An Amnesiac Artist Is Making Scientists Question What They Know About Memory
By Cari Romm 24 June 2016
Take a second and think of something you’re good at, or at least decent. It has to be something concrete, a skill that involves your hands or arms or legs; listening doesn’t count, for example, but cooking does. Yes, you’re using your brain to think of recipes and understand how flavors come together (even at the most basic level – you wouldn’t put sugar on SpaghettiOs, right?), but you’re also stirring and chopping and sautéing, or at least cranking a can opener and turning the knob on a stove.
When it comes to skills that involve some physical component, psychologists have traditionally believed that two separate types of long-term memory are at work. One is declarative memory, or the ability to recall facts and events — how many teaspoons make a tablespoon, for instance, or that secret ingredient you add to jazz up an old family cookie recipe. The other is non-declarative memory (sometimes called procedural memory or muscle memory), the implicit knowledge of how to use objects or make specific movements — how to use a knife and fork, or the jerk of the arm that helps you flip an omelet.
But an amnesiac woman named Lonni Sue Johnson complicates this neat division. In a new paper in the journal Cognitive Neuropsychology, a team of psychologists document the strange case of her memory loss — and, equally as importantly, the memories she retained.
Johnson (identified in the paper as LSJ), a 64-year-old professional artist, amateur violinist, and licensed pilot, developed amnesia after a bout of viral encephalitis severely damaged her temporal lobe, an area of the brain involved in long-term memory processing. The disease left her with “catastrophic retrograde memory impairment,” the authors wrote, wiping out both her recollection of her own past and her “general world knowledge” of everyday facts and concepts.
Oddly, though, she retained specific snippets of declarative memory related to the skills of her pre-illness life (she no longer flies, or even drives, and now dabbles in art and music to a much more limited extent). Most of the background knowledge was gone, but the technical knowledge remained: Johnson couldn’t identify Vincent van Gogh, but she knew the specifics of painting techniques, like how to remove excess paint or how to layer colors.
“There is such a contrast between her not being able to tell us anything about her former life and not being able to tell us anything about many aspects of art and music that she once knew well, but when we ask her to tell us how to do a watercolor, she is articulate and full of detail,” Barbara Landau, a professor of cognitive science at Johns Hopkins University, said in a statement.
To measure the extent of her skill-related memory, the paper’s authors asked her a series of questions about art, music, aviation, and driving — things like “What is an arpeggio?” and “Where are the rudder controls located in the cockpit?” and “What pedal would you use to increase the speed of your vehicle?” For comparison, they also asked the same questions of beginners and experts in each field. In all categories, Johnson outperformed the beginners; in art and driving, she scored as well as the experts.
“Although Johnson had not created watercolors, had not flown a plane, and had not driven since her illness, she could still describe how one would go about carrying out these activities,” said Johns Hopkins cognitive scientist Michael McCloskey said in the statement — even though, based on our current divisions of memory, she shouldn’t have. “These findings suggest that skill-related knowledge can be spared even with dramatic losses in other kinds of knowledge.” They also hint at how much we still don’t know about how we come to know things, and about the interplay between our brains and bodies in preserving our abilities.
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The suspicious circumstances surrounding the death last week of former U.N. President John Ashe had many wondering whether foul play was involved.
The New York Post’s Page Six reported that after Ashe was found dead Wednesday, the U.N. claimed that he had died from a heart attack. Local police officers in Dobbs Ferry, New York, later disputed that claim, saying instead that he died from a workout accident that crushed his throat.
Adding to the mysterious nature of Ashe’s death was the fact that he had been slated to be in court Monday with his Chinese businessman co-defendant Ng Lap Seng, from whom he reportedly received over $1 billion in donations during his term as president of the U.N. General Assembly.
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And then there was this: During the presidency of Bill Clinton, Seng illegally funneled several hundred thousand dollars to the Democrat National Committee.
John Ashe And Hillary Clinton
According to an unidentified source who spoke with Page Six, prosecutors had intended to use the latter fact to link Ashe directly to Democrat front-runner Hillary Clinton, with whom he could be seen schmoozing in the picture above.
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“It would have been very embarrassing,” the source added. “His death was conveniently timed.”
There was no evidence at the moment to corroborate the source’s theory of foul play, but that certainly did not stop conspiracy theorists from theorizing about “what really happened.”
Those theorists inclined to believe the stories about Hillary and Bill Clinton ordering the murders of their opponents wondered whether the former U.N. president was merely their latest victim
However, Ashe’s own lawyer, Jeremy Schneider, strongly disagreed with these theories.
« Last Edit: Jul 2nd, 2016, 6:07pm by Sys_Config »
"The Hubble Space Telescope is working in tandem with NASA's Juno spacecraft to study Jupiter’s atmosphere. Hubble is observing how the planet's auroras, produced when highly charged particles interact with the atmosphere, change while Juno is studying the properties of the solar wind."
Why the city council of White Settlement, Texas, decided to fire Browser, mascot and rodent hunter of the public library is not clear, but the vote two weeks ago was 2-1 to banish Browser. Friday, under an avalanche of complaints, the council members decided unanimously that Browser could stay.
Browser got his job six years ago when the library had a problem with rodents. By all accounts, he was a big success and nestled into library-goers hearts.
The Dallas Morning News elaborates on Browser's job:
"Like most felines, Browser spends a good deal of time napping, lounging and sneaking out the door — but he also attends the library's GED classes and has an honorary diploma, the library says. And each year, the library sells a calendar full of pictures of Browser as a fundraiser."
Then one day, reports the Fort Worth Star-Tribune:
"Declaring that 'City Hall and city businesses are no place for animals,' Councilman Elzie Clements led what Browser's fans call a sneak attack ...
"The agenda item was listed only as 'consider relocation of Library Facility cat.'"
Council member Steve Ott is quoted as expressing concern about people who might be allergic to cat dander. As Mayor Ron White tells it, according to the Associated Press, the cat was targeted in retaliation when a city worker was denied permission to bring a puppy to city hall.
Browser's supporters began a petition drive, and of course the Internet got involved, and more than 1,000 messages from around the world later, the council voted again unanimously to keep Browser.
He'll probably issue a statement of thanks to his supporters at some point but at the moment, his Facebook page isn't available.