Advances in the study of DNA and the
use of sophisticated brain-scanning equipment has enabled scientists to
understand in increasing detail
how our human memory operates.
One significant discovery has been that we appear to possess
different types of memory.
Our long-term memory,
can now be distinguished as being physiologically distinct from
our short-term memory.
To a pure scientist the subject is highly involved, but for simplicity,
this website uses the term 'explicit memory'
to refer to our short-term memory,
and the term 'semantic memory' to apply to those long-term memories
stored in the subconscious part of our mind, and which associate
together to help form
our concepts (see
note on concept.)
But Stanley also had a third type of memory.
Most of us do not retain the details of our explicit
Usually they sink into our long-term semantic
memory. But Stanley had the gift of being able not
only to distinguish his
his semantic memory
at almost any time,
but to recall them when he wished
call this type of memory 'episodic'
The gift of episodic memory seems to
have been a Spencer family characteristic. His pianist brother Will,
for example, could memorise a sheet of music or a restaurant menu at
one reading. Confined to bed in his final illness in 1954, he buoyantly
explained that even if I go
blind, I shall always have my books with me.
use of episodic memory
would at first
sight seem destined to keep his
firmly on the down-to-earth. But we shall go
on to see how ingeniously he used it
to raise his vision - and
us - into his up-in-heaven.