In the radio station, Rick Baron took phone calls from the listeners, who challenged Rick to say what day of the week it was, and what events happened, on the specific day that they quoted, most often their birthdays. Rick unfailingly told them the correct day of the week, and some memorable events on that particular day. When the day happened to be "quiet", Rick offered to mention events that happened prior to, or just after, the date quoted.
At present, we do not understand the details of the mechanisms of memory encoding and retrieval in the human brain. And yet, the existence of an outstanding individual like Rick Baron is a certain testimony of the capability of the human memory circuit. It shows that, given appropriate wirings, it is possible to be a "memory genius" like Rick, being able to retain and then retrieve at will the details of one's life in a precise chronological order.
Given the long period over which human memory system has evolved, one wonders why for most of us the memory system fails, in that it is unable to do the feat that is so natural for an person like Rick Baron. For some unknown reasons, the human brain seems to have chosen not to optimize its retention abilities, in order to achieve a balanced state of functionalities. There are likely to be trade-offs.
On the 2nd day, we visited Rick's house again.
Rick has several glass and porcelain objects of elephants with their trunks pointing upwards on the glass table in the living room. When asked for their significance, Rick mentioned that they were originally meant to wish good luck for his mother, who was ill at that time. The geometrical accuracy with which Rick spatially arranged these things were truly remarkable. And not only the elephants. Chairs, paper towels, clothes, glasses, cups, photo stands, pictures, shoes. It was apparent that Rick paid attention to the details of the spatial arrangement of things.
Sitting in his room, looking at the items placed in a meticulous order, one gets a feeling which could only described as a sense of awe, in the presence of the workings of a remarkable mind. You almost feel as if you are in a shrine, where things bear significance of things other than earthly functionalities.
As we asked Rick to perform further sets of tests, the extent of his remarkable autobiographical memory became more apparent. A casual conversation led to Rick's remark that we could name any "niche" subject, and Rick would give accurate chronological information on that.
"When did you first fly on an airplane?" I asked. Rick chuckled, and then went on to describe his life's very first airborne travel with the date and the day of the week provided. Not only that, he went on to list the subsequent flights, cities of origin and destinations, complete with the date and the day of the week.
As we remained silent in admiration of this sparkling intellectual stunt, Rick continued his demonstration, by recalling the films he has seen, music he has heard, and people he has met, with a perfect chronological order.
In one session, we chose a random date by throwing a dart on a calendar of the past 40 years. When the dart landed on, say, 14th June 1978, we asked Rick what happened on that date. Rick would start bursting with information. Meanwhile, a few staff members tried to verify what Rick said by conducting a search on the internet.
When the incident that Rick mentioned was a historic event, it was easy to confirm its truth by the internet. Even so, it sometimes took painfully long to affirm Rick's claims. Becoming impatient, Rick kept saying "you know you must take my words. You cannot make up history".
Memories of personal experiences such as going to see the films were naturally difficult to confirm. In these cases, we had to literally take Rick's words as they were, although the natural way in which he came forward with the information was convincing in itself.
Most interesting were the cases where Rick remembered things which could be confirmed in principle, but were difficult to do so in practice even using the vast data now being accumulated on the internet.
For example, Rick mentioned that he saw an episode of "Honeymooners" on October 20th 1962, the present blog writer's birthday. Rick said that it was broadcast as part of a show. He was about 5 years old then. In such a case, it should be in principle possible to verify Rick's claim by objective records. However, it is not certain whether a record exists of the television programming in Cleveland area on that particular day, such a long time ago. In such a case, what Rick remembers should be more detailed and (presumably) accurate compared to what is currently available on the web.
"Rick, you are better even than google!" I finally exclaimed. At this, Rick Baron laughed with his characteristic big smile.
Photos of the Rick Baron Interview.