The Permanent Present Tense of H.M.

May 06 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

Psychology & Neuroscience have some great stories that combine human interest and scientific mysteries. Oliver Sacks uses this to great effect in his books (I highly recommend The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat). One of the more interesting stories is getting a book treatment. H.M. the amnesiac patient. To make a long story short & simple, H.M. to treat a problem with seizures, had brain surgery way back in the 1950s. That involved having a lot of his hippocampus removed. Turns out it's kinda important for memory formation. So H.M. just stopped forming memories and became 'stuck' in the 1950s. For some time he participated in memory research as perhaps the most important single participant in human brain research.  Memory researcher Suzanne Corkin, who worked with him for some time, has penned a book aptly titled Permanent Present Tense. This is another one of those, unique person contributes to science stories, similar to Henrietta Lacks (without the ethical issues).

"He is considered the most important patient in the study of the human brain, known worldwide only by his initials, HM. In death, we learned his name. He was Henry Gustav Molaison. He died at a nursing home on December 2, 2008, at the age of 82, after living for most of his life in a state of permanent amnesia. Over 55 years, Mr. Molaison was the subject of intense scientific study, and he's credited with helping scientists unlock secrets of how we form memories. When he was 27, Mr. Molaison underwent brain surgery to cure a seizure disorder, and that surgery left him unable to form new memories of his own." (source)

I haven't read it, I don't have an advance copy or anything, but it will probably be interesting. Especially if you are not familiar with H.M.'s story, or what we know (and don't know) about how memory works. I will probably end up getting this one for some beach vacation reading.

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