There are films that have deepened in how memories, in short, shape who we are, as Total Recall or Memento, so imagine what life would be like for someone who was unable to generate new memories.
It is the case of a man known by the acronym H. M., who, due to the particularly strong and intense epilepsy attacks he suffered, was intervened in the late summer of 1953 in an operating room at Hartford Hospital, Connecticut, by a neurosurgeon named William B. Scoville.
The operation consisted of suck H. M. a good handful of matter from his brain, in particular: most of the hippocampus, the parahypocampic gyrus, the entorhinal and perirhinal cortex and the tonsil.
H. M. was cured of his epilepsy, but the tribute he had to pay for it was to become Dori, the fish unable to remember anything in Finding Nemo. The general condition of Henry Molaison has been described as severe anterograde amnesia concurrent to a temporarily graduated retrograde amnesia.
On the other hand, his case served to carry out extensive studies in neuropathology, particularly in the science of memory, as the philosopher explains Julian Baggini in his book The ego trap:
Milner-led experiments showed that although H. M. did not form any new memories, he could learn new tasks. This showed that episodic memory (memory of events and events) worked very differently from procedures memory (ability to remember how things are done). It also projected light on the different mechanisms of the brain that underlie short and long-term memory, since H. M. could maintain information for approximately twenty seconds in "operational memory" or "working memory" quite normally.
When, for example, he saw photographs of himself with his mother taken after his operation, H. M. recognized his mother, but not himself. In his head, he was always 27 years old.
Despite all this, H. M. retained a certain part of his identity, as he points out Philip J. Hilts in his book Memory's Ghost, after spending a long time with H. M. Partly because H. M. always remembered most of his life prior to the operation, and partly because a person is also a relatively stable compilation of dispositions and character traits, independent of memories. Or as the psychologist wrote A. R. Luria: “A man does not consist only of memory, he has feelings, will, sensitivity, moral feelings, issues that neuropsychology cannot talk about.
For that reason, H. M. was aware that he had aged over the years, even if I didn't have explicit beliefs that it was like that.
Therefore, when asked if he had gray hair, he said he did not know, but showed no surprise when he looked in the mirror, indicating that he had become accustomed to seeing each other. When he asked himself his age and what year he was, he initially always answered "27 years" and "1953", but in the end he offered extremely different conjectures.
H. M. died in December 2008. H. M. were the initials of Henry Gustav Molaison, now that we should no longer protect your privacy. Currently, his brain is preserved at the University of San Diego, where it was divided into histological sections on December 4, 2009: 2,401 sections of Molaison's brain were obtained, finding only two damaged sections and 16 potentially problematic sections. The second phase of the project is currently being developed.