Here’s an interesting idea: Drill into someone’s hippocampus and add a few electrodes so they can recite an entire book verbatim that they’d read decades ago. That’s the brave new world, in the words of neurosurgeon-turned-Housing Secretary Ben Carson.
Carson explained his intriguing process during a pep talk with agency employees Monday. (Keep in mind this is the same speech in which he compared slaves to immigrants.)
The brain, he said, in a convoluted argument against government aid, “remembers everything you’ve ever seen, everything you’ve ever heard. I could take the oldest person here, make a hole right here on the side of the head and put some depth electrodes into their hippocampus and stimulate, and they would be able to recite back to you verbatim a book they read 60 years ago. It’s all there. It doesn’t go away.”
But, said brain and memory experts, do not try this at home.
“It’s utter nonsense,” Dan Simons, a psychologist at the University of Illinois who specializes in memory, said in an email to Wired. “We can’t recall extended text verbatim unless we deliberately memorized it for that purpose (certainly not books we happened to read 60 years ago), you can’t trigger accurate recall of detailed memories with an electrode (and long-term memories aren’t stored in the hippocampus), we don’t store a perfect and permanent record of our experiences (it’s not all there just waiting to be probed), and you can’t just ‘learn how to recall it.’”
Whew, was there nothing right about what Carson said? No matter. the Twitterverse went absolutely bonkers over his first official federal speech. Ed Yong, science writer for The Atlantic, got the ball rolling: