What Effect Would TOTALLY Perfect Memory Have?

Steven J. Pierce sjp2 at ra.msstate.edu
Fri Sep 6 02:15:28 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.  

It all depends on what you mean by perfect, and what you mean by 
remembering. For example, we know that people sometimes have some piece 
of information stored, but are not always able to retrieve it actively. 
An example is the tip of the tongue phenomenon. Later retrieval 
demonstrates that the information was there, it was just inaccessible 
temporarily for some reason. 

I suspect that active retrieval of all related data would be likely to 
slow down any operations where searching memory for a specific piece 
of information was necessary. It has been suggested that forgetting (or 
at least active suppression of certain stored information) has advantages 
at times. There's a whole literature on Directed Forgetting that gets at 
that question.

The other issue is whether or not the memory is truly accurate. We know 
that people often reconstruct some details of their memories based on 
schema and scripts. Does perfect memory mean storage of exact, accurate 
sensory experience? That would be very burdensome, I expect. Imagine how 
terrible that would be if he experienced anything really traumatic and 
was reminded of it somehow. It'd be like re-living it entirely.
Steven J. Pierce
Master's Student in Experimental Psychology
Mississippi State University
E-Mail: sjp2 at ra.msstate.edu
WWW: http://www2.msstate.edu/~sjp2/index.html

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