The Brain Observatory

edit–they are at it again!

As I write (so if you hurry, you can see it), the Brain Observatory is sectioning a brain. Last time I watched them, it was when they were sectioning HM’s Brain. This time, it’s a dolphin brain.

Aaaand, it looks like they are closing up for the evening, or getting ready to. Their schedule:

The dolphin brain is pretty cool–far more gyri and sulci than I would have imagined!

Below is the verse I wrote for HM, on the occasion of his brain sectioning. It has the distinction of being the only one of however many hundreds of poems or verses I have written, to be unrhymed. I’ve said before, it’s not what I usually do.

For H. M.

My day goes by in bits and pieces,
The crossword puzzle, conversations,
Doctors asking, running tests;
They seem to know me; I don’t know how.
And who is that old man in the mirror?

My day goes by as days do, I suppose,
I watch TV, play bingo, read…
Today the crossword is very easy!
I don’t remember when I moved here—
And who is that old man in the mirror?

My day – I don’t recall yesterday—
A pleasant day, with pleasant friends,
I know my way through this house,
But I do not remember moving here,
And who is that old man in the mirror?

My day goes by in one-act plays
Old plots forgotten with the new,
I never know the actors’ names—
Each one is nice enough, it seems;
But who is that old man in the mirror?

Today, I’m feeling very tired;
I don’t know why—I’m much too young
To stiffly walk, to ache to move—
I must have worked hard yesterday.
I feel like that old man in the mirror.

Henry Molaison, known to biology and psychology students everywhere as “H. M.”, is perhaps the single most famous patient in history. Perhaps. He was studied for over half a century, from when he underwent psychosurgery in 1953 to alleviate epileptic convulsions, until his death last year. Henry had an extreme case of anterograde amnesia–the inability to form new episodic memories. He could learn new tasks, but would not know that he had learned them (his performance surprised himself!). He taught us, or allowed us to learn, more about how remembering works than we had ever suspected before. Abilities we thought as single were exposed as many parallel abilities, and not always the neat splits our introspective accounts may have predicted. (that may not be expressed well. It is late.)


  1. F (entropy) says

    Very cool. And I was just watching a bit about Clive Wearing yesterday. How neatly coincidental!

  2. embertine says

    Beautiful. There was a programme last year fronted by Michale Mosley that talked about memory, and HM played a prominent part in it. It was weirdly sad to watch, considering how content he seemed. But fascinating, of course.

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