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更新时间:2017-11-15 20:06:59 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

The woman who can't forget

“When I was about a week old I remember being in this pink cotton blanket,” Rebecca Sharrock recalls. “I’d always know when it was Mum holding me, for some reason. I just instinctively always knew and she was my favourite person.”

"当我只有一周大的时候,我记得我被包在这块粉色的棉毯里,"瑞贝卡·沙罗克(Rebecca Sharrock)回忆说。因为某种原因,当妈妈抱着我的时候,我总是能知道。我只是本能地知道,她是我最喜欢的人。"

Considering most people’s earliest memories don’t start until around the age of four, it would be easy to assume that Sharrock’s description was a nostalgic daydream, rather than a real memory. But then again, the 27-year-old from Brisbane, Australia doesn’t have a memory like most people – she has been diagnosed with a rare syndrome called ‘Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory’, or HSAM, also known as hyperthymesia. This unique neurological condition means that Sharrock can recall every single thing she did on any given date.

考虑到大多数人最早直到四岁左右才开始有记忆,你很容易觉得沙罗克的描述是一种怀旧的白日梦,而不是真实的记忆。不过,这位来自澳大利亚布里斯班(Brisbane)的27岁女士跟大多数人不同——她被诊断患有一种罕见的称为超强自我记忆症(Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory,或HSAM)的综合症,该综合症也被称为超忆症(hyperthymesia)。这种独特的神经性疾病意味着沙罗克能记起她在任何时间所做的每一件事。

People with HSAM can instantly, effortlessly and immediately recall what they did, what they wore, or where they were at any time. They can remember public news and personal events all in photographic detail and with an accuracy that matches that of a tape or video recorder.


Growing up, Sharrock thought that everybody remembered like she did. Until one day: her parents called her to watch a news segment on TV about people with HSAM. “It was 23 January 2011,” she remembers. “When those people were going through their recollections, the reporters were saying ‘It’s amazing, incredible.’ I said to my parents, ‘Why are they calling this amazing, isn’t it normal?’” Sharrock’s parents explained that it wasn’t normal and they thought she might share the same condition.


After contacting the academics mentioned in the news report, Sharrock was tested and eventually diagnosed in 2013. HSAM was only discovered in the early 2000s and only around 60 people are known to have the condition worldwide.


Why are some people born with HSAM? Research is still ongoing, as the field is relatively new and there are so few people with HSAM in the world. But some research suggests that the temporal lobe (which aids in memory processing) is bigger in the brains of people with HSAM, as is the caudate nucleus, which helps in learning but may also play a role in obsessive compulsive disorder.


HSAM means that memories are recorded in vivid detail and despite being fascinating to science, it may be a scourge to some of those who experience it.


While some with HSAM describe their memories as being highly organised, Sharrock (who is also autistic) describes her brain as being “cluttered” and constantly reliving memories gives her headaches and insomnia.


It also has a darker side as Sharrock’s mental health has suffered due to depression and anxiety. Her extraordinary memory makes her feel like she’s in an emotional time machine. “If I’m remembering an incident that happened when I was three, my emotional response to the situation is like a three-year-old, even though my mind and conscience are like an adult,” she says. This disparity between the head and heart leads to confusion and anxiety.


Despite this, Sharrock has learned to try and use positive memories to override the negative ones: “At the start of every month, I’d pick out all of the best memories that I had of previous years for that month.” Reliving positive events makes it easier to deal with the “invasive memories” that bring her down.


Sharrock says what she remembers from a particular date are things “that I came across myself that day because I don’t research when current events happened, I just remember them as I personally saw them or came across them”. While people with HSAM can remember basic news events from a certain day, often those things are also part of a personal experience or interest which may help them encode the memory.


HSAM might also give us an unprecedented insight into how babies and children view the world. Sharrock describes what caught her eye as a baby, as well as learning how to walk: “I’d be in my crib and I’d just turn my head around and look at things around me, such as the stand-up fan next to my cot. I was fascinated by that. It wasn’t until I was about one-and-a-half that it dawned on me, ‘Why don’t I get up and explore what it could be?’”


Another aspect to this ability is how it may affect dreaming in some people with HSAM. Sharrock says that now as an adult, “I can control my dreams and I rarely have troubled nightmares because I think if something scary happens I can just change the sequence.” But this wasn’t the case as a baby because once she began having dreams from the age of around 18 months, she wasn’t able to differentiate between dreaming and reality. “That’s why I’d cry at night for Mum,” she explains, “but I couldn’t verbalise it.” Perhaps people with HSAM may have a greater ability to experience lucid dreaming.


Sharrock now takes part in two research projects with the University of Queensland and the University of California, Irvine and hopes the findings can help those suffering with Alzheimer’s.

沙罗克现在参加昆士兰大学(University of Queensland)和加利福尼亚大学尔湾分校(University of California, Irvine)的两个研究项目,她希望研究结果可以帮助阿尔兹海默症(Alzheimer's)患者。

Despite having crystal clear memories of just about every event in her life, there is one thing she doesn’t remember – being born.


“It’s the only birthday I don’t remember,” she says. “I have no memories of in the womb or coming out of my mum or anything. But I don’t think I’d want to remember that.”


But despite her mind being like a record stuck on repeat, Sharrock insists she wouldn’t change anything. “Due to my autism, I don’t like change of any sort. I want to continue thinking and feeling the way I do because it’s just how I’ve always thought and felt but I’d like to just find ways of dealing with [it]” she says. “It’s just the person I’ve always known… I want to keep that.”