so much to know, so little to do

Richard Hall rhall at
Thu Sep 5 21:32:31 EST 1996

Eric Manshun Choi wrote:
> I am in the process of writing a science fiction story in which one of
> the characters has the ability to literally remember EVERYTHING that he
> sees or reads.

> How would such an ability affect his mind?  Would he be able to cope, or
> would the overload of information drive him insane?

I can identify with the problem because I have a very good, almost
photographic memory.  But after 25 years teaching at the university level,
or 25 years of institutionalization, what ever, I find that a perfect
memory is for the most part useless.  The only time details are important
is if you are trying to program your vcr or put a class to sleep,
otherwise, general concepts work amazingly well.  It is almost an inverted
chaos reality you cannot predict what will happen because of
the randomness ofevents.  Knowing a lot of details is seldom handy because
life is continually switching the rules and tends to cobble unrelated
events together leaving you with a bag of empty facts.

Most facts are only approximations subject to review and re-evaluation.
Even in college, I got more points for understanding concepts supported
with a few details (facts) than I ever got just spitting numbers and
quoting verbatem. My professors hated it when i gave page do
i.  It is still scarey what I remember, but that stuff is basically bs.
Since the last baseball strike, I no longer care about how many bases Maury
Wills stole off left handers in 1962.  Baseball died and the numbers are

I can recall the number of a girlfriend, call her Susan T. from 32 years
ago...but the number now contacts the wrong person.  So much for a perfect
memory.  I can recall every question Dr. Keppel used to torture us in
Chemistry  351 (Inorganic Chemistry.) at the University of Nebraska-Omaha,
do you want the room number and class time?  Big deal, I never use the

The fundamental flaw in your premise is that many facts change as we learn
more and more.  Reality is a series of approximations with imagination
filling in the gaps.  It is true that the conflict between perceptions of
reality and current events can test one's sanity.  But only a nut would let
the memory of a mustard stain on a t-shirt push them over the ledge-his
name was Stan, the waitress was Maude, the resturant was Carl's and is now
a Burger King.  Stan initiated the crisis  by suggesting to Maude that she
needed a real man, real soon.  She told him he was a hot dog and sprayed
him with mustard. I ordered tacos and a strawberry shake, ugh.  It was June
11, 1967 and the car was a 49 plymouth, maroon. Do you want the plate
number? The tires were Kelly's and I had just bought a new battery from the
Amaco station at 72nd and Dodge for 29.95...there was no sales tax until
1968.  Stan died in Nam from an infectious disease and Maude married a
construction worker, they put 2 kids through college and now live in
Tennessee.  Griping, right?  Do you know how far a 38 caliber slug drops at
50 feet?  It depends on 4 variables including powder-type , powder weight,
barrel length and humidity.  I also have a tendency to remember binding
constants, solubility products, and heats of fusion.  I do forget to pay
bills on time and my girl friend has to continually remind me my why I love
her.  Forgetting can be fun and relearning productive.

I think a better science fiction theme would be to combine a flawed memory
with a flawed conceptualizer...make them a man and a woman, a dog and a
parrot, or make them one person and call him Ray.  Which has the better
literary potential?  Let the "perfect" memory make a few mistakes and the
"perfect" conceptualizer get a bit confused..problem solving gets dicey and
they have to save face, that is real life.

Oh, I also rely on dumb luck and I chill a lot.


Richard Hall
Comparative Animal Physiologist
Division of Sciences and Mathematics
University of the Virgin Islands
St. Thomas, USVI  00802

rhall at

Richard Hall
Comparative Animal Physiologist
Division of Sciences and Mathematics
University of the Virgin Islands
St. Thomas, USVI  00802

rhall at

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