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Permanent Present Tense: The Unforgettable Life of the Amnesic Patient, H. M.by Suzanne Corkin
Synopses & Reviews
In 1953, 27-year-old Henry Gustave Molaison underwent an experimental psychosurgical” procedure — a targeted lobotomy — in an effort to alleviate his debilitating epilepsy. The outcome was unexpected — when Henry awoke, he could no longer form new memories, and for the rest of his life would be trapped in the moment.
But Henry's tragedy would prove a gift to humanity. As renowned neuroscientist Suzanne Corkin explains in Permanent Present Tense, she and her colleagues brought to light the sharp contrast between Henry's crippling memory impairment and his preserved intellect. This new insight that the capacity for remembering is housed in a specific brain area revolutionized the science of memory. The case of Henry — known only by his initials H. M. until his death in 2008 — stands as one of the most consequential and widely referenced in the spiraling field of neuroscience. Corkin and her collaborators worked closely with Henry for nearly fifty years, and in Permanent Present Tense she tells the incredible story of the life and legacy of this intelligent, quiet, and remarkably good-humored man. Henry never remembered Corkin from one meeting to the next and had only a dim conception of the importance of the work they were doing together, yet he was consistently happy to see her and always willing to participate in her research. His case afforded untold advances in the study of memory, including the discovery that even profound amnesia spares some kinds of learning, and that different memory processes are localized to separate circuits in the human brain. Henry taught us that learning can occur without conscious awareness, that short-term and long-term memory are distinct capacities, and that the effects of aging-related disease are detectable in an already damaged brain.
Undergirded by rich details about the functions of the human brain, Permanent Present Tense pulls back the curtain on the man whose misfortune propelled a half-century of exciting research. With great clarity, sensitivity, and grace, Corkin brings readers to the cutting edge of neuroscience in this deeply felt elegy for her patient and friend.
Corkin's lucid, well-organised telling of Henry's story merges intimate case history with an account of the current scientific understanding and how it was reached.” London Review of Books
"Corkin has written a compelling memoir of that bond between scientist and subject, Permanent Present Tense, a relationship that Henry once described neatly: "It's a funny thing — you just live and learn. I'm living and you're learning.” The Guardian Weekly
Corkin, who worked with HM for half a century, has now written Permanent Present Tense. She has woven her memories of her experimental and personal dealings with HM into a panoramic history of the past 60 years of the neuropsychology of memory. The result is superb. Because she was such an integral part of this history, Permanent Present Tense is also her intellectual autobiography.” Nature
"Both a compassionate biography and a lucid account of the advances in neuroscience made possible through one man's personal tragedy." Kirkus Reviews
The amnesic patient H.M. is arguably the most important case in the history of neuropsychology. Nobody knew him better than Suzanne Corkin, who has written an engaging and insightful account of H.M.'s memory loss that combines personal stories with accessible discussions of memory research. Just as important, Permanent Present Tense presents a sympathetic portrait of the person named Henry Molaison.” Daniel L. Schacter, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers
A fascinating account of perhaps the most important case study in the history of neuroscience, rich with implications for our understanding of the brain, our experience, and what it means to be human.” Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Stuff of Thought
Drawing on her unique investigations over more than four decades, neuroscientist Suzanne Corkin relates the fascinating story of how one severely amnesic man transformed our understanding of mind, brain, and memory.” Howard Gardner, author of Multiple Intelligences
Suzanne Corkin has written an enjoyable and sensitive story of H.M.'s life and what it has taught us about memory. Millions of patients have been the source of advances in science but few are celebrated as individuals. We learn through H.M. that Our brains are like hotels with eclectic arrays of guests — homes to different kinds of memory, each of which occupies its own suite of rooms.'” Philip A. Sharp, Institute Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
The best way to understand memory is to witness the ways it can disassemble. In this remarkable book, Suzanne Corkin gifts us with a rare insider's view, revealing how a man who could not remember his immediate past so profoundly influenced science's future.” David Eagleman, neuroscientist and New York Timesbestselling author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain
Permanent Present Tense tells the incredible story of Henry Gustave Molaison, known only as H. M. until his death in 2008. In 1953, at the age of twenty-seven, Molaison underwent a dangerous psychosurgical” procedure intended to alleviate his debilitating epilepsy. The surgery went horribly wrong, and when Molaison awoke he was unable to store new experiences. For the rest of his life, he would be trapped in the moment. But Molaison's tragedy would prove a gift to humanity. The amazing specificity of his impairment shed new light on the functions and structures of the human brain, revolutionizing neuroscience. Today, the case of H. M. stands as one of the most consequential and widely referenced in this fast-expanding field.
Renowned neuroscientist Suzanne Corkin worked with Molaison for nearly five decades. In Permanent Present Tense, she tells the full story of his life and legacy, leading her reader to the cutting edge of neuroscience with great clarity, sensitivity, and grace.
About the Author
Suzanne Corkin is Professor of Behavioral Neuroscience and head of the Corkin Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her ongoing research focuses on the biological bases of human memory systems; cognitive and neural characteristics of healthy aging; and natural history and pathophysiology of degenerative disorders, such as Alzheimers disease and Parkinsons disease. Corkin is the author of nine textbooks and numerous scientific articles.
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