If we have no memory, we are adrift—because memory anchors us to the past, interprets the present, and charts a course for the future.
Consider the case of Jimmie, who had the rare neurological disorder called Korsakoff syndrome. This disorder affects the memory. His story is told in the book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Dr. Oliver Sacks, who met him in 1975. Jimmie walked into the doctor's office with a cheery "Hiya, Doc! Nice morning! Do I take this chair here?" He was cooperative and answered all the questions as Dr. Sacks checked his memory. He remembered his childhood home, friends, school, and the Navy, which he had joined in 1943. He was stationed on a sub and could still remember Morse code. He recalled vividly his service in the Navy through the end of the war in 1945, but that's where the memories stopped. Completely stopped.
Jimmie couldn't remember anything from 1945 to the present (1975)—30 years. He thought that Truman was president, the periodic table stopped with uranium, and no one had been to the moon. He had no recollection of anything that happened more than a few minutes in the past. He thought he was 19 years old, not his actual age of 49 years. Dr. Sacks showed him a mirror, and Jimmie gazed at the middle-aged man with bushy gray hair. He was shocked! In Dr. Sacks' words: "He suddenly turned ashen and gripped the sides of the chair. 'What's going on? What's happened to me? Is this a nightmare? Am I crazy?'"
Sacks calmed him by taking him to a window to watch a ballgame in a park below, and he removed the bewitching mirror. Sacks left him alone for two minutes and then returned. Jimmie was still at the window gazing at the kids in the park. He wheeled around.
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