensations: aversion to pain and anxiety
Citizenship: desire for public service and social justice
Power: desire to influence people
Researchers at Harvard University have found evidence that the retina actively seeks novel features in the visual environment, dynamically adjusting its processing in order to seek the unusual while ignoring the commonplace. …
“Apparently our thirst for novelty begins in the eye itself,” says Markus Meister, the Jeff C. Tarr Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “Our eyes report the visual world to the brain, but not very faithfully. Instead, the retina creates a cartoonist’s sketch of the visual scene, highlighting key features while suppressing the less interesting regions.”
These findings provide evidence that the ultimate goal of the visual system is not simply to construct internally an exact reproduction of the external world, Meister and his colleagues write in Nature. Rather, the system seeks to extract from the onslaught of raw visual information the few bits of data that are relevant to behavior. This entails the discarding of signals that are less useful, and dynamic retinal adaptation provides a means of stripping from the visual stream predictable and therefore less newsworthy signals.
Kluver-Bucy Syndrome: Damage to the front of the temporal lobe and the amygdala just below it can result in the strange condition called Kluver-Bucy Syndrome. Classically, the person will try to put anything to hand into their mouths and typically attempt to have sexual intercourse with it. A classic example is of the unfortunate chap arrested whilst attempting to have sex with the pavement. …
Capgras’ Syndrome: … The Capgras’ patient will typically identify people close to them as being imposters – identical in every possible way, but identical replicas. Classically, the patient will accept living with these imposters but will secretly “know” that they are not the people they claim to be. …
Cotard’s Syndrome: … this syndrome is characterized by the patient believing that he is dead, a walking corpse. This “delusion” is usually expanded to the degree that the patient might claim that he can smell his own rotting flesh and feel worms crawling through his skin (a recurring experience of people chronically deprived of sleep or suffering amphetamine/cocaine psychosis). …
Fregoli Syndrome: This is an extraordinary experience where the person misidentifies another person as someone who clearly he is not. Indeed, he may begin to see the same person everywhere he looks …
Alien Hand Syndrome: Probably a version of “left hemi-neglect”, brain damage in the right place can disconnect the left hand (controlled by the right, unconscious cerebral hemisphere) leaving the left hand without conscious control and the person at the mercy of the unconscious whims of the right hemisphere.
From Malcolm Gladwell’s "Getting Over It", in The New Yorker (8 November 2004):
We suffer from what Wilson and Gilbert call an impact bias: we always assume that our emotional states will last much longer than they do. We forget that other experiences will compete for our attention and emotions. We forget that out psychological immune system will kick in and rake away the sting of adversity.