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9:34 AM: Now I am superlatively, actually awake.
January 29, 2007 6:51 AM   Subscribe

Life without memory (multi-part YouTube): the extraordinary case of Clive Wearing.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (39 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite


Mentioned before, but I thought it was worth it to update the story to the YouTube age.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:51 AM on January 29, 2007

Here is clip of Clive more recently.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 7:13 AM on January 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh wow, that's a great clip, thanks Lazlo.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 7:23 AM on January 29, 2007

Reminds me of one the patients in Oliver Sacks' The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat. Sad story.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:33 AM on January 29, 2007

Moving and terrifying. What's so amazing is that even though he doesn't recognize his house or his own kids, he still remembers his wife and knows he loves her. In a way I suppose it must be gratifying to be greeted each time as if you've been away for years, to see that look of complete surprise and delight, but basically it's a horrible situation for both of them. I think I'd rather a stroke kill me than do that to me. Thanks for the post: much food for thought.
posted by languagehat at 8:08 AM on January 29, 2007

It can be very sad. I have a friend who went in for surgery to remove a brain tumor that was slowly rendering him blind, due to pressure against the optic nerve.

Unfortunately, during the procedure, something went wrong and he ended up with anterograde amnesia. The really depressing thing about it. in my mind, is he didn't end up with the retrograde version, so he still remembers everything before and he knows he has a problem. The frustration you can see really breaks your heart. He now lives in an institutionalized setting, due to his inability to handle this.
posted by Samizdata at 8:35 AM on January 29, 2007

How strange and awful.

It's fascinating that he's aware of the passage of time, even if he can't remember the content of it. And he consistently uses the same phrases to describe his experience--I wonder what that means. Has he said or thought it so many times that it's worn itself a little place in his unconscious, or is that way of describing it just how Clive would have described such an experience at the time he became ill. Same with his diary, which shows very little variation.

I wonder if the makers of Fifty First Dates know about him? There's a character called "Ten-Second Tom" who's played for laughs...
posted by hippugeek at 8:44 AM on January 29, 2007

Jesus hell. What a stunningly strange and awful condition to be in. Darkest of dark thoughts here, but it strikes me that his affliction prevents him from even having the capacity to become suicidally fed up—though it's the sort of condition that a person might well describe in terms of I'd Rather Die Than...
posted by cortex at 8:52 AM on January 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

It really is a heartbreaking story. From the transcript, it doesn't look like 60 Minutes included his notebook mentioned in the Wikipedia article (I can't watch the videos from here)-- if you've never seen him struggling against his own writing, that's even more crushing.

It reminds me of some of Oliver Sacks' case studies, as mentioned before, but also of some amazing patients described by V.S. Ramachandran, who come up with incredible explanations for paralyzed limbs-- "Whose arm is it, then?" "My brother's." The human brain comes up with incredible defense mechanisms in the face of evidence that contradicts one's own subjective experience-- Clive's notebook is a prime example.
posted by supercres at 8:57 AM on January 29, 2007

I'll show this to the next person that advises me to "be in the moment" and "live for the present." I think it is my first wife who says that, when I find my way home at night, always wanting me to interact with her three kids.
posted by hal9k at 9:01 AM on January 29, 2007

I wonder if the makers of Fifty First Dates know about him?

That's exactly what I thought of too, hippugeek.
posted by amyms at 9:58 AM on January 29, 2007

Sounds a lot like Patient H.M., except this case seems a lot worst because of the extensive retrograde amensia. I remember reading an article about H.M., and how the nurse had to tell him that his parents just died and how distraught he was. Then he would ask where his parents were the next day and she'd tell him the same thing, and after a while she'd just stop telling him. I guess there are advantages to living an airy in-the-now existence, of course those advantages are nothing compared to what you lose.
posted by vodkadin at 10:42 AM on January 29, 2007

What a lovely couple.
posted by stammer at 10:49 AM on January 29, 2007

Looking on Wikipedia, I see that they were married just a year before his memory went. Deborah Wearing is possibly the more interesting character here.
posted by stammer at 11:04 AM on January 29, 2007

Holy shit. What a lovely person, all the same.
posted by maxwelton at 11:04 AM on January 29, 2007

So is it because he can't recall, or because he doesn't store anything?

I suspect that the mechanism which says to his network "something important happens now, be modifiable" is broken.
posted by vertriebskonzept at 11:08 AM on January 29, 2007

I can't believe this far into the thread, no one's mentioned Memento.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 11:48 AM on January 29, 2007

vertriebskonzept, it's mostly the storage. His hippocampi were practically destroyed by the encephalitis, so as soon as some impression fleets from the "now", the working memory, there is no pathway to store it away, and it just disappears.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 11:53 AM on January 29, 2007

The fact that he seems to have some post-illness implicit memories, such as the reunification of Germany or the fact that he is ill, might be partially explained by the fact that a tiny part of his right hippocampus remains intact - the right hemisphere is more involved with implicit, holistic knowledge. Missing the left hippocampus means he doesn't have any real confidence about this knowledge, however - he is basically lost about these facts and needs constant confirmation about them.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 11:55 AM on January 29, 2007

Note that the comment on left-brain/right-brain function is a broad generalisation, and somewhat disputed. Just a quick and dirty man-on-the-street analysis.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:06 PM on January 29, 2007

And as men on the street go, you're quicker and dirtier than most.
posted by cortex at 12:12 PM on January 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

I can't believe this far into the thread, no one's mentioned Memento.

Probably because in Memento, he had long term memory. Wearing doesn't remember anyone but his wife. He doesn't even recognize his own grown children.
posted by dobbs at 12:12 PM on January 29, 2007

I remember watching this in a psychology class in college. I've always found the syndrome utterly tragic, and couldn't quite believe they went ahead and made an Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore movie based on a similar premise.
posted by staggernation at 12:24 PM on January 29, 2007

As I watched those (thank you for the post) I wondered if he picks up on slow changes. Like his wife aging. There was a part where he said he had no idea if his hair was grey (it was at that point) as he'd never seen it before. Seeing his wife as a middle aged woman, rather than the young woman from years ago, I wonder if this is jarring to him? Or is it the kind of detail that the brain (or love) glosses over?
posted by Shutter at 12:32 PM on January 29, 2007

Also, excellent use of the Love Tag. His wife comes accross as completely amazing.
posted by Shutter at 12:33 PM on January 29, 2007

Probably because in Memento, he had long term memory. Wearing doesn't remember anyone but his wife. He doesn't even recognize his own grown children.

No, this is basically what he had in Memento; to make the story work they stretched his periods of short term memory from 30 seconds to 10-15 minutes but the character, if he had them, wouldn't have recognized grown up kids if he'd known them as children before his accident.

I read about this form of amnesia a bit when the movie came out because my mum had told me all about her college friend who was in a car accident and came out of it with this form of amnesia. Mum had to stop visiting after a few years as her friend couldn't deal with mum's aging and would start getting upset and confused.
posted by Silentgoldfish at 12:35 PM on January 29, 2007

What a weird experience for you mother.
posted by aerotive at 1:11 PM on January 29, 2007

Shutter writes "Also, excellent use of the Love Tag. "

I agree, but I can't take credit for it: matteo used it in his post, where geekyguy picked up on it.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 1:14 PM on January 29, 2007

This is really amazing, thanks.

I think Deborah Wearing really is an impressive woman, especially to return to Clive and re-marry him after years of his continually waking. Amazing.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 1:59 PM on January 29, 2007

I was going to mention Memento earlier, but I noticed that goodnewsfortheinsane had already included it as a tag.
posted by clevershark at 5:26 PM on January 29, 2007

Deborah Wearing is possibly the more interesting character here.

he's the luckiest unluckiest man in the world.
posted by 6am at 7:19 PM on January 29, 2007

I find it really striking, in the videos, how he describes his unconsciousness as like death and every moment of remembered consciousness as being really awake for the first time. His diaries really do get more and more frantic, crossing out the previous entries that he has awoken to say that no, now he is awake, really awake—a frantic attempt at a true testimonial to that feeling of coming into being.

How Lazarus must have felt, that awakening into the morning.
posted by felix grundy at 8:57 PM on January 29, 2007

The passage in the Telegraph article about Clive's rediscovery of music was almost as intriguing as it was gorgeous.
posted by the_bone at 9:50 PM on January 29, 2007

Showing a video about this guy is a great way to silence everyone in an abnormal psychology lecture, as the students all think about how lucky they are, and how frustrated he must be.
posted by oaf at 12:40 AM on January 30, 2007

I read the Telegraph article. I'm very deeply moved. When she divorced and moved, I thought horrible things about her. Then she returned. At least he doesn't suffer much. The suffering is for those who care for him.
posted by Goofyy at 3:57 AM on January 30, 2007

When she divorced and moved, I thought horrible things about her

Wow, I can't even imagine passing judgment on someone in her position. I felt a little weird about the fact that they got back together because she found God, but whatever works for her is OK with me.
posted by languagehat at 5:58 AM on January 30, 2007

My dad is finally coming out of something like this, too. Luckily it has only taken a month so far and he is still making remarkable progress. It is, without a doubt, the most disconcerting, heartbreaking thing I've ever gone through. The only thing that makes it bearable is seeing the progress he makes each day - it gives me hope for a full recovery, even though it's statistically very unlikely. I can't imagine how someone could stay sane and maintain their hope through so many years when he showed so little improvement for so long. My heart goes out to this woman and all the people who love Clive.
posted by vytae at 9:48 AM on January 30, 2007

(Also, thank you so much for posting this. It's remarkably comforting to know that other people are dealing with this kind of thing, even if the outcome isn't especially good.)
posted by vytae at 9:55 AM on January 30, 2007

Q: What's Clive Wearing?
A: He can't remember!

Q: What's Clive Wearing now?
A: Huh? Who's he?

Sorry, sorry. Insensitive, I know. Just forget I said anything.
posted by Eideteker at 12:14 PM on January 30, 2007

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