Mysterious, amnesiac man in Norway
April 8, 2014 9:30 PM   Subscribe

Man found in Oslo with total memory loss - He speaks 4 languages, including Russian, and calls himself John Smith.
Previous "mystery people" discussions: Seattle and UK
posted by slater (32 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
With a name like John Smith I suspect he is a London-based designer of moderately-priced, moderate-quality fashion for men. Just dump him in Mayfair and he'll find his own way home.
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:32 PM on April 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

Aren't people with this sort of "total memory loss" usually faking?
posted by Justinian at 9:40 PM on April 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

"I hate my wife and I've got a lot of bad debt."
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:42 PM on April 8, 2014 [15 favorites]

"usually", possibly. But there are enough actual cases of this that while it may be logical to assume they are lying, it is unfair to those who actually are suffering from this to do so.
posted by hippybear at 9:43 PM on April 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

The article says he has an accent in English and only that he "understands" the other languages... I wonder if this means he isn't speaking in those other languages, or that it's difficult to determine whether he has an accent in them for some reason?
posted by XMLicious at 9:46 PM on April 8, 2014

If he were only trying to start a new life and was already in Norway, couldn't he have taken a new name and told some vague lies instead of making claims of complete amnesia? He's not a helpless child, and he's not trying to say he's anyone important (like a Rockefeller or someone's long-lost relative). I don't see what an amnesia claim would even get him if it weren't true.
posted by rue72 at 9:49 PM on April 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

When they write that he arrived in "bad shape", perhaps that's a hint that he might be an alcoholic and drank his way into anterograde amnesia.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:51 PM on April 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm guessing "understands" means he has the ability to grasp meaning when spoken to but is unable to speak the language itself. That is not an uncommon thing. Given enough exposure in a concentrated period of time, I can understand Spanish, but I cannot speak more than 1st grade foreign language exposure sentences in it.

That he's in Oslo and they are reporting an Eastern European accent with his English only means that a lot of people in Europe has a pretty decent background also in English, and that is the lingua franca (oh the irony!) they are using to communicate with him.
posted by hippybear at 9:51 PM on April 8, 2014

I don't see what an amnesia claim would even get him if it weren't true.

Especially after four months of police investigation which have led to an international release of his picture with his permission.
posted by hippybear at 9:53 PM on April 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

These cases are fascinating. If no one ever comes forward to identify him, how could you ever really prove he's lying or telling the truth? (Aside from catching him doing something incriminating)
posted by gottabefunky at 11:03 PM on April 8, 2014

So that's what happened to the Russian!
posted by Apocryphon at 11:30 PM on April 8, 2014 [7 favorites]

Aren't people with this sort of "total memory loss" usually faking?

Without having a Vulcan mind meld at hand we're left with presentation. The amnesia or fugue state is not something we can really definitively say is consciously faked, but patients generally do seem to end up in these states due to external stress factors. As a dissociative disorder there is a relationship to dissociative identity disorder, popularly "multiple personality", and this might be something like the creation of an empty shell of an alternate personality, with its own sense of self and volition as well as other personality quirks -- just no memory to go with it. As such it's quite possible that this null self might act at odds to the primary self just as multiple personalities in an individual might war with each other. It might be a way of forcing the primary self to confront the stressful situation, or alternately, a way for the secondary self to punish or undercut the primary self as a means to some sort of psychological end. I mean, we all know of cases where someone may have done this to themselves (e.g. trying to get caught doing some treachery or crime) without ever actually switching personalities, so it's not impossible that a personality insulated from the original might do that.

The main problem with this diagnosis, aside from changing names and definitions over years and editions of the DSM, is the rarity of the condition.
posted by dhartung at 11:47 PM on April 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

The main problem with this diagnosis is that it sounds like a fantastic art project.
posted by artof.mulata at 1:03 AM on April 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm not seeing a ton of empathy here or on the Disqus comments. All joking aside, what if this happened to you or a loved one? It may be rare, and the stuff of action movies, but I bet in real life it is extremely frightening and disorienting. I hope there's a happy ending.
posted by xenophile at 2:44 AM on April 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

I hope there's nothing wrong with him. I'd far rather be a con artist than profoundly amnesiac, myself.
posted by Segundus at 3:25 AM on April 9, 2014

I don't see what an amnesia claim would even get him if it weren't true.

Immediate, short-term relief.As a bonus, attention and diminished responsibilities. That's what this sort of thing gets you.

I have no idea what's going on with this individual - and the alcoholism hint seems the most likely direction. Meanwhile, less mysterious cases of dementia are all around. If whatever is going on with this man is helpful in managing memory problems, that's interesting.

However, I tend to refrain from wow this is fascinating reverie until the extraordinary claim has more weight.

Grandpa Joe had an interesting condition that left him bedridden, waited on hand and foot for years and years by his daughter and grandson, and then one day he could not only walk but also enjoy a day-long tour at a candy manufacture's. Might have been a medical mystery, but on that one I lean toward not.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 4:58 AM on April 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Blazecock Pileon: When they write that he arrived in "bad shape", perhaps that's a hint that he might be an alcoholic and drank his way into anterograde amnesia.

Maybe, but on the other hand anyone might be in bad shape if they'd been found lying in snowdrift in Oslo. The list of causes of Korsakoff's syndrome in your link is frightening! (Though I would be surprised if he had morning sickness or had been bitten by a Japanese centipede.)

Poor guy. Given his cooperation with the police, I'm inclined to think he's not faking it. Whether he's an alcoholic, a con artist, or suffering from some other medical condition, I hope things are cleared up soon.

Here's the wiki page for Andreas Grassl, the so-called Piano Man. It seems that once he recovered his identity, he went back home and left the limelight. I hope he's okay as well.
posted by daisyk at 4:59 AM on April 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

At least he's not Finnish, or my first thought would be to look for Aki Kaurismäki's involvement.

Whatever's going on with him, I hope it works out for the best.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 5:11 AM on April 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

And he has several black belts, can jump through windows and seems to outstep the national authorities.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 5:40 AM on April 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm not seeing a ton of empathy here or on the Disqus comments.

MetaFilter, like most of the internet, has a large amount of reflexive armchair cynicism. It saves you from embarrassment when things turn out to be frauds (in fact, you come to hope for that because you look worldly if you were an early naysayer to a hoax). It's the internet's version to the truth that a bureaucrat can almost never go wrong by saying 'no."

I've become more sympathetic to these stories (despite the various hoaxes) since I had a seizure where I experienced a split personality (or at least a temporary duplicated consciousness) and a sense of self without much in the way of memories to back it up. Thinking back to that, I think experiencing it as an ongoing state would be pretty horrifying.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:42 AM on April 9, 2014 [9 favorites]

as an FYI, dissassociative identity disorder (DID for short) is nothing like how it is portrayed in movies or tv shows. For an individual to dissociate for this length of time, and to this extent, as dhartung says, would be really really rare.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:45 AM on April 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Aren't people with this sort of "total memory loss" usually faking?

Perhaps, but keep in mind that we only hear the follow-up to the ones who are exposed as fakes. The people who genuinely have lost their memories just go on to sort out a new way to live their lives and that doesn't make the news again.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:49 AM on April 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

This other article suggests that he may have been bound and drugged. Pretty scary stuff if you are him.
Also from this article, he says: "At least I know I can't be a criminal, although I almost wish I was," he told NRK. "Then they would have found out who I was."
Man, the mind is a fascinating thing. He is relieved that he isn't a criminal; would a "hardened" criminal have a different perspective on his/her proclivities once all the stacks of circumstances and decisions have been erased from memory?
posted by staccato signals of constant information at 6:27 AM on April 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Wow, that article puts a whole new slant on things. It must be terrifying for him. Mind you, if I were in that situation I would be very insistent that I remembered nothing, least of all anything that could incriminate somebody else!
posted by daisyk at 8:04 AM on April 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

MetaFilter, like most of the internet, has a large amount of reflexive armchair cynicism.

There are good reasons for that.
posted by TedW at 11:35 AM on April 9, 2014

If this guy were faking it, no way in hell would he allow anyone to release his photos to the media, unless every single person he has ever met or known is dead.

Can we stop with the reflexive cynicism, please? At least without any evidence whatsoever to back it up?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:41 AM on April 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

The man, who calls himself 'John Smith', told Norway's NRK channel that he woke up with a three-day beard in hospital on December 15th, with cuts on his wrist as if they had been strapped.

"The cuts were deep and it took several months before the wounds healed," he said. "It was quite obvious that my hands had been tied together."
Henriksbø, who works for the violent and sexual crimes unit at the Norwegian police force, confirmed that the man had marks and injuries on his body [from the link provided by staccato signals of constant information]
Sounds like he was tortured.

That might do it.
posted by jamjam at 12:26 PM on April 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Apparently he's Czech. His parents and the Czech police have identified him: Norwegian article and Google translated version.
posted by flod logic at 12:37 PM on April 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I totally clicked the Norwegian article and was dismayed to find I couldn't read it. Yes, the google translate link makes sense now.

Man, this poor guy. What with the beatings and the cooperation, I'm sort of inclined to believe him. But then, I also would probably buy a bridge...
posted by chatongriffes at 2:25 PM on April 9, 2014

If he was indeed beaten, he may have suffered head injury, which is an event that is associated with the diagnosis. Generally amnesia without a physical cause affects only memories, not identity. The upside here is that psychogenic fugues are also generally "reversible", and usually only happen once in a patient's life.
Please be aware in any case I am simply a fascinated layman (well, and a diagnosed depressive).

Intriguingly, a literature review some years ago identified the related DID/MPD as appearing in the earliest modern medical literature from the 18th century, receiving a significant amount of attention around the turn of the last century, and then dropping off during the 20th century as Freudian psychoanalysis offered differing approaches to psychosis generally -- and then spiking again at the time of the novel and film Sybil, after which public interest may be sustaining the behavior/presentation and diagnosis. But also intriguingly, as the definition of DID has been one of the more contentious ones throughout the history of the DSM, past cases often seem not to fit modern criteria when examined closely.

As such I think this suggests that media attention, such as this man's case has received, may indeed be "creating" dissociative fugue conditions in a roundabout way. Troubling if true, but it's also unclear how one would objectively measure such a thing.

Note, one of the earliest cases of a dissociative fugue (that still seems to fit modern criteria) is that of Ansel Bourne^ -- whose name inspired Robert Ludlum. A carpenter, I suspect Bourne may have experienced a head injury (e.g. falling from a ladder), as 30 years before his fugue state he had had an episode of blindness, deafness, and muteness lasting nearly three weeks that spontaneously reverted.
posted by dhartung at 3:12 PM on April 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Memory loss mystery man identified as Czech on, in English.

(I'd love to wake up in Oslo someday, but not in a snowdrift in an industrial area.)
posted by kmennie at 6:57 PM on April 9, 2014

1. One of the more famous "amnesia" cases was Barre Cox, who I was acquainted with at the time of his disappearance.

2. I'm a physician. I have an elderly patient who we somehow discovered has two completely different names. We'll say they're "John Smith" and "David Jones". The man has some dementia and he is completely unable to explain how he has two names.
posted by neuron at 10:10 PM on April 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older Researchers Use Stem Cells to Regenerate Muscle...   |   Speak to me, Warriors! Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments