Lovely long piece in the November issue of Esquire about the brain of Henry Molaison, who you may have previously heard of as Patient H.M., aka the man who lacked the ability to remember anything for more than a couple of minutes. His brain has now been sliced into thin slices in an effort to construct a map of the human brain accurate to neuron-level.
Corkin first met Henry at Brenda Milner’s lab in Montreal in 1962, and over the years, as the mining of his mind has continued, she’s witnessed firsthand how Henry continues to give up riches, broadening our understanding of how memory works. But she’s also keenly aware of Henry’s enduring mysteries, has documented things about him that nobody can quite explain, not yet.
For example, Henry’s inability to recall postoperative episodes, an amnesia that was once thought to be complete, has revealed itself over the years to have some puzzling exceptions. Certain things have managed, somehow, to make their way through, to stick and become memories. Henry knows a president was assassinated in Dallas, though Kennedy’s motorcade didn’t leave Love Field until more than a decade after Henry left my grandfather’s operating room. Henry can hear the incomplete name of an icon — “Bob Dy …” — and complete it, even though in 1953 Robert Zimmerman was just a twelve-year-old chafing against the dead-end monotony of small-town Minnesota. Henry can tell you that Archie Bunker’s son-in-law is named Meathead.
How is this possible?
The piece is written by the grandson of the doctor who removed a portion of Molaison’s brain in an effort to cure his epilepsy.