The inability to "travel mentally in time" is the latest memory disorder that has sparked interest in researchers, and although most people who experience it don't realize it, it might be more general than we think.
Susie McKinnon does not remember her childhood or any other stage in her previous life that she now lives at the age of 60. Also don't remember special events. He knows he went to his niece's wedding. He knew that her husband had gone with him. But he did not remember being there.
Fact, He has very few memories of his life, even though he doesn't have amnesia.
For years McKinnon did not know that it was different, because we tend to think that our minds work together like everyone else. We usually don't discuss how it feels to have memory. And McKinnon assumes that when people tell their past stories, they find details to entertain others.
That was until a friend who did medical practice asked him if he could do a memory test as part of his study which realized that McKinnon was does not have autobiographical memory.
After that, McKinnon investigated his amnesia, but stories of people who lost their memories due to brain illness or injury did not reflect their experience. He can remember that the incident happened, simply I don't remember how it felt their lives.
— new syndrome —
More than a decade ago, after a broken leg, he looked for activities to spend time and began reading research on mental travel in time and made the decision to contact a scientific researcher in that field.
The day he wrote an email to Brian Levine, a memory scientist at the Rotman Research Institute in Baycrest, Toronto, he was nervous. For Levine, on the other hand, it is one of the most interesting days of his career. And the result of their communication is the identification of a new syndrome: Lack of heavy autobiographical memory.
Humans have the extraordinary ability to travel mentally in time, back and forth in our minds. Remember when you were in elementary school, or imagine next week you would sit in a towel on the beach watching dolphins swim in the horizon. Maybe you not only imagined the facts of the scenario, but also the experience of being there, and that's what McKinnon can't do.
As Brian Levine told me on the BBC radio program, All in the Mind, "for him, the events of the past were felt as if they had happened to a third person, as if they have become past experiences of others ".
And to some extent we all do this, forgetting most of what happened to us, but for McKinnon it is far more extreme.
— What's the difference with amnesia? —
This syndrome very different from amnesia, which usually occurs after certain events or brain injuries and makes it difficult for people to store new information to create new memories.
People with severe deficiency syndromes from autobiographical memory (or SDAM) can learn and store new information, but that information does not have a wealth of real life experience.
If McKinnon can remember details about an event, it was because he had seen the picture or had deliberately studied a story about what happened. You can't imagine it's already there, or what he wears, or who he is with.
"It could be someone else attending a family wedding and not me. In my mind, I have no proof that I was there, it didn't feel like it was something I did," McKinnon said in All in the Mind.
This means McKinnon can't feel nostalgia reviving the best moments in life. The advantage is that he also can't remember the pain associated with a bad experience. Hard times like the death of a relative felt as strong at the time, but over time the feeling faded.
That can make him a better person, because he doesn't hold grudges because he can't arouse emotions that make him feel bad in the first example.
As for the cause, until now researchers have not found any disease or injury associated with this problem and concluded that humans are born like this. Even though Levine and his team continued to study the possible relationship to other disorders.
— The inability to visualize mentally —
McKinnon also has afantasía, this means you cannot visualize images. It's hard to know for sure whether this prevents you from storing clear memories compared to other people. Decades of memory research have shown that we reconstruct an event in our mind every time we remember it, but we don't know whether we all do it the same way.
Some people may see pictures or videos in their minds, others may think more in terms of abstract ideas or facts.
Catherine Loveday, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Westminster, wondered if there were similarities in our early memories. We can remember the events that happened to us before the age of three because we can hear about them or see photos. But It is difficult for us to remember how that experience was felt.
At present it is not known how common SDAM is, although Levine and his team are trying to find out with online surveys. 5,000 people have participated and many say they believe they have that problem. Although this is a sample of self-selection, the numbers indicate that pThat can be more general than we think.
Levine's team is investigating the idea Autobiographical memory can be in the spectrum where SDAM will be at one extreme, while those with very good autobiographical memory, which rarely forgets anything but ordinary, will be found in others.
— So, what is the problem if you have this problem? —
If SDAM doesn't affect how you live your life, maybe not.
In McKinnon's case, he always lived like that, so knowing that he was a disorder that might have been with him all his life was just an interesting fact that gave meaning to the differences he sometimes noticed between him and others. Now understand, for example, that other people don't create stories.
"My experience has never been the opposite, so for me it's not a loss"he said.
"Because I have never had that ability (to remember in detail something ago or visualize an event) I can't hate that lack."
And McKinnon saw another advantage: not thinking about the past or daydreaming about the future.
"I know that many people struggle with that idea now, but for me it's very simple becauseThis is the only way my brain works. So I always live for a moment, all the time"
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