Thursday, December 23, 2010

When I Die I'm Donating My Memory to Science

There is an ability called Hyperthymesia, also known as piking or hyperthymestic syndrome, a condition where the affected individual has a superior autobiographical memory.   As first described in a 2006 article entitled "A case of unusual autobiographical remembering," the two defining characteristics of hyperthymesia are "1) the person spends an abnormally large amount of time thinking about his or her personal past, and 2) the person has an extraordinary capacity to recall specific events from his or her personal past".

I don't have Hyperthmesia, but I do have an unusually good memory and I spend an abnormally large amount of time thinking about my personal past. 

I will think about an event from the past and associated fragments of experience will come to mind.  I liken the process to an archaeological dig in which fragments of objects are recovered.

This post is actually an extension of something I posted on this blog a few days ago: a report about a retaliatory memo my supervisor wrote about me in late October 1991 after I lodged a harassment complaint against her to senior managers at the law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, where I worked as a paralegal from 1988-1991.

In the memo my supervisor said that she had placed me in a private office after I complained to her that coworkers had played pranks on me.  In fact, my supervisor did not place me in a private office prior to my move to the Terrace Level suite in early April 1991.

The chronology is as follows:

Late October 1989: I was placed in a large, group office on the ninth floor.

March 1990: I was transferred from the paralegal program to the firm's Litigation Support Group, but remained in the ninth floor group office.

April 8, 1991: I started working in the Terrace Level suite that housed Litigation Support.

Last night I was thinking about my move to the Terrace Level office in early April 1991 and the following memory fragments came to mind.

I remember that on Friday April 5, 1991 my supervisor called me into her office to tell me that she was moving me to the Terrace Level suite from the ninth floor office I had occupied since October 1989.  After my meeting with the supervisor, Malcolm Lassman, the Akin Gump attorney manager who reported to the firm's management committee about matters relating to paralegals, chaired a meeting of paralegals in the firm's fifth floor conference room.  He responded to rumors that the firm planned to lay off paralegals in response to the national economic recession.  He assured the paralegals that the firm had no plans to lay off any paralegals; he said that laying off employees (in any employee group) was a last resort for the firm.  I remember the paralegal Glenda Creasy (Walden), who seemed to be especially friendly with Legal Assistant Administrator Maggie Sinnott, was seated a few rows behind me at the meeting and was talking loudly about someone she called "paranoid."  At that moment I had an idea of reference.  I thought, "I think Glenda Creasy is trying to get me agitated."  By the way, that's an interesting feature of my superior memory.  I remember many trivial things from my past because I attach a self-referential meaning to events.  My paranoia is a mnemonic device for me.

I remember that on Saturday April 6, 1991 I went to the office to move my belongings from the ninth floor to the Terrace Level.  I didn't want to waste company time on moving.  I didn't bill the firm for my Saturday hours spent on the move.  I wanted to start work on Monday morning April 8th immediately at 9:00 AM.  I had done the same thing on Friday March 17, 1989 when Maggie Sinnott told me that I was being moved from a private office on the fifth floor to a group office.  Some time on the weekend of March 18, 1989 I went to the office to move my belongings so that I could start work immediately at 9:00 AM on Monday morning, March 20, 1989.  (You will recall that Dennis Race's birthday was Monday March 13, 1989; it was on that day that Doug Rosenfeld, Esq. started working at Akin Gump.  Dennis Race introduced Doug Rosenfeld to the firm at the All-Attorneys Dinner at the Westin Hotel on May 3, 1989.  But now I'm showing off!)

In any event, I can recall fragments from Saturday April 6, 1991.  I remember that the weather was unusually warm for early April.  I remember that because I can remember getting on the elevator that day with firm partner Joel Cohn (whose office was located on the ninth floor) who said to me about the heat: "I'm melting."  I remember that statement because I can recall having the paranoid idea: "I wonder if that's a sexual double entendre?" 

I also remember that on that Saturday April 6, 1991 the Metropolitan opera broadcast Wagner's opera Parsifal.  Met broadcasts of Parsifal usually start at 12:30 PM on Saturday afternoons, an early time because of the unusual length of the opera.  I remember I was listening to Act I of the opera on my Walkman radio as I was carrying out my move from the ninth floor office to the Terrace Level.  So we can say that I was in the office sometime between 12:30 and about 2:30.  (The first act of Parsifal is about two hours long.)  Maybe I am able to remember that Parsifal was broadcast that afternoon because I unconsciously drew a parallel between my subjective perception that my supervisor was covertly anti-Semitic and the fact that Wagner had subjected the conductor Hermann Levi (who conducted the premiere performance of Parsifal) to overt anti-Semitism.

Perhaps memory scientists would recognize something distinctive about my memory functioning based on these recollections.  Yes, I have done my part for science!


Gary Freedman said...

From an earlier post (part of my document submission to Social Security in June 1993):

"On Friday April 5, 1991, Chris Robertson called me to her office to tell me that she was moving me from the ninth floor down to the terrace level, effective Monday April 8. When I arrived at her office, before I knew why I had been called there, she was engaged in a heated discussion--almost an argument--with legal assistant David Berkowitz. He kept stating his points forcefully and contradicting her point of view. He left, and Chris told me that my office was to be moved. I had the paranoid feeling that the interaction with David Berkowitz had been staged: that she was letting me know, “Listen, Gary, I know you don’t want to move. I know you’ll be angry. Be free to express your anger as forcefully as you want. Look at David, here. He’s plenty angry with me, and he’s expressing it. No need to feel that you’ll get in any trouble by having a tantrum with me.” It was that afternoon that Malcolm Lassman spoke at a legal assistant meeting to respond to rumors that the firm planned to lay off some legal assistants as a result of the recession. Also, I can recount other suspicious interactions involving Chris Robertson and David Berkowitz."

Gary Freedman said...

This is uncanny! I notice that I wrote the post about Parsifal and Hermann Levi last December 23, 2009 -- my birthday.

There's something unconscious driving these memories, apparently.

Gary Freedman said...

Oddly enough, Saturday April 6th was the last day of Passover in 1991.

Gary Freedman said...

In Israel, Passover lasts for seven days with the first and last days being major Jewish holidays. In Orthodox and Conservative communities, no work is performed on those days, with most of the rules relating to the observances of Shabbat being applied.