Deconstructing Henry
November 4, 2010 12:12 AM   Subscribe

Dr. Jacopo Annese, sitting in front of his ventilated biosafety cabinet, a small paintbrush in his hand, teases apart a crumpled slice of brain.

Written by the grandson of the neurosurgeon who conducted Patient H.M.'s historical surgery, this article is a great follow-up to the San Diego Brain Observatory's live webcast from last December.

After sectioning and staining, it is time to reconstruct the brain to find the hidden clues that will explain H.M.'s story.

(Also previously)
posted by empatterson (6 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
An amazing article, thanks for posting it - can't believe there's no comments! Raises some very interesting questions about how (little) we understand memory - I suppose I live in an early 21st century bubble where I think we're very sophisticated, but this article brings home how basic our understanding of much of how the brain works is.
posted by Sifter at 3:29 AM on November 4, 2010

HM was originally operated on for epilepsy... as someone with epilepsy, this is exactly why I won't consider surgery as a treatment option. We simply don't know enough about what the brain does (and man, being a neurology patient for a whole decade has totally shown me how much trial and error it still is) and I don't want them cutting something important. Life or death? Sure! Have at it! But otherwise, I'll take the seizures thanks.
posted by sonika at 6:26 AM on November 4, 2010

Very interesting. It brings to mind this quote:
“If the brain were so simple we could understand it, we would be so simple we couldn’t.” – Lyall Watson
posted by exogenous at 8:11 AM on November 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

One thing I find fascinating about neural research is that so much of what we know about brain function comes through lone examples from people with brain damage. That is to say, we can only understand function of a piece until it goes missing. The excellent Phantoms in the Brain discusses this at length.

Incredible article. Thanks.
posted by Turkey Glue at 9:29 AM on November 4, 2010

Excellent post. The key importance of HM in advancing the field of neuroscience, particularly in memory research, cannot be overstated.
posted by joedan at 11:38 AM on November 4, 2010

Fascinating details about H.M. But, H.M. didn't "teach us everything we know about memory". Stupid magazine journalistic B.S. That puttering around with his brain is likely to start a "new revolution"--more hyperbole. The study of H.M. was enormously important but memory is now a vast field, studied in a lot of different ways, which is why it has progressed so far. And the science wouldn't come to an end if H.M.'s brain were dropped into the ocean from the cliffs overlooking Black's Beach tomorrow.
posted by cogneuro at 4:20 PM on November 4, 2010

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