Friday, January 05, 2007


The birth of the modern era of memory research is often pegged to the publication, in 1957, of an account of the neurological patient H.M. At age 27, H.M. had large chunks of the temporal lobes of his brain surgically removed in a last-ditch effort to relieve chronic epilepsy. The surgery worked, but it left H.M. unable to remember anything that happened--or anyone he met--after his surgery. The case showed that the medial temporal lobes (MTL), which include the hippocampus, are crucial for making new memories. H.M.'s case also revealed, on closer examination, that memory is not a monolith: Given a tricky mirror drawing task, H.M.'s performance improved steadily over 3 days even though he had no memory of his previous practice. Remembering how is not the same as remembering what, as far as the brain is concerned.

Memory is a wonderful thing. Don't take it for granted. And don't forget what you should remember.

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