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tv   60 Minutes  CBS  December 19, 2010 7:00pm-8:00pm PST

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we've got it. safeway. ingredients for life. captioning funded by cbs and ford-- built for the road ahead. >> october 19, 1987. she's talking about a looming financial crisis 12kr06ing state and local governments across the country t is a debt crisis which some people believe could derail the recovery an require another big bailout package that no one in washington wants to talk about. >> the day of reckoning has arrived. and it's going to arrive everywhere. the timing may vary a bit
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depending on the state are you in but it's coming. >> october 19th, 1987. >> it was a monday. that was the day of the big stock market crash, and the cellist jacqueline du preé died that day. >> the berlin wall falls on what day? >> november 9, 1989, which was a thursday. >> christopher reeve's accident occurred on what day? >> it was saturday, may 27, 1995. >> stahl: she has what's called superior auto biographical memory. all of them have it, too. it's a rare and remarkable power to remember virtually every day of their lives. >> a 7.1 earthquake hits the san francisco/oakland area on? >> october 17th, 1989. >> tuesday. >> i remember we were watching the game of the world series. >> stahl: the scientists studying them say it could help all of us some day. >> could be... could be very important.
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>> i'm steve kroft. >> i'm lesley stahl. >> i'm bob simon. >> i'm morley safer. >> i'm anderson cooper. >> i'm scott pelley. those stories and andy rooney tonight on "60 minutes." are you reconsidering your medicare coverage? now is the time to take action. call unitedhealthcare medicare solutions today. you only have until december 31st to make sure you have the coverage you need. consider a medicare advantage plan. it combines medicare parts a & b, which is your doctor and hospital coverage and may include prescription drug coverage for as low as a $0 monthly premium. you only have until december 31st to enroll. call unitedhealthcare today. overwhelmed: 50% off. [ barks ] [ male announcer ] over-the-top savings that bring over-the-top joy: [ thud ] [ male announcer ] priceless. go to mastercardmarketplace.com for daily overwhelming offers at 50% off.
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by now just about everybody in the country is aware of the federal deficit problem but you should know there is another financial crisis looming involving state and local governments. it's gotten much less attention because each state has a slightly different story but in the two years since the great recession
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wrecked their economies and schriff eled their income the states have collectively spent nearly half a trillion dollars more than they collected in taxes and there is a trillion dollar hole in their public pension funds. the states have been getting by on billions of dollars of federal stimulus funds but the day of reckoning is at hand, the it is make wall street ferr vows and some believe it could derail the recovery, cost a million public employees their jobs and require another big bailout package that no one in washington wants to talk about. >> the most alarming thing about the state issue is the level of complacency. >> reporter: meredith whitny is one of the most respected financial analysts on wall street and one of the most influential women in american business. she made a reputation by warning that the big banks were in big trouble long before the 2-- 2008 collapse. now she's warning about a financial meltdown in state and local governments. >> it has tentacles as wide as anything i've seen.
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i think next to housing this is the single most important issue in the united states and certainly the largest threat to the u.s. economy. >> reporter: why aren't people paying attention? >> because they don't pay attention until they have to. >> reporter: whitny says it's time to start. >> with the the money that we twak in, that is all the money we can spend. >> reporter: california which faces a $19 billion budget deficit next year has a credit rating aapproaching junk status. it now spends more money on public employee pensions than it does on the state university system which had increased tuition by 32%. arizona is so desperate it sold off the state capitol, supreme court building and legislative chambers to a group of investors. and now leases the buildings from their new owner. the state also eliminated medicaid funding for most organ transplants. then there's new jersey. it had the highest taxes in the country, a $10 billion deficit and a depressed economy when first year
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governor chris kristy took officement but after looking at the books, he decided to walk away from a long planned and much needed project with new york and the federal government to build a rail tunnel in to manhattan it would have helped the economy and given employment to 6,000 construction workers. >> lots of jobs. >> yeah. the bottom line is i don't have the money. and you know what, i can't pay people for those jobs if i don't have the money to pay them. where am i getting the money? i don't have it. i literally don't have it. >> reporter: this is going on all over the country. >> yes, of course it is it's not like you can avoid it forever. because it's here now. we all know it's here. and the federal government doesn't have the money to pay for it any more either, for the states. the day of reckoning has arrived. and it's going to arrive everywhere. time may vary a little bit depending on which state are you in but it's coming. >> reporter: and nowhere has
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the reckoning been as bad as it-- as it is in illinois, the state that spends twice as much as it collects in taxes and is unable to pay its bills. >> this is the state of affairs in illinois. it's to the pretty. >> reporter: dan heinz is the controller of the state of illinois, its paymaster. he currently has about $5 billion in outstanding bills in his office and not enough money in the state's coffers to pay them. he says they are six months behind. how many people do you have clamouring for money? >> it's fair to say that there are tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people waiting to be paid by the state. >> reporter: so how are these people getting by if they are not getting paid by the state? >> that's the tragedy. people borrow money. they borrow in order to get by until the state pays them. >> reporter: they are subsidizing the state, they are giving the state a float. >> exactly. >> reporter: and who dow owe that money to? >> pretty much anybody who has any interaction with state government we owe money to. >> reporter: that would include everyone from the university of illinois which
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is owed $400 million to small businessmen like mire who owns a pharmacy in chicago and has been waiting months for $200,000 in medicaid payments. then there are the 2000 not for profit organizations that are owed a billion dollars by the state. lutheran services has been around since 1867 and provides critical services to 70,000 people, mostly the elderly, the disabled and the mentally ill. the state owed them $9 million just before thanksgiving and they nearly had to close up shop. how long you can go on like this? >> well, we bond we are that too. because we really don't know. >> reporter: reverend denver bitner is the president of lutheran services. he says they were forced to tap their entire line of credit and all their cash reserves before the state would finally pay them as a hardship case. >> it has to be that you have sold off all of your
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assets, you have, you know, borrowed from everybody you can borrow from and then we'll think about it. >> reporter: even though they owe you the money. >> even they owe us the am un. >> the first words with out of my mouth are usually an apology. because they have been put in this situation that, really is unacceptable. and you know, there's very little i can do or say known apologise. >> reporter: it's not just the social safety net that controller dan heinz has to worry about. there have been illinois legislators evicted from their offices because the state didn't pay their rent and stories about state troopers being turned away from gas stations because the owners refuse to take their state credit cards. >> the state's a deadbeat. >> yeah, the state of illinois is known as a deadbeat state. you know, this is a reputation that has taken us years to earn and we've reached, you know, the heights of i think becoming the worst in the country.
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>> reporter: not all of the problems that illinois and other states are facing right now can be traced to the great recession. but the precipitous drop in tax revenues did expose decades of financial irresponsibility, reckless spending, unrealistic benefit packages for public employees and the use of political gimmicks to cover up hidden deficits. it's forcing state governors and the public to confront some harsh realities. >> this different, isn't it? >> it's very different. the reason it's different is because the only choices left are choices that people previously have said were politically impossible. that you couldn't do. you couldn't cut k to 12 education funding. you couldn't do those things. you couldn't talk about pension and benefit reform for the public sector unions these were third rail politics. we are now left with no alternatives. >> just the third rail. >> yae, that's it i'm just going to grab it and go and let the chips fall where they may. >> its money has to come
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from someplace. >> reporter: in some ways the governor is the political canary in the coal mine of the state fiscal crisis. he slashed new jersey's budget by 26% including a billion dollars in cuts to education, forcing the layoffs of thousands of teachers. he got rid of 1300 state workers and drastically reduced funding to new jersey's cities, counties and villages which have their own financial problems. and he is still facing fore$10 billion definite knit-- deficit next year. long term the situation is much, much worse. >> okay, let's talk about the pension obligations. >> sure. 46 billion unfunded liability for pensions, 66 billion unfunded for health care liability. >> yes, sir. >> reporter: that's a lot of money. that's a lot of money even for the federal government. >> that's a lot of money. >> reporter: and there are people who think it's worse. >> yeah, i think that is an optimistic view. listen, at this point, if it's worse, what is the difference. i mean it's bad enough as it is, so what is the difference. i mean now we're talking about money that none of us can really get our arms
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around. >> reporter: there is unsustainable, right. >> totally unsustainable. we have a benefit problem. it's not an income problem from the state, it's a benefit problem. and so we've got to change the benefitsth what is the reaction to that. >> depends where you sit. the general public believes i can't believe anyone gets a pension any more. i got a 401(k), it got killed in the stock market. i don't know what i will do for my retirement. i can't believe people get a pension any more. i think among the broad general public they've said amen. and i think among the public sector unions they are yelling and screaming. >> reporter: and christie is yelling back. he provoked a very public fight with a teachers union which is one of the most powerful political forces in the state of new jersey. >> with are you not compensating me for my education and you're not compensating me for my experience. >> you know what, then you don't have to do it. >> reporter: it's a scene starting to play out all over the country. >> cut, cuts and more cuts. >> reporter: governors of cash-strapped states are beginning to ca joel or
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bullie public employee unions into make concessions into what are considered to be gold-plated retirement and health care packages which are now collectively underfunded to the tune of $1 trillion. >> some union leaders have suggested that you are ruining the state like tony soprano. >> well, as an italian american, i take great offense to that. listen, you tow what it, i'm the first person to expose them for what they've been doing to the public. >> reporter: you want the public employee unions to share the pain. >> you bet. i want them to share in the sacrifice. and this is what which say to public sector unions. listen, boo me now but i'm the first governor that walked into the room in ten years that has told you the truth. and here is the truth. if you don't partner with me to get this done, in ten years you won't have a pension. and that's the truth. >> reporter: but it's also the truth that some of the responsibility for new jersey's pension woes lie at the doorstep of the governor's mansion. christie and his predecessors have failed to contribute the state's share of its pension obligations in 13 of
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the last 17 years. one of the reasons the fund is going broke. christie says it's ancient history. >> we spend too much on everything. we spent too much. we spent money we didn't have. we borrowed money just crazily. the credit card's maxed out. and it's over. it's over. we now have to get to the business of climbing out of the hole. we've been digging it for a decade or more. we have to climb now. and the climate is harder. we have weigh got to do it. >> reporter: the problem with that, according to wall street analyst meredith whitny is that no one really knows how deep the holes are. she and her staff spent two years and thousands of man hours trying to analyze the financial condition of the 15 largest states. she wanted to find out if they would be able to pay back the money they borrowed and what kind of a risk they pose to the $3 trillion municipal-bond market where state and local governments go to finance their schools, highways and other projects.
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how accurate is the financial information in its public on the states and municipalities. >> the lack of transparency with the state disclosure is the worst i have ever seen. ultimately we have to use what is publicly available data and a lot of it is as old as june 2008. so that's before the financial crisis hit in the fall of 2008. >> reporter: whitny believes the states will find a way to honor their debts but she's afraid that some local governments which depend on their state for a third of their revenue also get squeezed as the states are forced to tighten their belts. she's convinced that some cities and counties will be unable to meet their obligations to municipal bondholders who finance their debt. earlier this year, the state of pennsylvania had to rescue the city of harrisburg, its capitol from defaulting on hundreds of millions of dollars on debt for an incinerator project. >> there's not a doubt in my mind that you had will see a spate of municipal bond
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default. >> reporter: how many is a spate? >> you could see 50 sizable defaults, 50 to 100 sizable defaults, more. this will amount to hundreds of billions of dollars worth of defaults. >> reporter: municipal bonds have long been considered to be among the safest investments, bought by small investors saving for retirement, and held in huge numbers by big banks. even a few default kos affect the entire market. right now the big bond rating agencies like standard & poor's and moodies who got everything wrong in the housing collapse say there is no cause for concern. but meredith whitney doesn't believe it. >> when individual investors look to people that are supposed to know better, they are told, they are patted on the head and told it is nothing you need to worry about. when it will be something to worry about within with the next 12 months. >> reporter: 12 months. >> 12 months. >> reporter: no one is talking about it now but the big test will come this spring. that's when 160 billion dollars in federal stimulus
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monies that's helped states and local governments limp through the great recession will run out. the states are going to need more cash. it will almost certainly ask for another bailout only this time there are no guarantees that washington will ride to the rescue. cbs money watch update. >> good evening. a new mastercard study confirms holiday spending is up this year. with on-line sales leading the way. gasoline prices rose another 8 cents over the past two weeks to an average of 12.-- 2.99 a gallon and the sci-fi sequel tron legacy 12.-- 2.99 a gallon and the sci-fi sequel tron legacy won the weekend box office. i'm russ mitchell, cbs news. -- i like to volunteer... hit the courts... and explore new places. i'm breathing better with spiriva. spiriva is the only once-daily
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experiences, relationships, thoughts and feelings that make us who we are. we don't remember it all, of course; that would be impossible-- or would it? there's been a discovery in the field of memory recently-- so new, you won't find it in any textbook; so hard to fathom, there are some who remain unconvinced. for the moment, the scientists studying it are simply calling it "superior autobiographical memory," and unless you happen to know one of the handful of people discovered so far who have it, get ready to be amazed. ♪ ♪ louise owen is 37 years old and a professional violinist living in new york city. but she has another gift, too, one that is far more rare. let me give you a date. let's say january 2, 1990. >> louise owen: right now, i'm remembering the jogging class that i started that morning. >> stahl: and you're actually back there? >> owen: i... i can feel it. i can remember the coach saying,
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"keep going." ( laughs ) >> stahl: that was more than 20 years ago, when she was 16, a date i picked completely at random, as i did this one: february 18, 1988. >> owen: 1988. oh... ( laughs ) >> stahl: you're laughing. >> owen: i'm laughing. it was a thursday. i had a big conversation with a friend of mine, and that's all i'm going to say. ( laughs ) >> stahl: louise says she can remember every day of her life since the age of 11. try to talk us through-- can you do that? >> owen: sure. >> stahl: --how it works. out of the air: april 21, 1991. >> owen: 1991, okay. april 21. so, in the moment between "april 21" and "1991," i have scrolled through 25 april 21s, thinking, "which one is it going to be? which one is it going to be?" okay, 1991, which was a sunday. and i was in los angeles, and i had a concert with the american youth symphony. >> stahl: you went to the most important thing that happened that day. >> owen: right. that was the most... i mean, you probably don't want to hear about, you know, sort of the daily "oh, i got up in the morning and i got dressed and..." ( laughs ) >> stahl: you... and you remember that? >> owen: yeah. >> stahl: you remember what you were having for lunch?
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>> owen: not what i had for lunch that day, but i do remember what i had for dinner the night before, so... ( laughter ) >> stahl: and effortless? it just pops in. >> owen: right. i mean, for me, it's almost as automatic as if you say, "what is your name and where do you live?" >> stahl: but how do we know that what she says she remembers really happened? enter james mcgaugh, a professor of neurobiology at the university of california, irvine, and a renowned expert on memory. dr. mcgaugh is the first to discover and study superior autobiographical memory, and he is quizzing louise, his fifth subject, to find out. an eye condition requires him to wear a clouded lens. >> dr. james mcgaugh: let's move back in time now to 1990. it rained on several days in january and february. can you name the dates on which it rained? >> owen: ( laughs ) >> stahl: believe it or not, she could. >> owen: let's see, it was slightly rainy and cloudy on january 14, 15.
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it was very hot the weekend of the 27th, 28th-- no rain. >> stahl: we checked the official weather records... >> owen: it rained very hard on sunday, february 4. >> stahl: ...and she was right. mcgaugh says this type of memory is completely new to science, so he and his colleagues have had to devise their own tests, like this one on public events. >> october 19, 1987. >> owen: it was a monday. that was the day of the big stock market crash, and the cellist jacqueline du preé died that day. >> the berlin wall falls on what day? >> owen: november 9, 1989, which was a thursday. >> christopher reeve's accident occurred on what day? >> owen: it was saturday, may 27, 1995. >> and when were the oscars held in 1999? >> owen: in 1999? sunday, march 21. >> yes. perfect. >> owen: i went to a fabulous oscar party that day. >> mcgaugh: these people remember things that you and i couldn't possibly remember. >> stahl: and they're not memorizing. there's no trick. >> mcgaugh: they can do with
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their memories what you and i can do about yesterday. >> stahl: and they can do it every day. >> mcgaugh: and they can do it every day. and when i ask, "what goes on in... what goes on in your brain, what goes on in your mind?," they give the very unsatisfying response, "i just see it, it's just there." >> stahl: the first person ever identified with this ability is jill price, who says she feels haunted by the never-ending stream of memories and hasn't wanted to meet any of the others. next was brad williams, a radio news anchor and reporter from lacrosse, wisconsin, who isn't bothered by his memory. he says it comes in handy at work and playing trivia games. >> brad williams: i would get 6,000-7,000 points, everybody else would get 1,000 points. >> stahl: third was rick baron, from cleveland. do you remember every movie you've ever seen? >> rick baron: sure. >> stahl: and you remember when lots of television shows started? >> baron: anything-- movies... >> stahl: "60 minutes?" >> baron: tuesday, september 24, '68.
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the first sunday show was september 19, '71. >> august 1, 1974? >> bob petrella: thursday. >> why do you know that? >> petrella: that's my most memorable august 1. ( laughs ) >> why? >> stahl: and bob petrella... >> petrella: i moved to l.a. that year. >> stahl: ...a tv producer and writer who serves as the collective memory, and sometimes the evening entertainment, for his friends. >> petrella: 1996, april 27th, which was a saturday. >> it was a tuesday. >> petrella: no, april 27, '96. >> don't argue, he's right. >> oh, i'm in '93. >> petrella: see? >> it was a saturday, you're right. >> he's not wrong. >> i have an almanac, and i'm wrong. >> he's not wrong. >> stahl: i must confess that when i first heard about this research, what surprised me was not that this condition existed but that it was considered so rare. that's because it sounded like a description of a friend of mine, the actress marilu henner, a star of the hit tv show "taxi." she lives with her husband and two sons from a prior marriage in los angeles. >> hey, mom?
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>> marilu henner: what? >> what day was valentine's day in '79? >> henner: ( sighs ) in 1979? it was a wednesday. >> and you're right. how do you... >> henner: ( laughter ) you know, you've lived with me your entire life. >> yeah, but you've never explained how you do that. >> henner: i don't do it, i just see it. >> stahl: you and i have known each other... >> henner: 25 years. i can rattle off almost every single time i've seen you. do you remember when we went to aureole, the restaurant? >> henner: that was '93. >> stahl: oh, my gosh. >> henner: that was june 1, a tuesday. >> stahl: and what did we eat? >> henner: i had the salmon. >> stahl: she even remembers what day she got many of the shoes in her large and well- organized closet. >> henner: like these shoes, i wore them october... the first time i wore them, october 18, 2007. these i wore on april the 21st of this year, so that was a tuesday. oh, these shoes i got a long time ago... >> stahl: it sure seemed like superior autobiographical memory to me.
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>> henner: ...1982. i got them april the ninth, so that was a friday of 1982. >> stahl: we put marilu in touch with dr. mcgaugh to have her memory officially put to the test. there was a session in his office... >> mcgaugh: do you know when john lennon was killed? >> henner: yes, that was december 8, 1980, and that was a monday. >> stahl: ...a round of standard memory tests, the public events quiz. >> delta airline flight 191 crashes near dallas, texas. >> henner: oh, i know exactly when that happened because all of a sudden i was at my... it was august the second of 1985. it was a friday. >> stahl: after seven hours of grilling, mcgaugh and his collaborator, neuroscientist larry cahill, officially anointed marilu henner superior autobiographical memory subject number six. >> larry cahill: extremely impressive. >> stahl: you really do remember your whole life. >> henner: it's like putting in
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a dvd and it cues up to a certain place. i'm there again. so, i'm looking out from my eyes and seeing things visually as i would have that day. >> stahl: do you remember all your old boyfriend's birthdays? i'll bet you do. >> henner: oh, yeah. not only that, the date of the first time, you know... it's like... ( laughs ) >> stahl: in order. we searched for footage of long- ago events in marilu's life to try and stump her. october 26, 1976. >> henner: okay, october 26. >> stahl: 1976. >> henner: 1976 was a tuesday. oh, i went to shoot a ring around the collar commercial in venice, italy. and you saw a second-and-a-half mood shot of venice, and then a gondolier singing, "♪ of love i sing tra-la-la-la ♪ for you got ring around the coll-la-la..." and i went, "my powder didn't work." ♪ >> stahl: more than 30 years later-- dead on.
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>> henner: boy, you guys really have drawn up the dregs. >> stahl: what do you see as the potential, in terms of science? >> mcgaugh: it could be a new chapter. we think we knew a lot, and all of a sudden these people come and display a kind of memory we've never seen before. and we have to say, "whoo, what is that about?" so we're going to take a look and see if we can figure that out. and it could be... could be very important. >> stahl: one thing dr. mcgaugh had not yet done is bring these memory wizards together, so we did, and he kicked off a questioning session unlike any other. >> mcgaugh: a 7.1 earthquake hit the san francisco/oakland area on? >> all: october 17th, 1989. >> petrella: tuesday. >> henner: i remember we were watching the game of the world series. >> all: that was the world series. >> henner: oh, my gosh. >> stahl: are you guys feeling a little competitive with each other? ( laughter ) >> williams: no. >> petrella: well, i want to make sure that i'm not the dunce here. i got to keep up. >> stahl: when they tell you they know, are they always
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correct? >> cahill: i would say over 99% of the time, if not 100% of the time, if they tell you something and you can check it, they're right. i've almost given up looking now because, okay, they're right. >> henner: people go, "okay, what's the trick?" >> petrella: yeah, exactly. >> stahl: "what's the trick?" >> henner: that's what you get a lot. >> stahl: they seemed to relish the chance, finally, to compare notes. >> petrella: do you guys ever get ticked at someone... it's something you consider monumental, and for them it's monumental, and then you bring it up and they go, "well, i don't remember that"? it's like, "how can you forget that?" >> owen: all the time. >> henner: you know what i love? i love when people get so flattered. like, they go, "wow, i must've really made an impression on you." ( laughter ) and i go, "no, no, believe me, i remember everything." >> stahl: does it ever freak anybody out? >> petrella: people misunderstand it a lot of times. they think it's photographic, they think it's autistic... >> stahl: yeah. >> petrella: ...call you "rain man." >> henner: ( laughter ) right. >> petrella: and i'll just go along with that. "yeah, yeah, definitely friday." ( laughter ) you know, stuff like that. >> stahl: it was a question we had: are they autistic? are they anything like savants? >> cahill: i guess the answer is yes and no.
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they're not people who have an extraordinary ability but can't tie their shoe. and that's part of what i think makes this at least so interesting for me is that you have this really remarkable ability in a person who other... is otherwise pretty darn normal. >> stahl: but what exactly does "normal" mean when you remember every day of your life? when everything good and everything bad that's ever happened to you is right there, instantly accessible? when you look back at painful memories, is it just as raw? >> owen: sometimes it'll be as though it happened yesterday. sometimes it's as though it happened last week. >> stahl: just the mention of a sad day, like the one in 1986 when louise learned she'd have to change schools, and she relives it emotionally. >> owen: i felt like my whole world was collapsing. and you say that, and it's like all of a sudden i feel like this really heartbroken little 13- year-old all over again. >> stahl: you feel it? >> owen: i do feel it. >> stahl: vivid? >> owen: yeah. >> stahl: awful? >> owen: yeah. >> stahl: is your heart... >> owen: i mean, my... my heart is actually pounding right now in telling you this.
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>> stahl: she says her memory is a gift, but there are definitely downsides. >> owen: sometimes having this sort of extreme memory can be a very isolating sort of thing. there are times when i feel like i'm fluent in a language that nobody else speaks, or that i'm walking around and everybody else has amnesia. >> stahl: are there still skeptics in your field who know what you're up to and just... >> mcgaugh: yes, science is based on skepticism. and so, yes, there are skeptics. i suppose if i had not met these people and tested them, i would be a skeptic. my answer to that is, "come on over for a day. i'll let you meet a few of them." and i'd like to see how many of them walk away and say, "well, it's not a big deal." no, it is a big deal, and we need to figure out what it's all about. come on in. >> stahl: and that work is already under way. dr. mcgaugh is doing mri scans of all the subjects, searching for clues that might be hidden in the structure of their brains. preliminary results from the
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mris are in, and the findings are tantalizing and unexpected. we'll tell you about that, and what this kind of memory has meant for their relationships, when we come back. >> welcome to the cbs sports update presented by lipitor. i'm james brown in new york. the jets remain in the play-off hunt while baltimore and pittsburgh are tied for first in the afc north. the falcons clinch the first play-off spot in the nfc while the eagles move a game ahead of the giants in the nfc east. endie's victory over jacksonville gives them the inside track in the afc south. kansas city remains a game head of san diego in the afc west. for more log on to cbssports.com. diet and exercise weren't enough for me. i stopped kidding myself.
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only at safeway. ingredients for life. >> stahl: beyond the fun of asking what happened on august 16, 1983, and knowing you'll actually get an answer, there is a lot at stake here. the discovery of people with instant access to virtually every day of their lives could recast our whole understanding of how human memory works and what's possible, and that has implications for all of us. is it possible we all have memories of every day tucked away in our brains but we just can't retrieve them? could understanding these remarkable people someday help with alzheimer's and other memory disorders? scientists tell us the potential is enormous, but the inquiry is just beginning. the first step: look at and try to figure out what might be
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going on inside their brains. we watched as the first mri images of louise owen's brain appeared on the screen. the hope is that somewhere in these pictures and measurements will lie the first clue that might explain what makes her memory so extraordinary. >> owen: find anything good? ( laughs ) >> we'll find out. >> stahl: what did you think you were going to find? and then what did you find? >> cahill: well, if you want the honest truth, the honest trust is that i thought, "i bet we'll find nothing." >> stahl: oh. >> cahill: right. i mean, it's kind of like figuring that, you know, if you open einstein's brain, there's going to be some huge lobe that says "genius." you know, you... you don't find stuff like that. >> stahl: but dr. cahill was wrong-- no flashing "genius" lobes, but they did find parts of the brain that were significantly larger in people with superior autobiographical memory than in control subjects of matched age and gender. >> cahill: this would be a person looking this way. >> stahl: he brought along a
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model of a brain to show us. >> cahill: there's two areas that are jumping out at us. the first is this area over here called the temporal lobe, and this area is quite a bit bigger. now, that's intriguing because this is the... the chunk of brain neurobiologists think has to do with storing new memories. >> stahl: so not a surprise? >> cahill: not a surprise there. >> stahl: more interesting, he says, is a second region deep inside the brain called the caudate nucleus which scientists believe is involved in what's called habit or skill learning, and also in obsessive- compulsive disorder. can you give us an analogy of how much larger these sections are? >> cahill: a lot larger, perhaps up to seven or eight what's called standard deviations larger than normal. to understand what that means, if a man was seven or eight standard deviations taller than the height of the average man, he'd be ten feet tall. so we have some potentially whopping effects. >> stahl: giants? >> cahill: giants. >> stahl: now, they need to figure out why. >> mcgaugh: we have the chicken/egg problem. do they have these larger brain
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regions because they have exercised it a lot, or do they have good memories because... >> stahl: because these are larger? >> mcgaugh: ...because these are larger. >> stahl: and what about the fact that the caudate nucleus is thought to be involved in obsessive-compulsive disorder? the scientists think there may just be a hint there, and "exhibit a" is marilu henner's closet. >> henner: i love organization. i like my shoes a certain way-- right foot going this way, left foot going that way-- so you can always see the toe and the heel on every pair. and you'll see that things are very color coordinated here, but in sections. and i always hang like with like, and i have the exact same hangers because then everything slides more easily. >> cahill: all of them have what we think of as o.c.d.-like behaviors. they love to collect things. they have to have things in just the right order. >> mcgaugh: what about phobias? >> williams: does hypochondria count? it's like, "oh, i hope i don't get this. i hope i don't get that disease." >> stahl: you have a little germ... germ thing? >> williams: i... i wash hands frequently and... >> petrella: so do i. in fact, i dropped my keys when i was in a hurry driving down here, and i went... all right,
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so i went back in and i, like, ran... i washed them off. i ran and wash... >> stahl: washed them off? >> petrella: yeah. i do that all the time, if i drop them. >> stahl: can you conclude there's a connection, or... or is it still way too early? >> cahill: because it's showing up in one fashion or another in all of them, i'd say it's our biggest clue. >> stahl: and when you think about it, they even seem to look for ways to organize their memories. >> baron: the thing that is most pleasurable is categorizing any event. anytime i went bowling in my life, any wedding... >> stahl: that you lived? >> baron: starting as a six- year-old. >> petrella: sometimes what i do is i'll go back july 14 as far back as i can remember. i'll just go "july 14th, '67, that happened." and then, maybe i won't remember '68, but i'll remember '69 and '70. >> henner: or you'll remember around '68. >> stahl: but do you all do that? >> petrella: yeah. >> henner: yeah. >> all: yeah. >> stahl: louise even compares dates. >> owen: i'll scroll all the way back to 1985. i'll be like, well, which were better, march thirds or march fourths a year ago? two years ago? three years ago? and go all the way back.
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it's sort of like mental gymnastics. >> stahl: there is a certain irony to the fact that it is dr. mcgaugh who is studying this phenomenon, because he is known in the field of memory for discoveries these people seem to defy. his work with rats, like this one that doesn't know there is a platform hidden below the surface of this water tank, proved the role of adrenaline in making strong memories. the rat swims around the edge, then eventually ventures out and, by chance, bumps into the platform. the next day, he'll find it just a little bit faster. but watch this rat that learned where the platform was yesterday, then received a shot of adrenaline immediately afterward. >> mcgaugh: notice that it starts out not on the edge. >> stahl: oh. >> mcgaugh: there you go. >> stahl: oh, that's impressive. >> stahl: adrenaline actually made this rat's brain remember better, and mcgaugh says the same thing happens in people. when we experience something emotional, positive or negative,
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our bodies release adrenaline, searing those memories into our brains more strongly. what can you and i do, right now, to make sure we remember this conversation? >> mcgaugh: well... >> stahl: i could kick you. >> mcgaugh: yeah... ( laughter ) or i could embarrass you. most of my research is with laboratory rats, and suppose i said, all of a sudden, "oh, and i'm going to demonstrate to you." and i drop about six rats right at your feet. >> stahl: i'd remember. believe me, i'd remember. >> mcgaugh: you'd remember, right? "excuse me, don't... don't sit on her lap. excuse me, you're not supposed to be there." i think you'd remember that. >> stahl: now, the people that you're... we're meeting now. >> mcgaugh: yes. >> stahl: they wouldn't need those rats. and that's what's so baffling. these people do remember the ordinary, non-emotional events the rest of us routinely forget. lots of sports fans can remember highlights from particularly exciting games. bob petrella, a pittsburgh steelers fan, remembers every game. when was the last time the redskins beat the steelers?
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>> petrella: hmm, let's see. they played them in 2004, and the steelers won. they played them in 2000... >> stahl: we sat there as he scanned back through 19 seasons in 19 seconds. >> petrella: oh, in '91. ( laughter ) they played in '91. november 17, 1991. >> henner: this is fun. ( laughter ) this is... >> stahl: that is stunning. ( applause ) >> henner: bravo. >> petrella: yeah. ( laughter ) >> stahl: we tried even further back. what were the last two games in october of 1979? >> petrella: let's see. the 22nd, they played denver on monday night, and i think they won 42 to seven. >> stahl: yup. >> petrella: they played... oh, then, they played dallas on october 28, sunday. it was on cbs, so you could get that game. >> stahl: we did. we got that game, and 31 years later, he was able to describe plays. >> petrella: staubach was scrambling, and l.c. greenwood just slammed right into him. it was in the fourth quarter.
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>> announcer: staubach really took a shot. he was hit by greenwood. >> stahl: he even remembered specific images from the broadcast. >> petrella: i remember staubach just sitting on the bench. you could just tell he was out of it. >> stahl: how about november 11, 1990? >> petrella: they didn't play. that was a bye. >> stahl: ( laughter ) you're good. that was a trick question. ( laughter ) >> petrella: no, i re... i remember that day because... >> stahl: that is good. >> petrella: ...i was... i was depressed. i had broken up with this woman. and i was going out to... to rent a couple videos. and i was thinking about her. >> cahill: there's a quote that i love. it's by the great psychologist william james. he said, "if we remembered everything, we should, on most occasions, be as ill off as if we remembered nothing." >> stahl: and that's what the field of memory has always considered a given-- that a healthy dose of forgetting is crucial to our ability to think. you abstract and generalize, in part, because you forget. when you have a trip to work and
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you have the same trip every day, you abstract and you generalize a typical trip to work because you don't remember every single detail of every single trip. so a little forgetting is needed to help you abstract and generalize. >> stahl: well, that's what i always thought, until i met your five subjects today. do you ever get the feeling that all these memories are cluttering up your mind, that "it's just too much up there and i need to sweep this away?" >> henner: it's organized, you know what i mean? it's organized, so it's called on when you need it, but it's not like they're like, "oh, they're coming in all the time and..." ( laughter ) >> all: yeah. >> stahl: it's not... >> petrella: it's not overwhelming. >> mcgaugh: surprising thing is that these people don't appear to have cluttered brains. they can pull out the right information at the right time, and that's the puzzle. >> stahl: it's the real puzzle. >> mcgaugh: that's the puzzle. >> stahl: it kind of takes everything we've all assumed, scientists and ordinary people, and said, "come on, guys, rethink it." >> mcgaugh: yeah, got to do some rethinking, but that's... that's fun. that's... that's part of the fun part of science. >> this is where the saliva
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goes... >> stahl: and they're pursuing every avenue they can-- d.n.a. testing, to see if there are differences in their genetic makeup; handedness testing, since all three men are lefties, to see if that yields any clues... >> henner: which way would you do a cartwheel? >> stahl: the inquiry is just getting started, with six willing subjects eager to see where it all will lead. and who knows how many more, still out there. >> henner: i've always loved having this memory. i feel, as an actress and as a writer, it's been indispensable; as a mother, as a wife, certainly. ( laughs ) >> stahl: why do you say that? >> henner: oh, my gosh. no, because you can never lose an argument. "no, you didn't say that, i said this," you know, "you said this." >> stahl: yeah, but maybe he doesn't like it so much. >> henner: no, i know. yeah, well, that's probably why i'm on my third. >> stahl: which raises a real question, since marilu is the only one of the six subjects who is married or has children. you would think that, in romance... >> owen: it can be tricky. >> stahl: it can be tricky.
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>> owen: i think so. >> stahl: breakups must be... >> owen: horrible. >> stahl: horrible. because you cannot not remember. >> owen: right. >> stahl: i find it intriguing that four out of five of you are not married and, as far as i'm aware, are not in a relationship. do you all think there's a problem having this memory and having a good relationship? >> williams: i like to think it's coincidence. >> stahl: "you're going to remember everything? you're going to win every..." >> owen: right, well... >> stahl: ...argument?" ( laughter ) >> owen: although, i think it's... you know, it's what you do with it. i mean, i try not to be defined by this. >> stahl: and she says, for the most part, she succeeds. overall, is it a good thing? are you glad you have this? >> owen: i am. >> stahl: you are? >> owen: i am. i mean, sure, there are times when it's difficult. but i feel like it makes me live my life with so much more intention and so much more joy. >> stahl: what do you mean, more intention? >> owen: because i know that i'm going to remember whatever happens today, it's like, "all right, what can i do to make today significant? what can i do that is going to
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make today stand out?" >> cahill: as you watch these remarkable people, and as you think back on, say, my three children, how little i can actually remember from when they were four, five, six. you start to wonder, why are we the default state? why are we normal and they're the unusual ones? why didn't we evolve such that most of us are like them and we're the unusual ones, the who can hardly remember anything? it just makes you wonder. ♪ ♪ >> go to 60minutesovertime.com to hear the unforgettable story about how the memory piece was made. thank you for calling usa pmy name peggy.
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>> pelley: now, andy rooney. >> rooney: i don't know why this is, and i don't understand it, but there's a great demand for odd bits of personal property from well-known people in this country. you know from watching me on "60 minutes" that i don't throw anything away, or sell anything either, for that matter. so why would i send you any of my personal property so that you could sell it or even just keep it? although it is not clear to me who'd want any of my stuff, anyway. i've read that things owned by well-known people which is auctioned off is a big business in this country. not a day goes by that i don't get a request for something of mine so that it could be auctioned off, even though i'm only fairly well-known. everyone has a good reason for their request. they want to earn money for their church or their children's school. well, i appreciate that you're doing a good deed for your children, but i don't think anything i have will bring you
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enough money for your good cause, or even for a bad cause, for that matter. i don't think of myself as a celebrity, either. i'm a writer who reads what he has written on television. i heard somewhere recently that one glove that michael jackson wore sold at auction for $330,000. over $300,000 for just one glove? imagine what the price would have been for the pair of gloves. so, the next time you want to auction off some odd piece of personal property from a famous person, don't write me. i save everything, including my gloves. >> pelley: i'm scott pelley. we'll be back next week with another edition of "60 minutes." . ♪ it's a breakthrough in medicare prescription drug plans... hey buddy!
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