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Monday, November 21, 2005

The Strange, Sad Case of H.M.

In 1953, at one go, in a procedure radical even for the time (when brain shocks and lobotomies were — pardon the pun — cutting edge treatments for brain disorders), this man had the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the entorhinal and perirhinal cortices sucked out of his brain as an experimental cure for epilepsy. Strangely, it didn't work. What it did do was greatly affect H.M.'s ability to remember. As horrible and criminal as the operation was, his case has been helping scientists research the mechanisms of memory ever since.

I first came across this story this summer when I was looking for books on memory and found Memory's Ghost: The Nature Of Memory And The Strange Tale Of Mr. M at the local library. Worth a read.


7 comments:

Tracy Hamon said...

Fascinating. I'm curious about his physical health. If, in his mind, H.M. is still thirty, does his body reflect this notion? Internally and externally? I suppose he would have a sense of time passing during the day, but it's a bit like the movie _Groundhog Day_, where every morning is the same morning.

I think I will have to read the book.

ZW said...

Another movie based on this sort of anterograde amnesia is Memento. I seem to remember it being not bad... A couple of guys I went to school with also wrote a play called Anterograde, probably inspired by HM's story, which was very good. It's a fascinating condition, with all manner of dramatic, moral and metaphorical possibilities; no wonder it's proven so magnetic to writers. And no wonder HM is plagued by guilt for what he might have done. Having woken up in that kind of torment due to self-inflicted causes on more occasions than I care to remember, I can't imagine how it must be to live with it every damn day.

John C. said...

Well, this explains a lot.
Has anybody seen my socks?

john c. said...

Yeah, me too.
I can't find my socks either!

john umm... said...

Oh this is too weird...
Has everybody lost their socks?

MackJohnny said...

My mother always said I'd lose my head if it wasn't attached.

I guess what I'm saying is, I've found I can't lose my socks if I don't take them off.

ZW said...

Just follow your nose...