Totally Cerebral: Untangling the Mystery of Memory
- Source: Transistor
How has the understanding of the mysterious tissue between our ears changed in the past 50 years? In her Totally Cerebral episodes on Transistor, neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki introduces the scientists who have uncovered some of the deepest secrets about how our brains make us who we are.
Suzuki begins by talking with groundbreaking experimental psychologist Brenda Milner who, in the 1950s, completely changed our understanding of the parts of the brain important for forming new long-term memories. Through her observation and careful study of patients with profound amnesia, Milner wrote a paper in 1957 that broke with the accepted theories about memory, and blew open the entire field of neuroscience.
Inside the Episode: HM as a Young Man
Brenda Milner was born in 1918, and is still working from the same wooden chair where she wrote her pioneering paper on Patient HM and memory in her office at McGill University in Montreal. In fact, if you listen carefully in the episode you may hear the faint squeak of her wooden desk chair, which she has used for more than 50 years. Milner has received numerous awards for her work, including the Kavli Prize in 2014.
Patient HM is perhaps the most famous amnesic patient in history. He had experimental surgery in 1953 to address his severe epilepsy, and when he woke up it was immediately clear that something was horribly wrong.
For 47 years, Suzanne Corkin, a former student of Brenda Milner, studied Patient HM in her lab at MIT. She’s the author of Permanent Present Tense: The Unforgettable Life of the Amnesic Patient HM.
Transistor is a transformative STEM podcast from PRX. Three scientist hosts — microbiologist Christina Agapakis, astrophysicist Michelle Thaller, and neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki — report on curiosities and current events in and beyond their fields. Sprinkled among their episodes are special science stories from around the globe. Presented with support from the Sloan Foundation.
This episode was hosted by Wendy Suzuki and produced by Julie Burstein, with editing and sound design by Derek John. Wendy Suzuki’s book Healthy Brain, Happy Life, went on sale May 19, 2015.