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“Memory is more indelible than ink”*…

Solomon V. Shereshevsky 1896-1958. This photo is a frame grab from a 2007 documentary film produced for Russian television, Zagadky pamyati (source)

At least for some of us it is– for instance, Solomon Shereshevsky, a Soviet journalist and mnemonist, widely-regarded as the “man with the greatest memory ever” (and the subject of neuropsychologist Alexander Luria‘s 1968 case study The Mind of a Mnemonist). From Wikipedia…

He met Luria after an anecdotal event in which he was scolded for not taking any notes while attending a work meeting in the mid-1920s. To the astonishment of everyone there (and to his own astonishment in realizing that others could apparently not do so), he could recall the speech word for word. Throughout his life, Shereshevsky was tasked with memorizing complex mathematical formulas, huge matrices, and even poems in foreign languages that he had never spoken before, all of which he would memorize with meticulous accuracy in a matter of minutes.

On the basis of his studies, Luria diagnosed in Shereshevsky an extremely strong version of synaesthesia, fivefold synaesthesia, in which the stimulation of one of his senses produced a reaction in every other. For example, if Shereshevsky heard a musical tone played he would immediately see a colour, touch would trigger a taste sensation, and so on for each of the senses…

His memory was so powerful that he could still recall decades-old events and experiences in perfect minute detail. After he discovered his own abilities, he performed as a mnemonist; but this created confusion in his mind. He went as far as writing things down on paper and burning it, so that he could see the words in cinders, in a desperate attempt to forget them. Some later mnemonists have speculated that this could have been a mentalist’s technique for writing things down to later commit to long-term memory…

Unforgettable: “Solomon Shereshevsky,” from @Wikipedia.

* Anita Loos


As we muse on memory, we might recall that it was on this date in 1900 that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published. Written by L. Frank Baum and illustrated by  W. W. Denslow, it was an immediate hit, spawning a flow of further editions (soon known simply as The Wizard of Oz), stage adaptations, and of course the classic 1939 live-action film. It had sold three million copies by the time it entered the public domain in 1956.


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