Do you know who HM was? He was one of the most important patients in the history of cognitive neuropsychology. In 1953 he had surgery for epilepsy. The surgery was successful in the sense that it controlled the epilepsy, but afterwards he had severe anterograde amenesia. This means that he couldn’t remember anything between the time of the surgery and a few moments before the present. Basically, he couldn’t form any new memories.
His name was William Scoville. He is important in the history of science because researchers knew exactly what part of his brain had been damaged to cause the amnesia, and more importantly, because he let scientists use him for a research subject for the rest of his life. Researchers learned a lot of fascinating information from studying him. For example, there were certain types of motor skills (e.g. moving around a new house) which he could learn.
William died in 2008, but he continues to help scientists who are studying how the brain works. he donated his brain to science. The Brain Observatory at UCSD is currently dissecting it to learn exactly what the damage was. If you go visit their website now, you can watch the brain being cut into slices over a webcam. I’m guessing that some of you won’t think that’s cool, but I think it’s pretty fascinating. You’ll have to tune in soon though, they’re almost done.
Here’s a good description of what they’re doing with HM’s brain and why it’s significant.