Tag Archives: brain function

Those Who Never Forget

If you had the ability to remember everything you’ve ever done, heard, or seen, would you want it? Do the advantages outweigh the potential risks to having such an ability? When thinking academically, would it be a wonderfully resourceful tool to have in order to guarantee yourself good grades? However, everyone has moments they wish to forget, wish to put behind them without ever contemplating it again. It seems normal for one to believe that having a perfectly intact memory isn’t possible, but a condition known as hyperthymesia goes against this idea.

Hyperthymesia is a neurological condition (first described by researchers from the University of California) where a person is able to remember pinpoint specific details, such as, where they were on August 12th, 2002, along with what they were wearing and what they did, what current events were happening on the given date, and the specific day of the week it was (which, in my mind, appears to be what makes the condition believable). This condition also goes by the names of the Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory and Hyperthymesia Syndrome due to the fact that the handful of people capable of this ability are only able to remember things pertaining to their own life. So far there are only 20 known people who have been diagnosed with hyperthymesia, and it is assumed that 23 year old Aurelien Hayman is the only person in Great Britain to have been born with the extraordinary condition.

“It’s like being able to access something in a filing cabinet very quickly.”

Hayman had told interviewers that there’s no special technique to recalling his past with such specificity; it’s all done subconsciously. Unlike the average human who uses retrieval from the long-term memory, which is in the right frontal lobe of the brain, it has been said that Hayman uses the right frontal lobe along with the left frontal lobe (the part of the brain in charge of language) and the occipital lobe in the back of the brain (the part of the brain in charge of storing pictures). Because of this, he is able to have an increased capacity for stored information. According to Hayman, “it’s a very visual process, there’s a sequence of images” that just seem assigned to certain dates. However, Hayman did acknowledge the fact that it is an autobiographical memory, and that it doesn’t seem to give him any advantages in schooling.

So what separates people with what appears to be exceptional memory from those with hyperthymesia? The latter do not use any tactical approaches to recalling certain details, which can be seen through Hayman. Whereas, people with just exceptional memory use tools like mnemonics to recall past events. Mnemonics are devices such as patterns of ideas, letters, or associations that aid in memory recall. It has been said that the amygdala (part in the brain that experiences emotions) is a crucial role to those with HSAM due to the fact that these individuals are evoking incidents from their past rather than using mnemonics. The Californian neurologists from the University of California explained that they believed “hyperthymestic individuals” to be able to involuntarily make associations with any date through visualizing dramatic effects of events.  However, there is speculation over whether or not this is true.


So would being able to have a Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory be intriguing to you? If so, maybe it’s worth noting that another individual with the condition, by the name of AJ, explained that it’s like having a bunch of memories constantly filling up your head. AJ struggles with her condition so much that she claimed that it’s hard for her to focus on the present and the future since her mind is so conscious of her past. After considering this thought, it made me realize that I would hate the possibility of my brain fighting against me being involved in the present on a daily basis. There’s also the fact that I would be able to remember events that I would possibly want to forget. This being said, I’m intrigued to know if people who are capable of blocking traumatic events could ever be diagnosed with Hyperthymesia, or if hyperthymestic individuals  (unlike AJ) are at all capable of blocking events from their mind.

Lucy: A film fascinated with the human brain

Many of you may have  seen in theaters or a glimpse on TV commercials the movie “Lucy” (Trailer for Lucy) that was released in theaters July 25th, 2014. I personally have not seen this movie but I have seen TV commercials and have watched the trailer for this movie and grasped a basic understanding of what the movie is about. The concept of this movie was that humans only use 10% of their brains capacity but in a rare case, this woman Lucy is able to go beyond that 10% and acquire certain skills that other humans can not retrieve in their brain.

If you did not know before, this claim that we only use 10% of our brain is a myth. Authors, producers, directors, and the media use anything they can to make an interesting film or book society will want to buy or pay to see. There have been tons of movies and books on the end of the world phenomenon, for example, that people are fascinated with because it’s interesting for us to think about something we do not really know. The “10% Myth” is one of those marvels that some people may believe in and others not at all.

There has been many theories about where this myth of “We only use 10% of our brain” has come from. According to the Scientific American, the myth has been linked to the American psychologist and author William James, who argued in his novel “The Energies of Men” published in 1907, that we are only making use of a small part of our mental resources. They also said it has been associated with Albert Einstein, who used this figure to describe his own intellect.

Now we may ask ourselves, “Why does such a myth still exist?” A plausible reason why this myth has been popularly is because it is sometimes used to describe psychic powers according to Snope Magazine. People pay to see someone with “intuition” or “supernatural power.” These unique individuals are able to use 80-90% of their brain compared to the ordinary person that is only able to use “10%” favoring the myth for this specific business or entertainment. The myth is also common for people to use when one cannot remember or retain information that they want to tap into. If we can’t remember something, what else to blame but the brain?

If you are one of those people that are firm believers that we do only use 10% of our brain, then you probably found the film, “Lucy” pretty intriguing. From what I saw, she learned how to write Chinese in an hour, can move people with her mind, feel every living thing, and much more. This mix of unused intellect and intuitive brain powers fascinates people who believe in the 10% Myth that if we could access the other 90% of our brain, what would we be like and how would that change our society?

On the other side of the subject, people who believe the 10% Myth is really a myth can back the brain up with scientific studies on the brain. Looking at the Scientific American again, it’s true that at any given moment all of the brain’s regions are not simultaneously active, but brain researchers using imaging technology have shown that, just like the body’s muscles, most are continually active over a 24-hour period. This evidence would show over a day you use 100 percent of the brain according to neurologist John Henley. Barry Gordon at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine did admit that at certain moments when we are simply just resting and thinking, we may be using only 10 percent of our brains. He also said that we use virtually every part of the brain, and that [most of] the brain is active almost all the time. If you study the brain, you’ll find out that 10 percent of it is composed of neurons the other 90 percent are glial cells. The mystery of this known fact is that glial cells support neurons but their function are unknown. Coincidentally, it’s not that we use 10 percent of our brains, merely that we only understand about 10 percent of how it functions.

The film “Lucy” gives the field of cognitive psychology attention to where the field is advancing in the future with the improvement in imaging technology and scientific studies that can help us find out more about what goes on inside our head.