Hypermnesia: “The inability to forget“- A memoir by someone who forgets a lot
I won’t mention how often I’ve wished and craved to replace my brain with someone else’s. I constantly forget things so crucial in the moment that it’s almost comedic, I’m talking about concert tickets when I’m going to a concert, my bus card when I have to take the bus or even to eat when I’m hungry (until I forget I’m hungry). I wouldn’t dare to say that my forgetfulness is pathological, my attention might be but not my memory, I do remember a lot of things very well (maybe not the most existential things but nevertheless a lot of things). All this to say that I might have some weak points and some more developed aspects regarding my memory but nothing out of the ordinary.
Back to my initial statement “I’ve wished and craved to replace my brain with someone else’s“, this is an obvious exaggeration however it’s this exact thought that has led to me thinking about the very opposite of a forgetful mind, namely a hypermnesic mind. Is not being able to forget a desirable skill ?
It’s quite difficult to find case-specific information on the emotional impact of hypermnesia but I want to take a more philosophical approach and think about possible arguments that speak either for or against the desirability of the previously mentioned skill. When I wrote the first few words of this article I instantly thought about the impact negative memories might have on a person when they can not be forgotten. I’m thinking about a (more or less) common symptom that affects many non-hypermnesic people, “Weltschmerz“ a philosophical term that defines the acute weariness (or even depression) that occurs as a consequence of comparing an ideal (or utopian) world with the actual state of things. How does this exact state or “symptom“ affect someone that has a perfect recollection of events that constantly create friction with an ideal world ? At this point I’m hypothesizing and making up ideas but I find it very interesting and intriguing that, in the mind of a hypermnesic person, this “Weltschmerz“ might be amplified or reduced in its intensity. I’m consciously saying reduced because one could also argue that perfect recollection also implies being able to remember beautiful or good events at will. I’m thinking that the respective environment (which is very often a crucial aspect when considering mental health) may play a big role, a person living in a hostile environment, with higher probabilities of experiencing violence or similarly bad events could be more affected by the constant friction of those specific events (in memory) and the ideal (or utopian) idea of the world while a more friendly environment could lead to the exact opposite, a reduction in symptoms caused by “Weltschmerz“ (or no Weltschmerz at all). I don’t want to beat around the bush regarding the term (Weltschmerz) and consider a more general approach. The mere fact that good or bad memories are retrievable at will in the case of hypermnesia can be a trigger for either positive or negative changes in the perception of the actual state and this alone raises questions that are not entirely answered by research, probably because we’re talking about a state (hypermnesia) that is extremely rare, only 60 people have actually been diagnosed with hypermnesia in 2021 (McRobbie, 2021). Considering my very philosophical and unscientific approach I want to add that some authors propose that hypermnesia might be a consequence of a constant review of memories, to an obsessive-compulsive degree (Marcus, 2009), which would make the idea of a positive impact of the perfect recollection quite inappropriate.
Marcus, G. (2009, March 23). Total Recall: The Woman Who Can’t Forget. Wired. https://www.wired.com/2009/03/ff-perfectmemory/
McRobbie, L. R. (2020, March 26). Total recall: the people who never forget. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/feb/08/total-recall-the-people-who-never-forget
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