May 20, 2014

Auckland Writers Festival 2014: "Trouble in Mind" with Jenni Ogden

Guest post by Tim, Readers Services, Central City Library.

The crowd waiting to hear Jenni Ogden speak was large and noisy. I could hardly hear the Black Sabbath song I was trying to listen to. There were people outside the room talking loudly. A man sat down to my left and I wondered if I knew him vaguely. Everyone seemed distracted. Then we all turned to look because the distinguished academic with a soothing voice came on stage to introduce Jenni Ogden -- renowned neuropsychologist and author of Trouble in Minda selection of case histories of people with damage to their brains of one kind or another.

When Ogden came on, her energy and wit and enviable ease with talking (I have two left hemispheres, she quipped) caught the crowd’s attention and held it throughout. She asked us to raise our hands if we knew someone affected by brain trauma. Most of us did. She spoke of her time at MIT studying the most famous brain in the world -- the brain that belonged to the man known as HM in text books, Henry Molaison. His hippocampus had been removed in 1957 in an experimental procedure intended to cure him of epilepsy, a procedure that also robbed him of the ability to create new memories.

Ogden described how HM was awake during the procedure, but because he had been sedated was probably too drowsy to notice this ability disappear -- but would you even notice this? When she knew him it was years later, but time had not really passed for HM, if the measurement of time is the laying down of memories, as Ogden argued. HM had a note in his pocket that he would happen upon every now and then which read "Dad is dead Mom is well". Every time it was (sad) news to him.

Ogden also described a woman who had a hole in her brain, and another woman who, because of a brain tumour, came to disregard anything to her left -- including her own left arm. The man to my left uttered in surprise “She was a friend of mine.”

I left feeling a little more fragile of mind maybe, but excited to read Trouble in Mind. And I wondered, too, if Jenni Ogden knows some arcane neuropsychological secret the rest of us don’t know -- the kind that keeps someone irreverent and energetic in perpetuity. Maybe it’s in the book.

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 23:37


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