Shereshevsky, Soloman - Capacity and duration of perceptions
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
A R Luria – The Mind of a Mnemonist
Once we were convinced that the capacity of S's memory [perceptions] was virtually unlimited, that he did not have to memorise the data presented but merely had to register an impression, which he could read on a later date - in this account we will cite instances of series he reproduced ten or even sixteen years after the original presentation -, we naturally lost interest in trying to measure his memory [perception] capacity............
..............We have already pointed out that the established ideas on memory [perception] simply did not hold for S. In his case, traces left by one stimulus did not inhibit those of another; they showed no sign of becoming extinguished with time, nor did they become any less selective with the years. It was impossible to establish a point of limit to the capacity or the duration of his memory [perception], or to find in him any indication of the dynamics whereby memory traces are extinguished in the course of time. Similarly, we found no indication of the 'factor of the edge', whereby people tend to remember the first and last elements in a series better than the elements in the middle. What is more, the phenomenon of reminiscence, a tendency for seemingly extinguished traces to come to light after a brief period of quiescence, also seemed to be lacking in S's case.
As noted earlier, his recall could more easily be explained in terms of factors governing perception and attention than in terms applicable to memory. He failed, for example, to reproduce a word if his attention had been distracted or he had been unable to 'see' it clearly. His recollection hinged on factors such as the degree of lighting present, the size and positioning of an image, on whether or not an image was obscured by a blur that might turn up if someone's voice suddenly intruded on his awareness...............
This brings us to an issue we have to clarify to get a fuller picture of S's memory [perceptions]. Though the problem itself is paradoxical, and the solution still difficult to understand, we will have to attempt some description at this point.
Many of us are anxious to find ways to improve our memories; none of us have to deal with the problem of how to forget. In S's case, however, precisely the reverse was true. The big question for him and the most troublesome, was how he could learn to forget.......
In time S's attempts to focus his attention, to isolate the essential details as a basis on which to generalise to the whole brought results. Earlier, he would have to 'screen off' what he had seen by covering it with 'a thick canvas', whereas at this stage he automatically screened off excess details by singling out key points of information which he used for his short hand method of coding images