A woman who remembers everything has penned a memorable book about her abilities.
Everyone takes an occasional trip down memory lane. But Jill Price is always on that journey. Researchers believe she has the most remarkable memory ever known to science. As Price, now 43, explains in her memoir, The Woman Who Can’t Forget: The Extraordinary Story of Living with the Most Remarkable Memory Known to Science (Free Press, $26), she can effortlessly recall every day of her life from age 14 on in astonishing detail.
Yes, every moment. Just give her a date or an event, and she’ll tell you the day of the week it happened on. She’ll also tell you what she ate that day, whom she talked with, which episode of her favorite TV shows she watched, and all the news stories she heard.
Having recall like that is good. Price never forgets where she put her keys. Nor has she ever had a name or phrase stuck on the tip of her tongue. But having recall like that can also be bad. She is constantly flooded with random memories -- positive memories, negative memories, and memories that she wants desperately to forget. And they all come at her in high-def, surround-sound quality.
Her ability baffles researchers, who even coined a term to describe it: hyperthymestic syndrome. We asked Price for her own description of what it’s like to forget nothing.
How does your memory work? It’s a split screen in my head. I am in the present, like right now,doing what I am doing, but I am also seeing my life run through my head at the same time. The memories are random and out of order, but they are always there.
What’s on your split screen now, as we’re talking? I’m sitting here, watching news in bed, and the memories are just random stuff from when I lived in New Jersey. Stuff is flashing all the time. I feel the emotions of what those times were or what the feeling of that time was. I’ve told people that 1985 feels different than 1986, and the summer of 1986 definitely feels different than the winter of 1986.
What strikes you the most about how other people’s “normal” memories work? What amazes me most is that people don’t remember everything. I’m always saying, “Remember 25 years ago today?” I would think that people would know what went on in their lives. It’s amazing to me that that is not the case. That’s every day of my life. I remember current events. I can tell you what I ate for lunch on May 27 two years ago. Why I would remember that, I couldn’t tell you. But there’s nothing bigger or smaller. I remember and feel them all equally. I know people might always remember when Princess Diana died, but I can tell you about the week before and after. It’s weird to me that other people can’t remember that. Yet, ironically, what I envy the most is that people don’t remember everything. If I could, though, I still wouldn’t change a thing.
I’dguess some people you’ve met have treated your memory like a niftyparlor trick. How do you feel when people ask you to “perform” for them? I don’t mind when people ask me a million questions or when they try to stump me. It just shows them that I am what I say I am. And I enjoy surprising people. On the other hand, I also let them know that it is much deeper than just remembering “a year ago today.” One friend has tried to stump me on everything from current events to television shows to days of the week since Sunday, November 5, 2000, but he has yet to do so, and I love it.
How does it feel to be in the annals of medical history and to have had a scientific term created just for you? It feels unbelievable and surreal, but I am also very proud. Out of my pain, I reached out to the doctors, never expecting any of this. My greatest hope is that their research will ultimately benefit others.
You’ve kept extensive journals over the years. Has writing the book brought you any new revelations about your experiences? Like my journals, the book is a record of my experiences that I can reach out and touch. My primary reason for writing the book was to help advance the science of memory and to help anyone else who might be a prisoner of his or her memory.
What memory would you like people to take away from reading this story? Understanding that memory makes us who we are and that we should never take it for granted.