Comparison of Hyperthymesia and Anterograde Amnesia | Two Extremes of the Human Brain


While we put forward our arguments regarding memory, we actually base our opinions on the premise of perception. This means that the overflow of the past events in the memory is often viewed in the wide spectrum of perception. It is well-nigh impossible to comprehend the external world without even knowing as to what actually the thing is, or from where it came; besides, it is also hard to recognize the accompanying experiences associated with these perceptions.


It follows that individuals having Anterograde Amnesia is most likely to suffer from the lack of capacity to sense the world. Anterograde Amnesia is actually the inability to recall past events or to store new information in the short term. The loss of memory is often caused by accidents or severe incidents. Leonard from the Christopher Nolan’s Momento is the perfect example who lacks the capacity to store new events and he’s thus lived in the eternal world of perception. Leonard is cognizant of the fact that time passes, but he is completely unaware of events that occurred within that time. Hyperthymesia, on the other hand, offers a wide range of space for past events. Hyperthymestic individuals (for e.g. Jorge Luis Borges’s “Funes, His Memory) possess flood of memories as they remember every single event that occurred in their life.

Similarities Between the Two Conditions

What is the mutual characteristic that both these extremities of mind share with each other? The obvious commonality that exists in hyperthymestic individual and the one having amnesia is their shared impairment of memory. The fact of the case claims that the central character’s memory goes impair which is why they had to live with that disability. While impairments in both these disorders are diametrically opposite, their fight to recover and bring semblance of life are remarkably alike. This point out the fact that memory plays a pivotal role in crafting an outer persona as well as inner identity. You cannot think of modernizing an identity without memory.

It is imperative that we must evaluate each of the disorders separately if we intend to explore the difficulties offered by both of these. Leonard undergoes chronic anterograde amnesia caused by trauma. Here the word ‘Chronic’ is important to draw the distinction because the aftereffects of posttraumatic amnesia sometimes lead to temporary disorders; this means that brain will heal with the passage of time and it regains the skill to store new memories. As for the Lenny in Momento, he seems like he’s trapped forever in the foreseeable future. For Lenny, foreseeable future does not exist—as he fails to develop new memories, as he fails to measure the quantity of time—he only exists in the dogma of his own perception. However, this does not suggest that Leonard is unaware of the events occurring in his life. He does realize that life around him is continuously going. He also knows that Sun alters its position as the day ends. But he fails to remember what he did the whole day. Every now and then, Lenny figures that he is in a strange place and thus he realizes he’s changed his position, but how gets there always remains a mystery.


The Case of  Funes and Leonard

The reduced awareness of Lenny is actually the procedural memory at work, information stored does not seem to rely on deliberate recalling. Oddly enough, the diverse number of human experiences retain in the mechanisms of declarative memory, the memory of events one is mindful of absorbing—the section of Lenny’s memory that is not working. It becomes for a person like Lenny to picture a real world since he does not remember what he did in the last five minutes and he always seems to live in the perceptual world.

On the contrary, Funes present an altogether different picture. He was born in the world of hyperawareness where every single event, every single thing that ever happened to him, seemed to be stored forever and thus can be recalled any time. He does not forget a bird he sees while passing, he does not forget the conversation he had with someone few years back, he even remembers the weather conditions on the specific day. This condition is described as ‘Hyperthymesia’ in psychological terms. Funes possess the unique ability to recollect event the minutest details of his life—and he does it as if event has just happened.

Funes’ condition created a godlike state of perception, in which his own face in the mirror, his own hands, surprised him every time he saw them” (Borges, 136).

It so happens that whenever Funes sees his hands or face, they present an entirely new picture—totally different from the one he saw few moments ago. It is because of this reason that Funes is unable to link (together) all the objects he saw, person he met, or the work he did. All these things seem like archetypes for Funes. Therefore, we can assume that although the mechanisms of breakage (in Lenny and Funes) are opposite, their words are fractured in a similar fashion.

Both Funes and Lenny have to craft a system that must be designed to ensure the proper communication with the external world, even though these systems echoes the unique psychological conditions possess by each of these individuals. It would be correct to say that Lenny’s system is entirely based on physical actions, since he does not rely on his mental faculties to stitch the events he did. Consequently, he has developed a habit of writing everything as it happens, in a specific handwriting he trusts. It is curious that he perceives his system as ironclad but in reality it is no less feeble than Leonard himself. Every Leonard’s action suggests the past act that he did in the last five minutes, rendering him inoperative to fashion an entirely new perception.