Friday, February 12, 2021

Exceptional Memories Strengthen the Case Against Neural Memory Storage

Materialist thinkers often act as if their motto was "make humans seem like something much less than humans."  There are various different ways in which they do this:

  • They sometimes make the utterly preposterous claim made by Darwin that there is no fundamental difference between the mental abilities of humans and the mental abilities of higher mammals, a claim contrary to all human experience.
  • They senselessly classify humans as animals, and arbitrarily put the human species in an animal kingdom (given the abundant mental and behavioral differences between humans and animals, a sensible classification of organisms would be to have four kingdoms: a microbe kingdom, a plant kingdom, an animal kingdom and a human kingdom).
  • They refuse to acknowledge hundreds of years of written testimony from reliable witnesses such as doctors and scientists (and many decades of compelling experimental evidence) that humans have faculties such as clairvoyance and ESP that are beyond any biological explanation.
  • When describing human mental faculties, they tend to describe them as being far weaker than they are. 

It is interesting to read the writings of neuroscientists who try to portray human memory as something weak and unreliable.  Again and again they will try to suggest that learning something requires multiple exposures to some source material, a claim that is contrary to the facts of actual human experience, which is that humans can very often reliably learn things after a single exposure, that people can recognize faces they have seen briefly only one time, that people can remember stories they have heard only one time, and that people can remember events they have seen only one time. 

Neuroscienitsts often try to make us think that humans can't remember very well things they experienced years ago, or that each time we remember something there will be a high chance of error.  Such claims are contrary to abundant human experience. It is rather obvious why neuroscientists tend to speak in such a way. The more you believe that human memory is not very reliable, and something that requires multiple exposures, the more likely you may be to believe that human memories are stored in the brain. 

A neuroscientist's portrayal of weak and unreliable human memory can be refuted by citing a host of ordinary human experiences. Such a portrayal can also be refuted by citing cases of exceptional human memories.  Below are some examples:

  • Steven Wiltshire has repeatedly shown the ability to accurately draw an entire skyline after seeing it only one time. 
  • Mathematician and computer scientist Herman Goldstine wrote this about the legendary mathematician John von Neumann: "One of his remarkable abilities was his power of absolute recall. As far as I could tell, von Neumann was able on once reading a book or article to quote it back verbatim; moreover, he could do it years later without hesitation."
  • According to an article in the LA Times, Kim Peek could recall the contents of 12,000 books he had read, even though his brain was severely damaged, and he lacked most or all of the corpus callosum fibers that connect the two hemispheres of the brain. 
  • According to one book, "John Fuller, a land agent, of the county of Norfolk, could correctly write out a sermon or lecture after hearing it once; and one, Robert Dillon, could, in the morning, repeat six columns of a newspaper which he had read the preceding evening. More wonderful still was George Watson, who... could tell the date of every day since his childhood and how he had occupied himself on that day."
  • The mathematician Leonhard Euler could recite the entire Aeneid from beginning to end, a work of 9896 lines. 
  • Mezzofanti could speak very well thirty different languages. 
  • A four-year-old girl demonstrated on TV her ability to speak seven different languages. 
  • Numerous Muslim scholars have memorized all 6000+ lines of their holy book, and some did this as early as age 10. 
  • According to a book, "The great thinker, Pascal, is said never to have forgotten anything he had ever known or read, and the same is told of Hugo, Grotius, Liebnitz, and Euler. All knew the whole of Virgil's 'Aeneid' by heart." 
  • The famous conductor Toscanini was able to keep conducting despite bad eyesight, because he had memorized the musical scores of a very large number of symphonies and operas. 
  • According to a book, a waiter in San Francisco could recall exactly what any customer had previously ordered, even if the customer had not visited the restaurant in years. 
  • The artist Franco Magnani (famed as "the Memory Artist") was able to draw "photographically accurate" drawings of his hometown that he had not seen in more than 30 years. 
  • G. C. Leland says: " It is recorded of a Slavonian Oriental Sect called the Bogomiles, which spread over Europe during the middle ages, that its members were required to memorize the Bible verbatim. Their latest historian, Dragomanoff, declares that there were none of them who did not memorize the New Testament at least; one of their bishops publicly proclaimed that, in his own diocese of four thousand communicants, there was not one unable to repeat the entire scriptures without an error."
  • Akira Haraguchi was able to recite correctly from memory 100,000 digits of pi in 16 hours, in a filmed public exhibition.
  • The fascinating 47-minute video here "The Boy Who Can't Forget" documents cases of Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM), also called hyperthymesia.  According to the article here a scientist named McGaugh "is adamant that the super memory demonstrated by the small number of people he and others have identified represents a genuine phenomenon." People with such a Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (including Jill Price and Aureilien Hayman) can recall what happened to them every day in the past ten years. 
  • A book tells us this: "The geographer Maretus, narrates an instance of memory probably  unequalled. He actually witnessed the feat, and had it attested by four Venetian nobles. He met in Padua, a young Corsican who had so powerful a memory that he could repeat as many as 36,000 words read over to him only once. Maretus, desiring to test this extraordinary youth, in the presence of his friends, read over to him an almost interminable list of words strung together anyhow in every language, and some mere gibberish. The audience was exhausted before the list, which had been written down for the sake of accuracy, and at the end of it the young Corsican smilingly began and repeated the entire list without a break and without a mistake. Then to show his remarkable power, he went over it backward, then every alternate word, first and fifth, and so on until his hearers were thoroughly exhausted, and had no hesitation in certifying that the memory of this individual was without a rival in the world, ancient or modern."
  • refers to the "miraculous photographic memory" of Thomas Babington Macaulay.
  • states this about Daniel Tammet: "One of his most notable achievements was being able to recite Pi to 22,514 decimal places, taking him over five hours."
  • According to an article on, "Ask Nima Veiseh what he was doing for any day in the past 15 years, however, and he will give you the minutiae of the weather, what he was wearing, or even what side of the train he was sitting on his journey to work."
  • Derek Paravicini was born 25 weeks early, with severe brain damage, but he has reliably demonstrated countless times the ability to very accurately play back on a keyboard any song that is played to him, note for note, even if he has never heard the song before. 
  • A nineteenth century work describes a similar ability in a prodigy known as Blind Tom: "The doctor then called for some one of the audience to come and play a piece of music for the first  time in Tom's hearing, promising a very faithful imitation ; Miss Jones was persuaded to play a piece of her own composition, and hence unknown to Tom and the audience....When the lady was through and escorted from the stage, Tom sat down and played it through perfectly. " The next page states, "Tom executes some of the most difficult pieces of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Bach, Gottschalk, Thalberg and others, and these he learnt by hearing them played."
Thomas Babington Macaulay

If normal human memory abilities are inexplicable as being produced by brains with very rapid protein turnover, very high levels of signal noise of several different types, and nothing like an indexing system, a position notation system or any known mechanism for reading or writing memories, brains that replace about 3% of their proteins every day, which is certainly the case, then cases of exceptional memory such as these are all the more inexplicable as being neural effects. 

Brain studies of people with exceptional memories have failed to present  any robust evidence for any brain difference that could explain such memories. The paper here  claims to have studied the brains of 11 people with Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM).  The abstract makes no specific claim of having found any specific difference in the brains of such people.  The abstract does vaguely claim to have identified "nine structures as being morphologically different from those of control participants," but the text of the paper does not justify any claim of any significant morphological difference in the 11 people with Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM).  We read in the paper nothing different from what you would get by randomly picking 11 people and comparing their brains to 11 other random people. 

It is interesting that Table 1 of this paper shows us the nine regions that were supposedly "morphologically different" from controls.  There are nine up arrows to indicate little regions of neural superiority in the HSAM subjects with amazing autobiographical memory, and down nine down arrows to indicate little regions of neural inferiority in such subjects.  "That's a wash," as they say: the negatives cancel out the positives. Overall there is no indication of neural superiority in these HSAM subjects with amazing memories. 

A more recent paper on this topic can be read here.  The paper fails to show any robust evidence of any significant brain activity difference between those with astonishing HSAM memories and normal controls. The very marginal differences discussed are merely the type of differences we would expect from comparing about 10 randomly selected people with 10 other randomly selected people. 

The fact that people with vastly superior recall ability have brains that are not structurally superior (and are sometimes very structurally inferior) to those with normal recall abilities, and the fact that brain scans of such people show nothing very noteworthy are both facts that strengthen the case against the claim that memories are stored in the brain. 

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