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S.V. Shereshevskii

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Solomon V. Shereshevskii (1886 - 1958?) (Russian: Соломон Шершевский

), also known simply as 'S' ('Ш'), was a Russian journalist and mnemonist. He became famous after an anecdotic event in which he was told off for not taking any notes while attending a speech in the mid-1920s. To the astonishment of everyone there (and to his own also, due to his belief that everybody had such an ability to recall), he could recall the speech perfectly, word by word.

His brain was subject to many studies, most of them carried by neuropsychologist Professor Luria in a thirty years time span. He was asked to memorize complex mathematical formulae, huge matrices and even poems in foreign languages and did so in a matter of minutes. To make it even more strange, he scored absolutely average in intelligence tests.

After more research, things became more clear. He was diagnosed as having a condition known as synaesthesia, which the stimulation of a sense produces a reaction in every other. For example, if Shereshevskii 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. With the images his synaesthesia produced, he could apply well-known mnemonic techniques. For example, to memorize numbers he was quoted:

'Take the number 1. This is a proud, well-built man; 2 is a high-spirited woman; 3 a gloomy person; 6 a man with a swollen foot; 7 a man with a moustache; 8 a very stout woman - a sack within a sack. As for the number 87, what I see is a fat woman and a man twirling his moustache.' [1]

There is no doubt he had an active imagination, which helped him generate useful mnemonics. Unfortunately for him, his condition often produced unnecessary and distracting images or feelings. He had trouble memorizing things which weren't literal in meaning, and had trouble remembering faces, which he saw as "very changeable". He also occasionally had problems reading, as the written words evoked distracting sensations. Things were far worse when he, for example, ate while reading. An example of the difficulties he faced in daily life can be seen in this quotation:

'One time I went to buy some ice cream... I walked over to the vendor and asked her what kind of ice cream she had. 'Fruit ice cream,' she said. But she answered in such a tone that a whole pile of coals, of black cinders, came bursting out of her mouth, and I couldn't bring myself to buy any ice cream after she had answered in that way ...' [2]

His mnemonic associations were so strong that it is said he could recall them after many years. 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 in a paper and burning it, so he could see the words in cinders, in a desperate attempt to forget them. Reportedly, in his late years, he realized he could forget facts with just a conscious desire to remove them from his memory, although this isn't well verified.

Ultimately, he was unable to distinguish between conversations he'd heard five minutes or five years before, and he ended up in an asylum.

Notes Edit

  1. Luria, A.R. (1968/1987). The mind of a mnemonist: A little book about a vast memory. Lynn Solotaroff, translator. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. p. 31
  2. Luria, A.R. (1968/1987). The mind of a mnemonist: A little book about a vast memory. Lynn Solotaroff, translator. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. p. 82

References Edit

  • (Russian)
A. Luria "Small book about a large memory". Full text


fr:Solomon Veniaminovitch Shereshevsky

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