Shelves: psychology This short book is Soviet psychologist A. Then it fades off These creep into This short book is Soviet psychologist A. Once memorized, S can recall a list after years. S has the rare condition of synesthesia by which experience is encoded in multiple sensory pathways. For him, sounds have distinct colors and visual imagery and the wrong music can clash with the taste of a meal.
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Save Story Save this story for later. The man, who would become known in the psychological literature as S. That morning, the editor had noticed that S. When he confronted S. The editor picked up a newspaper and read at length from it, challenging S. When S. The researcher who met with S. Luria began reeling off lists of random numbers and words and asking S.
Even more remarkably, when Luria retested S. In the book, Luria describes how S. When this failed, he lit the slips of paper on fire and watched them burn to ash, also to no avail. Luria catalogues various difficulties that S. These cognitive deficiencies, Luria suggests, were related to S. Deriving meaning from the world requires us to relinquish some of its texture. Like Funes, S. Luria wanted to discover not so much what S. He quotes long passages from their interviews and correspondence, and the two voices—Luria, measured and thoughtful; S.
Luria is more reticent when it comes to the outer world of the man he studied for nearly three decades. He offers only the barest of biography, and never identifies S.
Exactly how S. Some sources have him spending his sunset years as a Moscow cabbie, ferrying passengers around without need for a map, while others assert that he went insane and ended up in an asylum, unable to distinguish the present from the ever-living past of his memory. Neither, it turns out, is true. Eventually, I tracked down a relative. Written not long before his death and left incomplete, it opens with his impressions of that first meeting with Luria twenty-eight years earlier.
It even provides the exact list of things Luria gave him to memorize that day. My search for Solomon Shereshevsky revealed a person who fit uneasily in the story of the Man Who Could Not Forget, as he has so often been portrayed. He did not, in fact, have perfect recall. His past was not a land he could wander through at will. For him, remembering took conscious effort and a certain creative genius. His extraordinary case also reveals something of how our ordinary minds remember, and how often they do not.
He dates their meeting to April 13, , while Luria has it occurring a few years before, and Shereshevsky gives his age at the time as thirty-seven, while Luria asserts that his subject was still in his twenties.
According to Shereshevsky, he returned to the newspaper that day and told his editor that his memory had been tested and was found to exceed the bounds of what was believed to be physically possible. In short order, he hired a circus trainer as his manager and travelling assistant and was coached by a carnival juggler on how to entertain. Then he set off for the provinces. For Reynberg, S.
I tracked him down through a contact in Moscow and went to see him a few years ago on a hot summer afternoon in Brooklyn, where he now lives. His apartment was a rambling series of neatly kept rooms that had an unmistakably Russian feel to them, from the beaded hallway curtain to the feast of delicious zakuski that had been laid out for my arrival.
Reynberg is stocky, with a head of neatly combed ivory hair, and we sat for hours in the kitchen, talking about his uncle. In that town outside Moscow, he said, the farmers who were supposed to meet him and his uncle at the train station never showed up, so they hired horse-drawn sledges to take them through the snow to find the venue on their own.
The actual performance never happened, but they paid him nonetheless—in potatoes, Reynberg recalled, for which his uncle was grateful. Advertisement Like food, housing was in short supply in those years. In Moscow, Shereshevsky lived with his wife and son in a damp room in the basement of a janitorial outbuilding tucked away in a courtyard.
A graduate of the famous Smolny Institute for Noble Maidens, Aida was a talented musician who kept her own piano in their cramped quarters. During spells of fine weather, husband and wife wheeled the instrument out into the courtyard to let it dry out. There was something striking about this incongruous image: the two of them trundling the heavy piano to a sunny spot in the courtyard, each bump calling forth dim polychromatic echoes from inside its wooden body.
According to Reynberg, Shereshevsky was pressured to put his talents to work for the secret police, but he declined. His problems deepened after the Second World War, Reynberg said, during the so-called anti-cosmopolitanism campaign, a purge directed primarily at Jews. Shereshevsky found himself increasingly shunned, his shows cancelled.
After a disastrous performance that left audience members clamoring for a refund, his career was essentially finished. Shereshevsky had made a living off his memory in a land ruled by amnesia. Something else I learned that afternoon threatened to change my entire sense of who Shereshevsky was: His uncle, Reynberg said, could be forgetful. Reynberg told me that his uncle trained hours a day for his evening performances.
Was he a mere showman after all? Memory Championship. There were serious drawbacks in having so many channels open to the world.
Shereshevsky avoided such things as reading the newspaper over breakfast because the flavors evoked by the printed words clashed with the taste of his meal. Much like a professional athlete, Shereshevsky had to change and relearn formerly unconscious strategies in order to grapple with ever-larger challenges.
The strength and durability of his memories seemed to be tied up in his ability to create elaborate multisensory mental representations and insert them in imagined story scenes or places; the more vivid this imagery and story, the more deeply rooted it would become in his memory.
But with only a few seconds for each item on his list, he could no longer allow the same flow of spontaneously evoked imagery as before. Instead, he had to control, to standardize, to essentialize. But what do imagination and make-believe have to do with memory—a mental faculty we value precisely for its supposed veracity?
We met this past spring at the University of Virginia, at a conference that paired literary scholars with neuroscientists to discuss the workings of memory.
A victim of a motorcycle accident, K. He was also, somewhat unexpectedly, unable to speculate in any detail about what he would be doing the following day. Advertisement There was a connection, his case seemed to imply, between memory and imagination. But how could one study that? But the next two decades saw the advent of MRI technology that allowed researchers to see mental processes as they were unfolding in the brain.
Neuroimaging showed that patterns of brain activation for episodic memory and imagining the future were virtually indistinguishable. The discovery fuelled a paradigm shift in memory research; one review of the field found that over a recent five-year period, the number of articles published on memory and imagination had increased tenfold.
The experimental evidence suggests to Schacter that our imagination draws heavily on memory, recombining bits and pieces of actual experience to model hypothetical and counterfactual scenarios. This seems intuitive.
But he goes further, arguing that our all-too-fallible recollections of the past are in fact adaptive, providing the flexibility that allows us to reconfigure memory to imagine our possible futures. And the relationship might run the other way, too: as Schacter noted when we spoke, the directionality of the interaction between memory and imagination has not yet been established.
The secret to the success of that old mnemonic device may, in fact, have something to do with our underlying brain structures.
Researchers have discovered that the hippocampus is not only a seat of memory but also the site in the brain where we create mental maps of our world. Some of these are oddities that are left out of most accounts of his life, perhaps because they fit poorly into the Funes-style narrative. Luria relates that Shereshevsky was capable of sitting in a chair and consciously modifying his heart rate from sixty-four beats per minute to a hundred by picturing himself either lying in bed or racing after a train just leaving the station, respectively.
Imagining a loud noise caused an involuntary protective reflex in his eardrums, as though the sound had actually occurred. He recounts to Luria how, as a child, he might lie in bed past the time when he needed to get up for school, having imagined that the clock had stopped.
He could also, he tells Luria, imagine himself splitting into a doubled self, one of whom had to go to school while the other stayed home. Instead of burning memories on scraps of paper, Shereshevsky found a different kind of erasure in his final years, according to his nephew: he turned to drinking.
The Mystery of S., the Man with an Impossible Memory
Many mnemonists have been studied in psychology labs over the last century, and most have been found to use mnemonic devices. Currently, all memory champions at the World Memory Championships have said that they use mnemonic strategies, such as the method of loci , to perform their memory feats. Skilled memory theory was proposed by K. Anders Ericsson and Bill Chase to explain the effectiveness of mnemonic devices in memory expertise.
Life and career[ edit ] Early life and childhood[ edit ] Luria was born to Jewish parents in Kazan , a regional center east of Moscow. Many of his family were in medicine. Luria was one of two children; his younger sister Lydia became a practicing psychiatrist. While still a student in Kazan, he established the Kazan Psychoanalytic Society and briefly exchanged letters with Sigmund Freud. Late in , he moved to Moscow, where he lived on Arbat Street.
The Mind of a Mnemonist: A Little Book about a Vast Memory, with a New Foreword by Jerome S. Bruner