Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Marvel of Memory

In 1953, at the age of 27, Henry Gustav Molaison underwent an experimental brain operation to correct a seizure disorder, only to emerge from it fundamentally and irreparably changed. He developed a syndrome neurologists call severe anterograde amnesia. He had lost the ability to form new memories. For the next 55 years, each time he met a friend or ate a meal, it was as if for the first time.

And for those five decades, the New York Times reports, HM (as he was anonymously known to the world) "was recognized as the most important patient in the history of brain science. As a participant in hundreds of studies, he helped scientists understand the biology of learning, memory and physical dexterity, as well as the fragile nature of human identity." (UPDATE: Illuminating Los Angeles Times obit here.)

When Henry Molaison died last week at 82, we were reminded of a KobreGuide.com subject whose brain functions on the opposite end of that spectrum: Brad Williams has an unfathomable capacity to remember everything, which scientists have labeled hyperthymesia. His fascinating story is here.

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