The curious case of the woman who could not remember her past or imagine her future

The curious case of the woman who could not remember her past or imagine her future

Many think that without our memories we will be nothing.

It doesn’t matter if they are sad or happy; The fact is that all of them are forging us until we become the people we are, or at least that is what literature, cinema and our own consciences have tried to convince us throughout our lives. But what if they weren’t so necessary?

If we ask Susie McKinnon I’m sure he would have a totally different vision. And it is that this woman, who has told her case in an interview in the magazine Wired, has a specific type of memory that prevents you from visualizing memories in your mind, but not learning new information.

The Susie McKinnon case

Susie is a woman of 60 years old woman who leads a totally normal life with her husband Eric Green. Of clear ideas, with a stable job and a comfortable life, she says that her little problem has never been a great impediment and that, in fact, she has learned to live and enjoy with L.

He is totally unable to visualize memories in his mind in the same way that most of us do. For example, she knows what day she married, she knows anecdotes of the wedding day and she can tell how she was dressed, but she has memorized all that through the testimonies from her husband and Photos of that day. It is the only thing he has asked to keep in his mind, because he has no no memory of their own And, for her, looking at those photos is like observing another couple’s wedding.

However, for her all this was so normal that she was not aware that she was not like the others until her high school years, when a classmate asked her to participate in a memory test that she was doing as part of a school work. Seeing him ask her a lot of concrete questions about her childhood, she was surprised, because she was totally sure that no one was able to retain those memories and that, when they were told, they gave them too much imagination. But, seeing that the boy insists, he realized. There was something about her that was not normal.

What are the differences between episodic and semantic memory?

When we are told about types of memory, we tend to think of photographic memory, the associative memory or, at most, memory to short or long term. However, we do not stop to think that there are many more, semantics and episodes two of the most important.

Semantics is what helps us form our languagebecause it allows to retain the meaning of the conceptss and their semantic relations. Instead, the episdica, also known as autobiographicalIt is the one that stores memories about our own experiences, creating a more or less blurred image of them in our mind. This includes what psychologists call autonomic awareness, consisting of the ability to become protagonists of our own memories; that is, the remembered Self is the present Self.

We understand by amnesia the total absence of all kinds of memory, but things really don’t work that way. What really happens I found out in Endel Tulving, a cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist who in 1972 described the different types of long-term memory. According to his first investigations, semantic memory is necessary to compose episodic memory; but, as I later found out, it may be that the latter never forms.

Susie McKinnon is not alone

After verifying that her memory was not really the usual one, Susie began to inquire about it until she read thetulving items. In one of them, he narrated the case of a 30 year old man, who after an accident had suffered a brain injury that led him to lose any kind of episodic memory, while his semantic memory remained intact. According to him, although all the known cases started from a previous damage in the brain, it seemed entirely possible that someone was affected in the same way from birth.

No doubt Susie was that person, but she was hesitant to contact someone as important as Tulving, so she decided to call first. Brian Levine, one of the scientists who had worked with him. The latter immediately contacted her and began to study the case. He soon found two other individuals with the same symptoms as her and I decided to bring them all together to start an essay consisting of an interview series and an analysis of their brains through magnetic resonance.

They all showed similar patterns: full lives, successful jobs and satisfying romantic relationships; but, above all, total inability to visualize memories in his mind. The MRI results did not show any damage, but they did find a abnormally reduced activity in the areas involved in the self awareness, the ability to time travel mentally and the ability to form episdic memories.

However, everything else was normal, they were intelligent people, without any harm.

If we don’t need episodic memory, why do we have it?

Scientists have yet to find an answer to this question. If we have preserved it evolutionarily, it is necessary, but the truth is that for Susie this problem can even be a gift; since, okay, you can’t memorize the good memories, but neither the bad guys. We all know how traumatic can be the memory of a bad experience And, as you can see, it is a sensation that this woman will never have to deal with.

In fact, she claims to be happy with her way of remembering. Not use social networks nor any advance in technology that can help you memorize every moment; Well, according to her, if she starts to retain it, she will forget to enjoy it.

The opposite case is that of some people suffering from a disorder baptized as hyperthystic syndromecharacterized by an excess of autobiographical memory. These patients have very vivid memories and detailed of everything that happens to them and they even go so far as to develop a compulsive obsession for remembering everything. Of course, that is a conviction.

Susie can’t imagine her future either

The inability to form mental images of her experiences leads her to not be able to imagine her future. You can’t really imagine, generally, because it’s impossible for you to create various events in your mind and link them together in a way that makes sense. This is seen in their inability to play the Chess; since, although he knows the movements perfectly, he cannot anticipate the possible response modes of your adversary and respond accordingly.

Those of us born with a memory classified as normal are unable to imagine a life without our memories, but if someone has lived without them, not only can they have the life of anyone, but they can take advantage of their problem to be even happier. And is that, if life gives you lemons

Picture Susie McKinnon: CBC

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