When it rains, it pours! Lots of news today:
- Trasked in the heead: In caht, Gondhir and Yoj and I were discussing famous heead injuries and I mentioned the neuroscience patients H.M. and N.A., the still-living subjects of two of the most well-known case studies on long-term memory. We also discussed Phineas Gage.
- H.M. is one of the most well-known patients in cognitive neuroscience. His case illustrates the role of the hippocampus in long-term memory; his sad story, the role of lesion studies. Mark S. Todtenkopf of Northeastern University writes: Much of what was originally hypothesized about the hippocampal function came from these studies, along with studies using similar subjects. In the 1950's, a patient of Scoville and Milner was studied and followed for over 35 years. Patient H.M. went in for treatment of seizure disorders focused in his temporal lobe. On August 23, 1953, Dr. William Scoville performed a bilateral resection of the medial temporal lobe, in hopes that it would alleviate H.M.'s seizures. After the surgery, the seizures had decreased significantly, however so did H.M.'s anterograde memory. This "side" effect is quite severe, and as of today has shown very little improvement (Kolb and Whishaw, 1990).
- N.A. is another famous case - when he was in college, an incident of horseplay led to his having a toy fencing foil driven into his thalamus through his nostril, damaging his long-term memory catastrophically. Now 65, he has been amnesic since the age of 22. His tragic story is evocative of Groundhog Day or Clean Slate, only without the happy ending. (Abstract of Exp. Neurol. article by Squire, Amaral, Zola-Morgan, Kritchevsky, and Press at NIH NCBI PubMed/Medline)
- Phineas Gage, as Malcolm Macmillian writes on the Phineas Gage Home Page, was "probably the most famous patient to have survived severe damage to the brain", and probably the first subject of lesion studies as linked to personality. He was a rail worker who, on 13 September 1848, had a 3'7"-long tamping rod blasted through his skull by an explosive charge. Macmillan writes: Some months after the accident, probably in about the middle of 1849, Phineas felt strong enough to resume work. But because his personality had changed so much, the contractors who had employed him would not give him his place again. Before the accident he had been their most capable and efficient foreman, one with a well-balanced mind, and who was looked on as a shrewd smart business man. He was now fitful, irreverent, and grossly profane, showing little deference for his fellows. He was also impatient and obstinate, yet capricious and vacillating, unable to settle on any of the plans he devised for future action. His friends said he was "No longer Gage."
- A gnu red car: Memember how my mom was driving my car a couple of weeks ago and got hit from behind while stopped at a light? Well, the other driver's insurance finally confirmed the estimate for the repairs, and approved a 2-day rental while the car was getting its bumper repainted. So, today we've got a cherry-red 2004 Pontiac Vibe. It loonks a little like an SUV, but it's technically a "midsize/compact". The dashboard is wreally weird: all of the dials are very deeply recessed. Enterprise Rent-A-Car is charging only $28.50 a day for this rental, but that's sans insurance. It's an interesting car, at any rate.
- Nonetheless, they will have need of wood: I just had a discussion with my dad about human cloning and downloading of brain images to organic vs. robotic "media". He and I agreed that downloading into a viable human body, possbly overwriting a human consciousness, is simply abducting a living person who thinks he or she is you (unless told otherwise). If you subscribe to the "at most one aiua per body" theory that Orson Scott Card popularized in the Ender Saga, you'll agree that this doesn't destroy or create souls - it merely generates an ethical dilemma.
We also agreed that downloading into a tabula rasa medium (say, silicon) would make it feasible not to displace anything, whether or not it actually generates new instances of your self. What surprised me was that my dad also believes that backup copies of people would by and large be glad to exist, not as "understudies" to their living selves, but for historical purposes. "Why not keep the 2003 G. W. Bush around so we can interview him later?" he asked.
I was surprised. "What incentive would a backup have for cooperating?" I asked. "Oh, just contributing to the store of human knowledge and understanding," he replied. "But wouldn't the backup feel objectified and disenfranchised?" I asked, remembering Dr. Theopolis from the old Buck Rogers TV series  and the ST:TOS episode "Return to Tomorrow" where ancient alien katras are stored in palantiri. "Well, if my mind were actually a backup, I'd consider my function to be no different from that of carven stone or a piece of wood," he replied. Wow.
 Actually, Dr. Theopolis was an entirely artificial intelligence, as I have now learned. It's amazing what you can find out on the Internet. :-)