Rest in peace Henry Molaison

Anyone who has taken an Intro Psych class has heard of him, though–ironically– you might not remember. Henry Molaison, known to us as HM, passed away this week. HM had severe epilepsy and in 1953 received the first and last bilateral temporal lobectomy. Though reducing the frequency of seizures, the surgery had profound effects on his long-term memory.

It is a gross oversimplification to say HM completely lost his long-term memory. Simply put, HM lost his ability to form new, explicit long-term memories. He retained memory from before the surgery, as well as the ability to learn new skills, what we call implicit memories.

That he lost so much with an innocent swipe of the knife, and then that he hadn’t lost nearly as much as we thought, has made him arguably the most important patient in Psychology. Certainly that can be said for Cognitive Psychologists.

My initial interest in Psychology, and memory specifically, was due to HM, Phinneas Gage, and other patients whose misfortune told us there was something knowable in that black box in our heads. I’m not particularly sentimental, but I do feel a real sense of loss with HM’s passing.

Here’s his NYT obit

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