The Entire History of You

During the weekends when I’ve found myself with a break from rowing and homework I’ve started to become invested in the show Black Mirror. Each episode is standalone and are primarily designed to make commentary about technology in everyday society. One episode that stood out to me as I’ve delved deeper into the series is The Entire History of You (Season 1 Episode 3). The people of this world are implanted with a memory chip which records everything the owner has seen, heard and have done from the moment they are implanted with the chip. Using a controller, they can replay memories, zoom in, fast forward, and manipulate the memory (to a certain degree) in a variety of different ways. Another characteristic of this device is the ability to play memories on television screen as a way of allowing other people to have access to their memories. With this memory chip there is no need to physically remember anything as the chip retains all information.

The story starts out with a young lawyer who attends a dinner party with his wife. He already had an unnerving morning dealing with a job interview, so his anxiety is already raised higher than normal. At the dinner he noticed subtle hints of his wife’s aloofness when interacting with himself, however she behavior immediately changed when she focused on an ‘old family friend.’ Fast forward to the next morning and many drinks later, the lawyer has spent the hours since obsessively replaying his wife’s interactions with the friend by projecting his memory chip and manipulating the memory to capture specific details. He ends up driving to the family friend’s house, forces him to erase the memories featuring private moments with his wife, and ultimately erases the man’s ability to retain those memories to exact detail. The episode continues on, but what’s particularly interesting is that once a memory is deleted (or in another woman’s case the memory chip mauled out), the people of this world still have the ability to remember but they don’t have the picturesque memories to draw back on. This means that people go back to ‘normal’ processing of memory in which our memories slowly fade and are replaced with false information as time progresses.

While watching this episode it immediately reminded me of people who have eidetic memory or what is more commonly known as photographic memory. This is defined as internal memory images that are so vivid the individual is able to recall visual, auditory and to a limited extent physical details associated with the scene they saw. While searching for studies elaborating on this form of memory processing I’ve found that most of the research is from the late twentieth century with little information before and after that period of time. This is not a surprising find however, as eidetic memory is rare and most commonly found in adolescents. Therefore, studies are limited in time and sample size compared to research in areas of long term and working memories for example.

(This is an example of a picture used from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as a test for children to determine if they had eidetic memory or not. The children would stare at the picture for 30 seconds and look away from the image at a blank surface. If they were able to ‘project’ the image onto that surface and recall specific details then it was said that they had eidetic memory). 

The brain constantly has cells dying while new ones are formed, creating new pathways and connections every day. By the seventh month of the prenatal period nearly all neurons have migrated to their final locations and the brain is filled with dense networks of neurons. At birth however, nearly 50 percent of fetal neurons die out. The brain undergoes synaptogenesis and neuroplasticity which allows the brain to learn new information while discarding useless memories and ultimately avoiding the disproved theory of the ‘grandmother cell.’  People with eidetic memory do not possess the essential ability to properly discard unnecessary information. Instead many of them suffer from the amount of information they have to hold, similar to Mr. S for example in Aleksandr Luria’s The Mind of a Mnemonist (1968). Mr. S had the ability to remember almost everything that he encountered however his memory was so powerful that he had to construct his own methods for forgetting information such as writing down details and burning the paper afterwards. When asked to remember a word, he could recall the visual connections, auditory associations, and feelings that he experienced when he first read the word. He found it difficult to understand a single sentence and was constantly bombarded with information.

This episode brings to light both the benefits and tragedies of memory. Whether utilizing implicit or explicit memories we are constantly learning new information. Yet at the same time, our brains are discarding information that have lost necessary connections. I think one area that could be explored is the connection of eidetic memory and autism. According to stereotypes (like Rain Man) and observable symptoms, individuals with autism are often marveled as to having extraordinary memory. Do some people on the spectrum experience eidetic memory? Do the stereotypes actually reference remarkable working and long-term memories? Do autistic people experience side effects similar to Mr. S because of their memory capacities (individuals on the spectrum often experience sensory processing disorder)? Eidetic memory as a whole deserves to be further investigated when it is properly identified and has the potential to open a better understanding of how memory communicates with the brain to form the entire history of you.

 

References:

Black Mirror, The Entire History of You (Season 1, Episode 3)

Cognition Exploring the Sceience of the Mind Daniel Reisberg

Photographic Memory Mort la Brecque (https://muse-jhu-edu.ezproxy.umw.edu/article/597075/pdf)

Photographic Memory Kate Flint (https://www.erudit.org/en/journals/ravon/2009-n53-ravon2916/029898ar/)

Psychology: A Modular Approach to Mind and Behavior Dennis Coon (https://books.google.com/books?id=evrfDR09mDsC&pg=PA310#v=onepage&q&f=false)

The Dynamic Child Frank Manis

The Student’s Guide to Cognitive Neuroscience Jamie Ward

One thought on “The Entire History of You

  1. chrise

    I really like this blog post and the questions it proposes about the benefits and cons of having a memory that cannot forget. In a previous blog, from my perspective, I theorized that our memory forgetting things might have therapeutic properties. I have also seen the history of you on black mirror, and this episode really makes me believe that my hypothesis might hold some water. In the lawyer’s case, it would have benefited him to not recall the slight behavior changes of his wife when she interacted with her previous fling. It may have lead to him discovering her infidelity, but it also sent him spiraling into insanity. Over and over again, he went over the memory and reanalyzed the behaviors of his wife and her fling. It completely consumed him. I’m sure many have done this in their lives, but unlike the lawyer our memories of an occurrence we are analyzing becomes hazy with time. Forgetfulness may be the brain’s way of consolidating memories for new information, but it might also be away to help the mind move past things as well.

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