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Woman With Perfect Memory Answers Glenn's Question — Is It Heaven or Hell?

What if you could recall every birthday, every holiday --- and every word of Harry Potter? Would you want to? Rebecca Sharrock, a 27-year-old woman from Australia, can do just that.

Sharrock has a rare condition known as Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM), which gives her an extraordinary memory. Glenn spoke with her on radio today and asked an interesting question --- is is heaven or hell?

Enjoy the complimentary clip or read the transcript for details.

GLENN: I have always thought that the universe is far too efficient to have a devil and a bunch of other devils with that pitchforks and a giant lake of fire, where you're burning forever in torment. It's too efficient for that.

Why wouldn't there be the system that would allow you to torment yourself. And the way to do that is to have absolute perfect recollection for every hurtful thing you've ever done or has been done to you. Every pain that you have caused. Every pain that you have felt. To have perfect recollection and relive it over and over, as if it is happening to you now.

There's a woman in Brisbane, Australia. She's one of only 80 in the world that have perfect recollection. It's actually called Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory. HSAM.

And she has just come out on her blog, and she said, "I can remember every word of Harry Potter. I can remember everything, including my first memory when I was 12 days old, being placed in the baby car seat in the car. It was my dad's idea," she said.

Rebecca Sharrock is with us from Brisbane, Australia now.

Hello, Rebecca, how are you?

REBECCA: Hi, I'm good. Yourself?

GLENN: We're -- we're good.

I hope this interview goes well because you'll forever remember it.

The -- can you start at the earliest memory -- the 12-year-old memory -- or 12-day-old memory that you have?

REBECCA: That particular memory is the earliest one I can date. It was -- I was being carried in a blanket by my mom to the car seat. And I was placed down on the sheepskin carport. And I was looking up at the steering wheel. And at that age, I was curious as to what things were. But it didn't occur to me yet to get up and explore what it was. And at that similar age, I would just be in my crib, and I would look -- I would look up at the stand-up fan next to me, or I would look at my toys above me. And I would just -- I'd have curiosity there.

GLENN: So do you remember what you felt? Do you remember feeling the love from your mother and father? Do you remember hearing arguments? I mean, we always -- we always talk about the impact of what's happening around a baby. You're somebody that can actually tell us if that's true or not.

REBECCA: Yeah, absolute -- as a small baby, I would hear everything my mom would say to me. She would tell me these words. The thing is, at that age, I didn't understand what those words meant. It was much like as an adult now, when I hear a language I don't know.

PAT: Hmm.

REBECCA: But when I have memories of what was told to me when I was baby, I can understand it as an adult. Such as when I was two weeks old, that was my first Christmas. And I can remember people coming into me saying, Merry Christmas. But I didn't know what Merry Christmas meant then. But now when I remember it, I can recall. I know what it means now.

PAT: Have you now called those people back and said, "Yeah, Merry Christmas back at you."

(chuckling)

REBECCA: Yeah.

GLENN: So you say you can remember -- you can remember the weather forecast of every day. What you had for breakfast every day. Does this file in your head by date or how? If I give you a date, could you tell us what you were doing, or how does this work in your head?

REBECCA: It's interesting because dates in my mind take I can remember dates from experience. So if I was aware of the date on the day, I can tell you what day of the week it was. Which is -- I had a calendar in my brain since I was 14. So every time I cross off the calendar every day, I have memories of doing that. But when I was at school, before I had a calendar, I'd still have to write the date down at the top of my assessments, and so I remember the dates on that.

GLENN: Did you -- you had to have had straight A's?

REBECCA: No. I -- I often -- in subjects I did get A's in was spelling. And I got A's in algebra and trigonometry. But everything else, due to my autism, I was slower at processing. So it was interesting. Because I'd often have all the answers for the exams, but the only problem is, I had been three months to late. Yeah.

GLENN: So you had a problem -- how long have you known -- how long have you been open about this? Because you just came out on your blog with this. And you're only one of 80 in the world.

REBECCA: The way I found out about HSAM -- what's interesting is that until I was 21, I thought everyone remembered in that kind of way. But my parents then called me in to see something on television, and it was about a small group of people who had this unusual memory, where they couldn't forget any days since they were children. And I was saying to my parents, I said, "Why are they calling it unusual? Isn't it normal for people to remember like that?"

And my parents said, "No, it's not." So they asked me if it was okay for them to send the University of California, Irvine, an email because they discovered the people on the segment of the show.

And I was only half listening when I said, "Yeah, okay." Because there were two things I was processing. One, that the way I remembered wasn't normal. And, two, that type of memory was extremely rare. So, yeah.

PAT: Are you -- are you tormented by memories, Rebecca? Or -- like, do you consider this a blessing or a curse?

REBECCA: I used to -- in -- many years ago, I used to look at it as a curse. Because I would like reliving all of the stuff that I do.

PAT: Yeah.

REBECCA: But now, I'm looking at it as a little bit of both.

GLENN: Uh-huh.

REBECCA: Now I'm -- I understand why I keep reliving things. And I'm realizing to myself, "This has a name to it. It's not necessarily just --

PAT: Uh-huh.

REBECCA: And I'm thinking to myself, "It's not necessarily completely a bad thing anymore."

GLENN: On when you do --

REBECCA: When I found out I had autism --

GLENN: When you do remember things. And I don't want to take you down a lane you don't want to go. But do you remember -- is it like you're -- I'm thinking of just the cruel things that I may have said or have been said to me. I'm glad that I forget those and the memory fades.

REBECCA: Yeah.

GLENN: So do you recall them as if they are the same feeling? You have the same impact?

REBECCA: Yes.

GLENN: Oh, my gosh.

PAT: Wow. Wow.

REBECCA: Because emotionally, I relive it as however old I was back then, but my conscience is an adult. And that often causes a lot of confusion as well.

PAT: Right.

GLENN: Oh, my gosh.

PAT: There's got to be jobs though, where this kind of ability would come in really handy.

GLENN: Mathematics of some sort.

PAT: Yeah. Are -- what do you do for a living?

REBECCA: For a living, I'm a -- I'm a public speaker, and I do autism advocacy work. And I'm a public speaker now with the I CAN Network. So I go around to -- I go around to local conferences, and I do seminar talks there. And HSAM does help because when I write scripts --

PAT: You can remember them.

REBECCA: It's easier for me to just remember them.

PAT: Yeah.

REBECCA: I also do blogging as well with Special Kids Company.

GLENN: Rebecca, what is the -- what is the one thing that you would take and say, "Boy, I wish everyone could experience this?" That you have that we don't.

REBECCA: The things -- the thing that makes me so happy about my HSAM is that I can still enjoy my birthdays and Christmases in the same way as I did as a child. Because even as an adult, I can wake up on my birthday, and I'm just reliving all of these happy, exciting memories from when I was a child. And I can just -- I can -- I don't even need the same presents. I can just sit there, and I'm just reliving happy memories.

GLENN: Do you believe in heaven and hell? Do you believe in God?

REBECCA: Yeah.

GLENN: You do? Is this what -- do you think this would be what heaven or hell would be like?

REBECCA: Often I think -- I use like a little bit of both. But it happens definitely on my birthdays and whenever I visit Disney parks or theme parks. That's when I'm definitely in heaven.

GLENN: Rebecca, thank you so much for sharing your life with us. Something that --

REBECCA: Oh, you're welcome.

GLENN: Pardon me?

Oh, you're welcome?

PAT: Yeah.

REBECCA: Yeah, you're welcome. I'm really glad to have had the opportunity to speak to you.

GLENN: Sure. One more question, just curious, do you have to -- when you memorize things, you said, "As I write, it's easier for me to remember," do you have to work on memorizing things at all, or can you just write something or read something and you'll remember it word-for-word?

REBECCA: I'd say Harry Potter especially because I have such an emotional connection to it because I was introduced to it by my favorite teacher when I was in the fourth grade. But in terms of when I'm doing speeches or blogs, it's something I enjoy doing. It relaxes me. Just to go to writing, just to zone out. Like write the script, or do a talk to zone out. So it's work, but it's work that I enjoy. That's how it feels.

GLENN: Do you see memories like reading -- do you see a -- almost a photo of the -- or do you -- is it like seeing the page, when you're -- when you are remembering things like Harry Potter?

REBECCA: I've been tested by the UCI for a photographic memory. And I've got really poor photographic memory. But the way I remember things, I remember them in sequences I experienced them.

GLENN: Okay.

REBECCA: So I remember just the cycle of the words in my head.

GLENN: So you have more of an emotional memory?

REBECCA: Yeah. And that --

GLENN: Ooh.

REBECCA: And that really does counteract with my autism in that sense. So...

GLENN: Hmm. Wow. Rebecca, thank you. God bless you. Thank you so much.

REBECCA: Oh, you're welcome.

GLENN: We wish you the best.

Rebecca Sharrock from Brisbane, Australia, one of the 80 women on the planet that have perfect recollection of their life. And it's worse, Pat, than we thought.

PAT: Hmm.

GLENN: Because she doesn't have -- photographic memory is something that I would love to have.

PAT: Yeah.

GLENN: Be able to read something once and be able to recall everything. She's got an emotional memory, which is, ooh.

PAT: Pretty amazing. Yeah, like she said, the things that she heard as a child and didn't understand. Now she understands, and so makes it even worse. Right?

GLENN: Or -- or better -- as she said --

PAT: Or better.

GLENN: -- both heaven and hell.

PAT: Or better.

STU: Right. Because you would think you would be able to say logically in your head now that that hurtful thing a 7-year-old said to me back in the day was actually worthless and pointless. Like, you'd feel yourself going through an emotional reaction, and then you realize, it didn't make any difference, and there's no need for me to react that way. But with her condition, I guess that wouldn't happen. You'd just go through that process. I mean, that would be really, really terrible.

JEFFY: Yeah, it would.

GLENN: I forgot to ask her if she remembers her childhood better, of the days gone by, better than they are now.

STU: Hmm.

PAT: Hmm.

GLENN: You know what I mean? Has I wanted to ask her if she's ever blown off an appointment and used the excuse, I forgot. Sorry, I forgot. Because if someone doesn't know you, it's still a valid excuse, right?

JEFFY: Right.

STU: So if you know you're being dishonest --

GLENN: But it sounds like she can forget.

STU: Yeah. I guess it's not -- that's why I guess it's such a weird thing to have to deal with.

GLENN: Yeah. I will tell you, as an alcoholic -- I mean, part of the thing that drove me to alcoholism was the mistake of your past just pile up. And some people can deal with them. Some people can't. And I was one that just couldn't deal with the problems of my past. I never dealt with them. And just started to break apart. And that is, to me why, you know, Jesus is so important, to come and redeem and wash me of all of the past.

And it really did -- for me, it really did bury my past. It dealt with it and buried it. And it's in the past. I can't imagine -- I can't imagine -- that's total hell. Total hell.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images
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