Friday, April 16, 2010

Synaesthete Spy

Response to Radiolab's show, "Limits", where they described a Russian man referred to as Mr. S. who can remember anything.

The goon from Cheka, Beria, one of the up-and-coming Bolshevik secret policemen, slammed Luria's office door shut. Beria tilted the wooden chair in front of Luria's desk so that it dumped Luria's latest experimental notes on Zasetsky's curious inability to see the right side of his body. Beria was typical of these self-important Chekans.

"Dr. Luria, have you completed your assessment of Solomon?"

"Yes." Luria sat up in his chair so that Beria had to look up at him. It was typical for the Georgian to think the world revolved around him and his needs.

"Well, what did you find."

Luria shuffled through the manila folders that overlapped on his desk like layers of paint. There it was, the folder with an old name crossed off and Solomon Shereshevskii's name in thick curved letters. Luria slid it across the desk to Beria who picked it up and flipped through the handwritten pages. "His memory is perfect."

"Perfect?" Beria raised an eyebrow.

"Yes, he can remember pages of numbers, memorize Italian operas even though he can't speak Italian. There is no way that he could have fooled me."

"It must be some kind of trick. You've been gamed."

Luria stood to lean across his desk and extracted a page full of dozens of numbers from the folder. "Even now, if you ask Solomon, he can recite every number on that page without looking at it."

"How?"

Luria taps his temple. "Solomon is a Synaesthete. That means that all of his senses are triggered. You look at that sheet of paper, and see a set of numbers. He sees it as filled with people dancing across the paper. For example, at the top he sees a woman in a sack smelling of lemons and holding the hands of a man who twirls his mustache with his other hand. The images are sharp, impossible for him to forget."

Beria leaned back in the wooden chair. "Then why does his editor tell me he made a poor reporter?"

"Every image, every letter on the page, reminds Solomon of every other time he has seen that letter, typed that word. When he types the word dog, he remembers the Irish wolfhound that he's writing about, but he'll also see the great Dane he passed two weeks ago, and the stale egg sandwich he ate the time two months ago when he wrote about Sashavilli's bloodhound. His condition impairs his ability to get words on paper."

"But he'll remember anything?"

"Yes."

"A perfect spy. You have done your country a service so I trust you will keep our conversation confidential. I'd hate to hear rumors and regret that I was generous." As Beria stood up, he opened the manila folder and curled the notes to stick them into his coat's inner pocket.

"My notes, can I have a copy for science."

"No. It is better to forget that you ever met Solomon."

After Beria left, Luria crouched to pick up the scattered notes about Zasetsky. Just as Solomon couldn't forget a number, Luria would not forget Solomon and the boon he could have been to understand how the mind works.

4 comments:

  1. Fascinating story here, and I enjoyed learning about the ability a synaesthete has.

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  2. Interesting, well thought out, well done!

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  3. Goosd concept, this synaesthesia, I liked the description of the ay he gets things jumbled up when he tries to write them down

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  4. Thanks, Marisa, Cathy, and Mazzz. I don't know that all synaesthete's remember anything, but I'm intrigued by the concept and if I can't be a synaesthete in real life perhaps I can be one in fiction ;)

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