19 Dec Solomon Shereshevsky, the Unforgettable
One of the most analyzed memories belonged to a Russian Solomon Shereshevsky, otherwise known as S. He aspired to be a violinist, became a journalist, then a professional mnemonist, and ended his career as a taxi driver in Moscow. According to the famous neuropsychologist Professor Luria, who studied S over a period of thirty years, there were no distinct limits to his memory.
As a journalist, S never took notes during his interviews, but his articles were detailed and accurate. He told his editor that he didn’t need to take notes, because he never forgot anything. His editor sent him to Aleksander Luria at a local university for testing.
Luria presented S with 70-digit matrices, complex scientific formulae, even poems in foreign languages, all of which he could memorize in a matter of minutes. He could also report extensive lists of numbers or letters in reverse order. Not only this, he remembered them years afterwards, as well as the clothes Luria had worn on the day he had first learned them!
Even events from early childhood could be recalled, including things that happened when he was still in his crib. There also appeared to be no limit to his digit span, as opposed to the seven to nine items that most humans can manage.
S’s experience of the world around him was quite different from ours. He was born with a condition known as synaesthesia. Synaesthesia is a joining together of sensations that are normally experienced separately. Some synesthetes experience colors when they hear or read words, whilst others may experience tastes, smells, shapes or touches in almost any combination. The sensations are automatic and cannot be turned on or off.
In S’s case, he automatically translated the world around him into vivid mental images that lasted for years. He couldn’t help but have a good memory, writes Dominic O’Brien in his book How to Develop a Perfect Memory. “If he was asked to memorize a word, he would not only hear it, but he would also see a color. On some occasions, he would also experience a taste in his mouth and a feeling on his skin. Later on, when he was asked to repeat the word, he has a number of triggers to remind him.”
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He also used images to remember numbers:
Unfortunately, S’s gift was a serious handicap. He was unable to block unwanted memories. Also, he had a terrible memory for faces because he memorized them so exactly. People’s faces change with time, lighting, mood, and expression. S had difficulty recognizing faces because they looked so different to him from the ones he had completely memorized in the past.
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