Henry's Brain
January 25, 2006 9:20 PM   Subscribe

The strange story of Henry M. Henry was able to hold information in storage for very short periods of time. Most people can retain about seven pieces of information (a telephone number, for example) in memory for about thirty seconds, and Henry scored normally on these kinds of tasks. Thus, his working memory (or scratch-pad memory) seemed unaffected by the loss of his hippocampus. The main problem for Henry was converting short-term memories into permanent storage, a process called consolidation. Henry's case is one of the most studied brain-damage cases [PDF] ever. A fascinating story about one man's struggle with brain surgery.
posted by KevinSkomsvold (17 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Apologies in advance for the small tag; the paragraph summed things up rather well and I wanted to include it.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:21 PM on January 25, 2006

so that's what inspired memento. or is it?
posted by shmegegge at 9:28 PM on January 25, 2006

Erm, isn't this guy one of Oliver Sacks' "Man who mistook his wife for a hat" cause celebres? I seem to remember reading about him in a Sacks book.
posted by killdevil at 9:30 PM on January 25, 2006

Good guess shmegegge - From IMDB for "Memento"

The medical condition experienced by Leonard in this film is a real condition called Anterograde Amnesia - the inability to form new memories after damage to the hippocampus. During the 1950s, doctors treated some forms of epilepsy by removing parts of the temporal lobe, resulting in the same memory problems.

Loosely based, perhaps.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:33 PM on January 25, 2006

The main character in Memento (2001) experiences anterograde amnesia from a blow to the head:
Since he can't experience the passage of time, his wife's death is always fresh to him; and so he is passionately determined to find the remaining intruder and kill him. He reminds himself of what he's doing through a series of notes, a pocketful of Polaroid snapshots with helpful information written on them and (for really important stuff) tattoos. We see that he's developed a number of clues to the killer's identity, each of these burned onto his body. The killer's name is John or James and his last name begins with a "G." He's a drug dealer; Leonard even has the killer's license-plate number. As the movie lurches backward, we see how and where he gleans each piece of the puzzle.
posted by cenoxo at 9:34 PM on January 25, 2006

reliving his grief over the death of his mother every time he hears about it.

Shit. Poor guy.
posted by Gator at 9:35 PM on January 25, 2006

Previously on Mefi: The Death of Yesterday.

How soon we forget...
posted by cenoxo at 9:41 PM on January 25, 2006

Nothing against the original post, but people interested in HM would be better served by looking at Sue Corkin's publications.

Bottom of the page has a section devoted to HM with pdf downloads.
posted by Smegoid at 10:04 PM on January 25, 2006

Oops, direct link, even better.
posted by Smegoid at 10:04 PM on January 25, 2006

Thanks for the supplemental links Smegoid.

Also, the first link in my post should be this. Accidently linked to the third page.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:18 PM on January 25, 2006

This guy is totally famous in the psychology world. No one calles him Henry, however. - he's just "HM".
posted by sirvesa at 11:13 PM on January 25, 2006

He enjoys doing crossword puzzles and watching detective shows on television.

The same crossword puzzle and same detective show over and over?
posted by pracowity at 2:29 AM on January 26, 2006

Double post.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:15 PM on January 26, 2006

posted by Gator at 12:16 PM on January 26, 2006

I’m with killdevil, I thought I saw this in "Man who mistook his wife for a hat."

Pretty good read tho.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:17 PM on January 26, 2006

@sirvesa: Same in college neurology/neurobiology departments. Stories of HM, Phineas Gage (3' iron rod blown clean through man's head), and other modified behavior injuries and defects are frequently told in the first weeks of brain physiology/anatomy courses.
posted by junesix at 3:42 PM on January 26, 2006

Speaking of interesting case histories like this, though, does anyone have any recommendations of books beyond Man who Mistook? I really enjoyed that one and I'm wondering where to go next.
posted by sugarfish at 7:27 PM on January 26, 2006

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