Neuroscientist Corkin writes of her unique relationship with amnesiac Henry Gustav Molaison, or H.M., as he was referred to in a mountain of scientific papers, and of his invaluable contribution to the scientific understanding of memory.
For nearly five decades, Corkin (Emeritus, Behavioral Neuroscience/MIT; co-editor: The Neurobiology of Alzheimer's Disease, 1996, etc.) talked with and tested Molaison, who, at age 27 in 1953, had undergone experimental surgery to cure his epilepsy and as a result of removal of parts of his brain had lost the ability to store long-term memories. For the rest of his life, Molaison lived in the present tense. His severe impairment brought him to the attention of the scientific community, eager to understand how memory works. Corkin shows Molaison, whose identity was kept secret during his lifetime, to have been an amiable, intelligent man who cooperated willingly with the neuroscientists, performing countless tests for them and undergoing numerous CT and MRI scans of his brain. For him, every experience was a first-time one; he could not remember an event or person for more than a few seconds. Though he could never recall who she or her co-workers were, the author came to know him well and admire him. Corkin gives the specifics of the many behavioral tasks she asked him to perform, and she relates in clear language the significance of what they revealed about the mechanisms of memory. Molaison’s story does not end with his death in 2008, for his brain has been preserved and will continue to be analyzed.
Both a compassionate biography and a lucid account of the advances in neuroscience made possible through one man’s personal tragedy.