In the pages of my graduate school neuroscience textbook he was known only as H.M., the mysterious man (we inexplicably assumed) whose misfortune led to a breakthrough in our understanding of the brain and provided both an elegant and gruesome illustration of the brain’s modular nature. In 2008, the year I defended, H.M. died at the age of 82 and his full name was revealed. At the AAAS Annual Meeting last month a panel of researchers who had personally studied the most famous patient in neurological history gathered to discuss Henry Gustav Molaison and how his case has impacted what we know about how the brain forms memories.
Molaison suffered from severe epileptic seizures. They forced him to drop out of high school, not because they were so incapacitating he couldn’t function, but because they evoked a different kind of torment – from fellow schoolboys. He went on to graduate high school, but years later, while working on the assembly line at a typewriter company Molaison’s seizures became so frequent he had to quit his job. When anti-epileptic drugs failed, the Molaison family sought the help ofWilliam Beecher Scoville, a neurosurgeon at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut.
The year was 19