Our Research Process

We discovered Henry Molaison in December 2009. We were among 400,000 spectators that witnessed the live, online brain dissection, carried out by Dr Jacopo Annese at The Brain Observatory, a year after Henry died at 86 years old.

We started researching the story behind this cutting edge event in 2010. Among the 11,900 published scientific journals, very little was documented about the man, his family and the life he led before the experimental surgery he underwent in 1953. We had the streamed event, an article written by the grandson of Dr Scoville, who performed the experimental surgery in 1953 and the published paper co-written by Scoville and fellow scientist Brenda Milner. Together with the few insights of his family circumstances, his personality and his timeline, gathered from documentaries and obituaries, we set about constructing this man known in scientific circles as Patient HM.

Dr Jacopo Annese

Our first port of call in our research process was Dr Annese.  More can be found about this collaboration here.

Additional Research Collaborators – Professor John Aggleton

Through our work with Dr Annese, we had begun to build our onstage worlds but there was a limit to what we could create without further understanding of the day-to-day manifestation of the anterograde and retrograde memory loss suffered by Henry.

It was at this point that Christopher Stock of Wellcome Trust put us in touch with Professor John Aggleton. A neuroscientist within the department of Psychology at Cardiff University, Professor Aggleton was recently made a Royal Society Fellow for his highly influential research revealing the roles of various brain structures in creating a more comprehensive picture of how different types of memory are formed and recalled.

As an advisor on our project he was instrumental in guiding us through some of the essential detail of different types of memory impairment – in particular he kept us from straying into common misconceptions in our representation of short term memory, articulating the definition in psychological terms and making clear that no two amnesics will be the same. This proved to be invaluable as we began experimenting and developing a realistic representation of Henry’s condition on stage. Unbeknownst to Professor Aggleton, his input confirmed for us that we could not feasibly put an audience into Henry’s shoes and consequently shaped the way in which we presented Henry and his story to our audiences.

Additional Research Collaborators – Dr Hanna Pickard

Having established some of the biomedical detail surrounding the case of Patient HM and with ongoing conversations concerning the manifestation of his condition, more and more ethical questions emerged. We were aware that many saw Dr Annese’s work as controversial, and some of the accounts of the original surgery performed in 1953 by Dr William Beacher Scoville painted him as someone with a propensity to take risks with no concern for his patients. At the same time, exercises and improvisations we had played with in the rehearsal room had revealed some potentially exciting scenes which we were unable to develop without further information.

The Oxford Centre for Neuroethics at Oxford University aims to address concerns about the effects neuroscience and neurotechnologies will have on various aspects of human life. We spoke to Dr Hanna Pickard, a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics and also a therapist at the Complex Needs Service, a NHS Therapeutic Community for people with personality disorder.

We were particularly interested in areas surrounding the care and safeguarding of amnesic patients today compared to the early1950’s, permissions and testing of patients with memory disorders and the ethical dilemmas posed by streaming a live brain dissection over the internet. These conversations proved useful in sculpting how we might show the treatment of Henry at Bickford Health Centre, aiding us in our building of his relationship with the carers around him and how they might deal with the complicated repercussions that may arise when a patient does not have the capacity to remember something that might have occurred less than 5 minutes prior.

As writers of a piece of work inspired by Henry Molaison, we recognised that, along with the 100 plus scientists who came to test and retest him during his lifetime, we had some part in capitalising from his story and in so doing it was essential that we explore the neuroethical implications of this. With the voice of the neuroscientists who performed the live brain dissection, directly in our show, and a real desire to address the potential life he might have led in a mostly imagined strand dedicated to his life prior to the operation in 1953, it was integral to achieve balance.

Research Notes

Our raw notes and transcripts from our conversations with research partners can be downloaded from here.  Please note these were working documents, and so in places are in note form.

Within the download, you'll find:
- the original transcript of our interview with Dr Jacopo Annese.
- research notes from conversations with Professor John Aggleton around memory loss.
- information and notes sent to Dr Hanna Pickard at The Oxford Centre for Neuroethics.
- information and notes sent to Dr Suzanne Corkin, Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT

Plus, additional research links can be found here.

No comments:

Post a Comment