October 9, 2020; revised October 10, 2020 (added the video in #7)
Autobiographical memory (nāmagotta) remains preserved in nāma loka (mental world.) Material things are in the rupa loka (material world.)
Our Two Worlds – Rupa Loka and Nāma Loka
1. Living beings enjoy material things in the rupa loka. We are all familiar with our material world (rupa loka), which has “things” that we can see, hear, taste, smell, and touch.
- We also enjoy RECALLING past experiences and also recalling anticipated future events (desires or expectations.) Both those types remain in our mental world (nāma loka.)
- A satta (living being) results when attaching to either of the two. See #6 of “Me” and “Mine” – The Root Cause of Suffering.”
Autobiographical Memory Versus Habitual Memory
2. When we say “we remember” something, that memory could be one of two things.
- We remember past events like attending a wedding or a funeral, the birth of a child, etc. which is autobiographical memory. A memory of what one ate for dinner on any arbitrary day, even years ago, falls into the same category. Everything that you did from the moment of waking up to going to bed goes into autobiographical memory.
- On the other hand, remembering how to ride a bike (or play the piano) is also a memory. Even if you don’t ride a bike for many years after learning it, you can recall that memory fairly quickly later on. It would not be like learning to ride a bike for the first time in your life. Such a “capability” is a habitual memory.
- There is recent evidence that some people have exceptional abilities with autobiographical memory. They can recall what happened on any arbitrary day within the past several years in great detail. Let us discuss that now.
Highly Superior Autobiographical Memories (HSAM)
3. These studies started with Jill Price, who contacted a team of scientists in the early 2000s about her ability to recall anything from 1974 onwards. Since then, scientists have studied more people with that ability.
- Scientists have coined the term Highly-Superior Autobiographical Memories (HSAM, pronounced H-SAM) to describe their abilities.
- The following video illustrates how astounding their memories are:
4. It starts with Louise Owen’s account. Note that around 2 minutes, she says she “scanned through April 21 of that year to April 21, 1992.” It is like playing back a recorded file. She started on April 21, 2011 (the year she answered that question) and jumped (in her memory) year by year until getting to April 21, 1991. We cannot imagine how she did that, but you can see how quickly she “got to that specific date.” She said she went through 25 twenty-firsts and zeroed in on the one in 1991. That is amazing! Of course, we cannot even imagine how she accurately described events on all those arbitrary dates given to her.
- @ 4 minutes: It is NOT memorization. Instead, it is the same way we can recall what happened a few hours ago. It just comes to our minds. But, of course, we cannot do that for more than a day or two in the past (unless it is a notable event.)
- @ 4:35: The account of Jill Price, the first person to be identified with HASM ability. But she did not want to meet with the others that we will later in the video. She was the only one who was not happy to have that ability (HSAM.)
- @4:50 Brad Williams, Rick Barron, and Bob Petrella. @ 5:50, the person checking the account of Bod Petrella got the date wrong, not him!
- @6:00 Actress Mary Lou Henner. @ 8:15, she says it is like playing back a DVD! That is not possible with “neuronal connections in the brain” (see below).
- @ 9: 45 The meeting of five HSAM memory wizards.
- @ 11 minutes: They are all “ordinary people” with no exceptional or unusual capabilities.
- @11:50 They “re-live” their recalled experiences.
Brain Scans of Those With HSAM
5. Here is a list of important information from the above video.
- @1 minute: MRI scans of HSAM people’s brains. Their left temporal lobes and the caudate nucleus (in the limbic system) are somewhat more prominent. As we saw, these are the suspected receiver and transmitters in the brain. See, “Memory Recall for Gandhabba in a Human Body.”
- Disregard the comment about the possible connection to OCD (obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Latter studies (see Ref. 2) show that there is no connection.
- @ 6:20: Memories do not need to be “memorable.” They remember mundane, unextraordinary things. Bob remembered 19 seasons of Pittsburgh Steelers football games in 19 seconds! They show on the recorded video playback at 7:33 is t Bob played back in his mind a few seconds ago.
- @ 8:45: Do their memories clutter up their minds, i.e., do all those memories hang around in their minds all the time? No. They call any specific memory as needed, just like scanning through a recording. They can “pull up the right information at the right time.” Dr. McGaugh says it is a puzzle, but it is NOT a puzzle in the Buddhist explanation. Those memories are fully intact in the nāma loka. Those with the ability can extract that information at any time.
- @ 9:35 DNA and other types of testing.
A Recent Account of HSAM With More Information
6. The previous two videos came out soon after finding several people with HSAM abilities. The above video is from 2019 and has further information about two other individuals, Becky and Markie.
- @ 2:10: Becky “re-lives” her old experiences. We saw that in the previous videos too, but this account is more explicit.
- @ 2:50: She can recite any page from any of the seven Harry Potter books. That is truly amazing. She must have read the books very carefully so that each word got “recorded.” It is essential to realize that what is “recorded” as nāmagotta are our thoughts, as they arise.
- @ 5:00: Becky thought everyone could do it. It was a puzzle to her why her Mom could not remember something that happened five years ago!
- @ 7:00: Out of 60 people identified with HSAM capability since 2008, Becky is the only one with autism.
- @ 7:20: Relevant brain regions of HSAM people are not as unusually large, as initially thought (see #4.) However, there may be more connections between brain areas.
- @ 8:20: Account of Markie Pasternak, who remembers every day of her life since age 10.
- @ 10:55: Becky and Markie meet.
- @11:00 minutes: Becky remembers everything from the first year she was born!
- @11:45: Becky is a Harry Potter fan. No wonder she could remember all seven books, page by page.
Current Scientific Hypothesis on Memory Preservation
7. The following short video provides a good idea of the present scientific concept of “memory formation.”
- It says memories “form in the hippocampus” and then “transfer” to other regions in the brain. They came up with that hypothesis after studies on patient H.M. As we have discussed, after removing the hippocampus from patient H.M.’s brain, he lost the ability to recall memories formed AFTER the operation. But since he could remember old memories, scientists concluded that those old memories must have been “transferred” to other regions in the brain.
- That is the ONLY way to explain the accounts by patient H.M. within the “memory stored in the brain” hypothesis. However, they have not explained HOW that transfer process takes place. They would have a hard time explaining the abilities of those with HSAM, in particular.
- @ 1 minute: Discussion of synapses and “long term potentiation” or “stabilization of memories.” But does not jive with memory recall by those with HSAM. Preservation DOES NOT require repetition. EACH EVENT (like remembering what one ate for dinner) remains preserved. As thoughts ARISE in one’s mind, a record is kept instantaneously as nāmagotta. That is hard for us to imagine, but many features of nāma loka (viññāṇa dhātu) are not conducive to our experiences.
- @1:20: Memory records are NOT lost. It is only the ability to recall that is lost. However, people with HSAM have a near-perfect ability to recall memories, vividly displayed by Becky in #6 above. She can remember word-by-word what she had read! But it is true that as one gets older, the “receiver” in the brain gets weaker, and therefore the ability will become less with age.
Difference Between Autobiographical and Habitual Memories
8. The cases of Clive Wearing and patient H.M. that we discussed in “Patient H.M. – Different Roles of Brain in Memory” provides a good idea about the difference.
- Clive lost ALL of his past autobiographical memory, presumably due to losing both the “transmitter” and “receiver” of nāmagotta. But he had perfect habitual memory as demonstrated by his ability to conduct daily routines and also being able to play the piano.
- Patient H.M. lost only part of his autobiographical memory since he lost only his transmitter (hippocampus.) His habitual memory also remained intact.
- The above videos are about people with exceptional autobiographical memory. It is likely to be related to better performance of the receiver circuitry in the brain.
- It is a good idea to read previous posts in this series and absorb these key points.
Only Habitual Memories Are Stored In The Brain
9. As we discussed in “Patient H.M. – Different Roles of Brain in Memory,” habitual memory involves an entirely different brain region, presumably the cerebellum. These memories get established by repeating a given task over and over until the neural connections become strong (in the cerebellum). Thus, I contend that the scientific model discussed above in #7 pertains ONLY to habitual memories.
- Synaptic wirings are indeed responsible for habit formation (see, “How Habits are Formed and Broken – A Scientific View “),
- However, it is a stretch to assume that “video-like recordings” of all past events get recorded in neural connections!
- Strengthening of neural circuits DOES NOT happen in autobiographical memory preservation. A record of each thought or action gets preserved! Of course, only a few people can recall most of them.
Further Problems With “Autobiographical Memory Storage in the Brain” Hypothesis
10. If autobiographical memory storage is in the brain, one would lose all such memories at death.
- However, there is mounting evidence that many people can recall their previous lives. See “Evidence for Rebirth.” Even if just one of the thousands of such accounts is true, then the theory of “memory storage in the brain” fails.
- There is more evidence from the out-of-body experiences (OBE) and near-death experiences (NDE.) Scientists and physicians have studied numerous cases in each category. How do those experiences result without a physical brain? See, “Out-of-Body Experience (OBE) and Manōmaya Kāya.”
- According to Buddha Dhamma, those who cultivate abhiññā powers can recall autobiographical memories (nāmagotta) with high precision. They can recall events from previous lives as well. The level of accuracy and how far back in previous lives depend on the practitioner. The Buddha could remember as far back as he wished. It is the same as with HSAM, but those with abhiññā powers can see memory records (nāmagotta) of past lives.
Finally, several years ago, I wrote the following post, which has some additional information: “Recent Evidence for Unbroken Memory Records (HSAM)” It has a video on Jill Price, the person to be identified to have HSAM.