Thursday, December 6, 2007

Clinical amnesia & ordinary consciousness

Is clinical amnesia just ordinary consciousness writ large. This thought came to me after reading an article in a recent New Yorker.
Oliver Sacks in his amnesia series in the New Yorker (September 24, 2007) describes a musician who cannot remember anything more than a few seconds. This is Clive Wearing, described as "an eminent English musician and musicologist," who became the "worst case of amnesia ever recorded."Even so he can conduct music and play well in an attentive talented manner. The interesting thing that comes to mind regarding the insights of Jan Cox as revealed in his writings is that this musician developed topics of conversation, a few topics, such as the solar system, and using these few topics, he could fit into a conversational setting. The amnesia was not less total, but the subject of the amnesia article had developed what his wife called "stepping stones" in his consciousness, -- these few topics which he repeated many many times. What occurred was that this amnesia and these few topics are not actually different from the condition Jan and others (one of the few instance where he did use a not totally original vocabulary), called 'being asleep,' the state of consciousness for normal people. If my surmise is correct then what the neurologists are flagging as defining characteristics of amnesia, are actually just a more extreme form of the human sleeping condition. The point is not that this poor fellow is not in a bad state, but rather that the description of his symptoms are merely those of ordinary consciousness, taken to a more extreme degree than is commonly seen on this planet of ours.

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