Clive Wearing: The Man With the 30 Second Memory
Before his amnesia came, he was a musicologist, conductor, tenor, and keyboardist.
It all started nearly thirty years ago when Wearing contracted a herpes virus that attacks the nervous system. The effects of the illness were so great that, now, he lacks the ability to form new memories, and he also cannot recall aspects of his past memories. According to his wife, his memory lasts between 7 and 30 seconds. Every day, he feels that he’s “waking up” several times a minute, as his consciousness is essentially rebooting. Indeed, it is said that he recurrently believes that he has just woken from a coma.
Because he has no memory, and he has the constant perception of just waking up, he constantly writes this down in his journal.
The book is filled with line after line of something you’d imagine in a beautiful tragedy — statements like “I am now FULLY awake” or “I have been dead until NOW.”
According to reports from the BBC, each time that he sees his wife, he greets her with rapture. This is because he generally believes that he has not seen her in years, even though she may have just left for a moment. Similarly, they report that, when he goes out dining with his wife, he can remember the name of the food (e.g. chicken); however, he cannot link it with taste, as he forgets what food he is eating by the time it has reached his mouth.
Fortunately, because his muscle memory was not damaged, he can still play the piano perfectly.
His ability to perceive what he saw and heard was unimpaired. But he did not seem to be able to retain any impression of anything for more than a blink. Indeed, if he did blink, his eyelids parted to reveal a new scene. The view before the blink was utterly forgotten. Each blink, each glance away and back, brought him an entirely new view. I tried to imagine how it was for him. . . . Something akin to a film with bad continuity, the glass half empty, then full, the cigarette suddenly longer, the actor’s hair now tousled, now smooth. But this was real life, a room changing in ways that were physically impossible.
If you wish to learn more, you can get the book to hear his amazing (and heartbreaking) story).
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