Life Without Memory



Will you like Henry Molaison  (HM), the man who lost his memory (after a  brain surgery) thrive even though you couldn’t learn new words,songs,recognize new faces…and suffered from a retrograde amnesia ( inability to recall events that happened or information learned before injury or a disease happened) ? (…/hm-the-man-no…). Personally, the very thought of loosing my memory sends horrible chills down my spine.What do we become without our memory? Unlike Friedrich Nietzsche who asserts that “a bad memory is advantageous  because it allows us to enjoy several times the same good thing for the first time”, I view memory loss as a real tragedy.Memory is the process involved in retaining,retrieving, and using information about stimuli, images,events,ideas, and skills after the original information is no longer present   (1). Memory  helps us remember names and faces, study material,daily schedule,places we’ve been, plans we made…; without memory, we will be socially awkward as we will not know how to behave ( e.g. keep track of the flow of a conversation…); loved ones and pets will be absolutely alien to us. How disturbing!

Memories are directly associated with parts of the cerebral cortex; it’s now known for example that  the frontal lobe is involved in short-term memories (mental  process of holding few items for a short period of time)  and retaining longer term memories which are not task-based; the temporal lobe “plays a key role in the formation of long-term memory” ( mental process of holding a huge capacity of information for a very long period of time); the medial temporal lobe is associated with declarative ( memory of facts and verbal knowledge) and episodic memories (memory of past personal experiences) ; the basal ganglia system is important in the formation and retrieval ( when we remember information stored in our long-term memory) of procedural memory ( where motor skills tasks information are stored) (

In order for an information  to be encoded ( stored in the long -term memory), Atkinson and Shiffrin theorized in 1968 that first, the stimulus ( input)  had to be held for a second in the sensory memory, then moved into the short-term memory for about 15-30 seconds  where  it ends up “discarded” or erased if not rehearsed (rehearsal is “a control process of repeating a stimulus over and over in order to hold it in your mind” (2). Later on, Baddeley showed that Atkinson and Shiffrin’s modal model of memory (composed of sensory memory,short-term memory and long-term memory) was limited as he proveded that it was possible to do more than one thing at the time ( e.g. keeping a short string of numbers in mind while reading).His model proposed a new name for short-term memory: working memory or the limited-capacity system for temporary storage and manipulation of information for complex tasks such as comprehension,learning and reasoning (3).

Unfortunately, for people plagued with the inability to form or retrieve memories (alzheimer,dementia…), it almost seems like none of this matters. What difference does working memory instead of short-term memory make? Because of their inability to encode information and retrieve it, they have no memory.I have never thought about this until now.Life without memory, how painfully  sad and confused it must be.How awkward it must be to not recognize people who, by all indications know you well. I agree with Mark Lawrence that: “Memory is all we are. Moments and feelings, captured in amber, strung on filaments of reason. Take a man’s memories and you take all of him. Chip away a memory at a time and you destroy him as surely as if you hammered nail after nail through his skull.”



  1. Goldstein, E. B. (2011). Cognitive psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday            Experience. Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.  P.116

2.    Id   P.118.

3.    Id  P.131-132.

6 thoughts on “Life Without Memory

  1. fxc5120

    Your blog really caught my attention because I work in a hospital with patients that suffer for Alzheimer’s. I find it so scary to think about losing my memory and not remembering my life but most of all my children. I see people every day come to visit their family members and unfortunately they are not remembered. I know it must be such a hard thing to deal with for the family members. The quote at the end of your blog is so true, I think without our memories we are no longer ourselves. With Alzheimer’s it would seem to me worse than just losing your memory instantly because you know it is coming in most cases. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. The disease kills brain cells by causing a steady decline in memory and mental function. I personally think I would feel like I’m drowning slowly if I were to find out I was losing my memory and there was nothing I could do about it. However, I think when people lose their memory rather quickly it would be harder on the families then them because it’s like the old saying “you can’t miss something you never had.” Which I would think them forgetting everything they probably don’t feel like the lost any thing (if that makes any sense). Either way I hope I never have to go through that from either end. Thank you for sharing, great post.

  2. Danielle Mary Olson

    This blog caught my attention because the thought of losing any part of my memory is very scary. A long with everyone else’s comments, it’s funny I came across this blog after watching, 50 First Dates. Now if you have never seen, 50 First Dates it is about a girl named Lucy who suffers from short term memory loss after being in a car accident. Now in the movie they refer to Lucy’s condition as “Goldfield’s Syndrome” but in real life it is called “Anterograde Amnesia”. “Anterograde Amnesia” is when there is damage to the brain, usually the hippocampus region. Basically people with this type of condition are stuck in time, they make new memories. However they don’t realize those memories even exist. Think about it, you have those memories, but you never realize you actually made those them. Also to be stuck in time, and never realizing the day you think we are having for the first time….is the day that you will continue to have everyday for the rest of your life. It’s a scary thought that how quick, something can change your memory and how you think and react to everything around you.


    Amnesia in ’50 First Dates’ (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2016, from

  3. Sabrina Williams

    I enjoyed reading your blog, mainly because it hits close to home for me. When I was about three maybe four, I was hospitalized for about a week or so do to some type of infection attacking my nervous system. The results from that was memory loss and irregular behavior for my age. These same symptoms returned when I was about seven years old. During that time many years ago, the doctors could not put a name to it.

    I went through a series of test, MRI and Cat Scans, and I also had to start rehab because I lost the ability to walk. Miraculously whatever attacked my nervous system only remained present for a little over a week both times. During my time there however, I was not able to remember certain people in my immediate family. Today, I cannot remember to many things in my childhood under the age of ten. I love the quote you used from Mark Lawrence because without memory a person is lost. I am just fortunate that my condition did not last longer than it did or get worse.
    This assignment prompted me to find a correlation between the nervous system and memory loss. I found this great article on a condition called Paraneoplastic Syndromes. I was taken back by seeing some of the symptoms that I personally experienced.

    Good Job on the Blog!!

    Mayo Clinic _ Diseases and Conditions: Paraneoplastic syndromes of the nervous system. 1998—2016 Foundation for medical education and research.

  4. Emily Sandoval

    Your post really spoke to me, because my father who is 70 is presenting symptoms of Alzheimer’s and we are all concerned. My dad is one of the strongest people I know; he worked for years as a telephone technician, beating the streets of New York for 12 hours each day for 28 years. It is painful for us as a family to notice his memory changing. Alzheimer’s disease is just one form of Dementia, but it usually happens to older people. The daunting part is that the process is unhurried; so, at times we think he is just having a rough day, or maybe he didn’t get enough sleep. I hate the fact that Alzheimer’s is irremediable; I cannot imagine him getting a diagnosis, because I know it is irreversible. My dad will talk for 20 minutes, but will repeat the same sentence 2-3 times during the conversation. I think he is fine for now, but eventually, I believe we will need to take him to the doctor’s office to get treatment. Our family is traditional, and we are not use to going to the doctor unless it is an absolute emergency. Currently, there are no cures for Alzheimer’s, but there are many preventative measures that can keep symptoms from getting worse for a time. It must be hard to be independent all of your life and then get to an age, where you need help with certain activities. I know it is hard for my father, and countless others, so I think we should live every day like it’s our last; one day it just might be the last day we remember. I hope someone finds a cure soon. Thank you for your post; it was very insightful.

    National Institute on Aging: Understanding Memory Loss: What to Do When You Have Trouble Remembering. (2013, May). Retrieved February 24, 2016, from

    National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health: Alzheimer’s Disease. (n.d.). Retrieved February 24, 2016, from

  5. abw5131

    I love how you ended your post with that quote. It’s a simply astounding quote. My great-grandfather passed of Alzheimer’s as well and it was such a sad, sad thing to have seen him go through. What amazes me is that although his brain couldn’t recall nearly 98% of his memories or recognize even his own wife, he still had little quirks here and there where he would be lucid and remember things. There was always just one thing that sticks in my mind that he remembered his dear black cat, whom I’ve now come to own since his passing. It was a peculiar thing for him to remember, and he only ever remembered it whenever my grandmother, his step-daughter was around. I attribute this to her being at his home nearly everyday to clean and help him out with taking care of the animals. The brain is a fascinating thing and it never ceases to amaze me at how it works and fails to work at the same time.

    Emily, I have to ask, if you see my comment as well, were there ever any little quirks where your step-mother remembered things or only remembered them at specific times or with specific people?

    Great blog! I really enjoyed it!

  6. Emily Ann Paige


    This blog is very simply written and easy to understand. My step-mother recently passed away from Alzheimer’s Disease and as I read your blog entry (and any book or article concerning memory) I find myself taking the information and applying it to her gradual decline. You write in paragraph one:

    “(1). Memory helps us remember names and faces, study material,daily schedule,places we’ve been, plans we made…; without memory, we will be socially awkward as we will not know how to behave ( e.g. keep track of the flow of a conversation…); loved ones and pets will be absolutely alien to us. How disturbing!”

    It is disturbing. When a person is suffering from memory loss they often try to hide it by making a joke or by abandoning enjoyable activities before their lack of ability is noticeable. For my step-mother, one of those things was writing/typing her cook book. Eventually, her personality also began to change. For all of us, she was the kindest person we ever met. Before she was hospitalized she became irritable and suspicious.
    Of course, we can lose our memory over stress or trauma too…and this is also disturbing. Memory is our way of connecting to our environment and the people around us in a meaningful way. Do you ever experience a friend saying, “You don’t remember that?” It feels awkward and awful, like there’s something wrong with you. It can also make you question your own reality. This implies there is a tight link between memory and social connectivity. Your statement “It’s disturbing” is intriguing because an individual’s memory not only has the ability to effect himself but also set other people’s minds on edge. Why is this? What is it about memory, specifically our shared memory (whether it’s identifying things correctly or remembering things in similar fashions) that brings us to a sense of relief and solidarity, yet even a person who we know is suffering from illness, can disturb our own sense of reality?

    Thanks for this blog entry and the work you put into it!

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