"I can remember everything that has happened to me—what day it was on, what was happening in the world, who was in my life at the time, and usually what the weather was like," says the subject known only as AJ. Researchers at the University of California at Irvine describe AJ as the first reported case of a person capable of near-perfect feats of recollection without using mnemonic tricks.
But K. Anders Ericsson, a cognitive scientist at Florida State University, contends that his research shows how ordinary people can easily acquire extraordinary recollection skills. AJ kept a 24-year diary and admits that she ruminates over dates and events. That obsessive quality may be the key to her ability, Ericsson says. "It's possible that anyone who put in half an hour a day thinking about what they were doing would be able to build up a memory comparable to hers." James McGaugh, one of the Irvine scientists who has studied AJ, remains convinced of her superlative memory and is determined to find out how it works. "She is not a mnemonist," he says. "She does it naturally and inadvertently."