Friday, December 05, 2008

HM has died, but he left an amazing legacy

I heard on NPR that HM (Henry Molaison) died recently. I had never heard of HM before this story, so I read the Wikipedia entry. What a truly fascinating and tragic story. (His story was apparently the inspiration for the movie Memento, although I doubt there was any killing involved with Henry.)

I can't get the story out of my head, how he went in for brain surgery at age 27 to correct an epileptic seizure problem, and was so irreparably harmed that he was institutionalized the rest of his life. Yet if you spoke with him, he would seem completely normal. His speech was normal, and he could remember things from before the surgery, but nothing from after. He could learn new motor skills, but not remember how or when he learned them. He couldn't remember what he had for breakfast that day, or what he did yesterday, or anything from after the surgery. The oddities go on and on ...

One of the people featured on the NPR story is writing a book on HM, who contributed an immeasurable amount to our understanding of the brain. It's incredibly sad though, the price that he paid to provide us that understanding.
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