The short history of psychology has given the world such noble names as Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Ivan Pavlov. Their pioneering work helped us realize that we want to sleep with our mothers and we will salivate at the sound of a dinner bell even if no dinner is served. Jung gave us the Myers-Briggs personality test, practically revolutionizing the internet dating scene (I’m INTJ, by the way).
On the other side of the history of psychologists lies more noble names, or abbreviations at least. HM is perhaps the most famous psychological patient of the 20th century and all he had to do to achieve such notoriety and a score of obituaries upon his death in 2008 (“Unforgettable Amnesiac, dies at 82”—the New York Times couldn’t help themselves) was fall off his bike at age 9. The bike accident led to a severe case of epilepsy in our dear HM and in 1953, neurosurgeons performed radical surgery to alleviate the disorder. The names of the brain parts they removed are boring and science-y (it was the hippocampus, parahippocampal gyrus, and amygdala if you are interested) but the results were clear. Let’s just say neurosurgeons back then didn’t have a lot of the pieces of the brain puzzle we have today. Also, it is rumored that HM’s brain surgeons got a bit sauced before the afternoon operation.
The good news here: our friend HM’s epilepsy was cured! The bad news: he could no longer form new memories and so was forever doomed to live in each present moment. HM wasn’t diagnosed with this form of future amnesia four years, after he finally convinced his wife that no he wasn’t claiming to be an amnesiac. He really had forgotten to dry the dishes. HM’s widow remains skeptical.
Psychologists could not be happier. They started right away pranking the poor bloke. Electric hand buzzers when they shook HM’s hand, electrified toilet flushers, a friendly game of “here stick your finger in this small hole”—which then delivered an electric shock. After years of pranks they got down to business. HM, the unwitting human guinea pig, eventually helped inform most of the science we know about the brain’s functions.
After HM’s death, there were rumors of a Coen Brothers biopic. Much like Guy Ritchie’s “Memento”, the difficulty would be presenting HM’s life as he experiences it. So, from scene to scene, everything in the shot would be reordered as if it were being seen for the first time. To establish the true foreignness of HM’s life, at least three scenes were to be shot on the moon. Unfortunately the project fell through.
There have been rumors that HM was in fact the happiest man on earth. It has lead to underground cults and movements in order to rearrange lives to be more like his. Underground surgeons—some of them literally live in the sewers of Philadelphia—have performed the same surgery performed on HM in order to render people future-less. Other cult members have criticized the surgeries, saying they are shortsighted.
What credentials have I to write an article such as this? Well to start with, a degree in biology from the prestigious Uni of Florida. In fact I first heard of HM in a psychobiology class taught by Mr. Croc. Unfortunately, two weeks ago today he was eaten by the University of Florida’s alligator mascot, Albert. I’ll always remember you, Mr. Croc! Thanks for all you taught me!
–It’s a Beautiful Day, or is it? I Forgot