Totally Cerebral: The Man Without a Memory

Henry Moliason (Patient HM) in the lab

Henry Moliason (Patient HM) in the lab

Imagine that every time you met someone new, the moment they left the room you forgot you had ever spoken to them, and when they returned it was as if you had never seen them before. Imagine remembering your childhood, your parents, the history you learned in school, but never being able to form a new long term memory after the age of 27.

Welcome to the life of the famous amnesic patient “HM”, who had experimental surgery to relieve his terrible epilepsy, and woke up with a profound memory impairment. Neuroscientist Suzanne Corkin studied HM for almost half a century, and considered him a friend, even though he could never remember how he knew her. Suzanne gives us a glimpse of what daily life was like for him, and his tremendous contribution to our understanding of how our memories work.

Inside the Episode:

For 50 years, Patient HM’s true identity was hidden from the public, but when he died in 2008 we learned his name was Henry Moliason. We hear him speak in this episode, and talk about his cheerful willingness to undergo test after test (though once they were finished, he couldn’t remember ever having done them) in order to help others.

This episode was hosted by Wendy Suzuki and produced by Julie Burstein, with editing and sound design by Derek John. Host Wendy Suzuki’s book, Healthy Brain, Happy Life, goes on sale May 19, 2015.  Suzanne Corkin has written a moving and fascinating account of HM’s life and contribution to science called Permanent Present Tense: The Unforgettable Life of the Amnesic Patient HM.