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The Man Stuck In A ‘Permanent Present Tense’

Henry ready for testing at MIT, 1986. (Jenni Ogden)

Henry ready for testing at MIT, 1986. (Jenni Ogden)

Imagine if you didn’t have the ability to form new memories. What would your life be like? Think about it. You wouldn’t be able to recall what you had for breakfast, who you met yesterday, what you learned from a book you read last week. You’d be stuck in a permanent present tense.

That’s what happened to Henry Molaison. He started life as a normal, healthy boy. But in 1953, when he was 27, he underwent a targeted lobotomy to control his epilepsy. The operation had an unexpected and devastating consequence: it robbed him of his ability to form new memories — and so, Henry lived with amnesia until his death at the age of 82.

Suzanne Corkin spent nearly 5 decades working with Henry Molaison, and has written a book about him and what his case contributed to brain science and our understanding of memory. It’s called Permanent Present Tense: The Unforgettable Life of the Amnesiac, H.M.  Read an excerpt from the book here.

Guest

Suzanne Corkin,  author of Permanent Present Tense: The Unforgettable Life of the Amnesic Patient, H.M., and professor Emerita of neuroscience and head of the Corkin Lab at MIT.


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