Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Amnesic-confabulatory syndrome

Now that Ruth Padel has stepped down, we won't get any Oxford lectures on poetry and science - so I thought I'd step in to fill the void, as usual. This is from Boing Boing:

On the Neurophilosophy blog, a fascinating look at confabulatory hypermnesia, a rare disorder in which people with various kinds of amnesia (including amnesia resulting from alcoholism and Vitamin B1 deficiencies) invent a continuous stream of detailed, fictitious events to fill in the gaps in their memory. The write up comes from a paper published in the journal Cortex:
Most strikingly, LM confabulated plausible answers to questions about both his personal life and public events, which would normally elicit from most people an answer of "I don't know". When the researchers asked him "Who won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1980?" he replied "Fernandel"; when asked what he had for dinner on Tuesday two weeks ago, he answered "Steak with french fries"; and when asked "Do you remember what you did on March 13th, 1985?" he replied "We spent the day at the Senart Forest."

LM thus has a "pure" amnesic syndrome, in that his impairment is not associated with other cognitive deficits which might interfere with memory function. He scored normally on short-term memory tests, and the evaluation revealed mild, diffuse neurodegeneration, rather than damage in a specific part of the brain. False memories are not uncommon in patients with Korsakoff's syndrome - indeed the condition is also referred to as amnesic-confabulatory syndrome. However, the confabulations of such patients are sometimes extraordinary, bizarre and verging on being delusional. LM's confabulations, on the other hand, were always plausible, and therefore quite unlike those reported in other Korsakoff's patients.

Now my question for you is: don't poets resemble patients suffering from "pure" amnesic syndrome?

Pictured: A topic map of science, no poetry included; Bruce Springsteen singing "I Wanna Be Sedated"


Joel Brouwer said...

Lovely, Don. Another poetic malady you may find of interest: "Cotard's syndrome or Cotard's delusion comprises any one of a series of delusions ranging from the fixed and unshakable belief that one has lost organs, blood, or body parts to believing that one has lost one's soul or is dead. In its most profound form, the delusion takes the form of a professed belief that one does not exist." [] Reflecting on the Duino Elegies, some students and I wondered aloud whether the angels of those poems could be thought of in these terms. Being in a state of existence defined by the belief that you don't exist struck us as an apt description of "those self-mastered ones" Rainer so envies.

Michael Robbins said...

Did you know Bruce wrote "Hungry Heart" for the Ramones? They turned it down for some reason, which is great since we have his version, but not great since we don't have theirs. I want both. & now it's too late.

brian (baj) salchert said...

I say they need to be sedated, especially the "audience"; or are they part of the show?