so much to know, so little to do

Richard Hall rhall at uvi.edu
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 theory...in 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 numbers...so 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
dust.

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
information.

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.

rlh

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

809-693-1386
rhall at uvi.edu

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

809-693-1386
rhall at uvi.edu





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