Amnesia

I don’t know how amnesia works.

Suppose you lose your memory; lose your identity; have no idea who you are, where you came from.

Yet you still know a language: you may even know several. That tells something of you. And you don’t just know English (or Finnish): you have a certain vocabulary — you can look at a list of words and define some but not others. That then defines your (self-)education, does it not? Or does the amnesia of a nurse extend to not knowing a spatula from a speculum?

Wouldn’t you still know many meaningful things about the world round you? What’s the capital of Denmark? What does the Statue of Liberty look like? A lot of this knowledge is generic and not very helpful, but it seems to me you could probe, play ping-pong inside your head, and find which areas are more familiar to you than others: what geography? What technology? Which profession? What entertainment? Trace the frame, and you’ll learn something of the missing portrait. It’s not like the you in you is a floating thing that can be taken away without a trace, leaving a fully functional human being.

Possibly this is a problem with how movies and books portray people with amnesia: they are “blank humans”, people that talk normally and know how to order a taxicab and operate a phone, but are missing some “individual part” from within, like a computer with “My Documents” erased but Windows still running. Can it really be that simple? In stories, there will be some magic muscle memory, probably ninja skills or something; but wouldn’t the more interesting memories be those normal ones that still remain? Because it seems to me it would be very curious if there was such a thing as a “blank human”, ready for society but with no indications of personality.

Yet there are people with amnesia, people who don’t remember who they are, but function “normally”; I have no idea how that works.

I think if I ever got amnesia I would, once over the panic, be gleefully going hammer and tongs at what I remembered, and what that implied. Successfully, probably not; but gleefully. (Brings to mind a sci-fi story I read years ago, one where the vogue was a drug that gave you amnesia: the thrill was in rediscovery. I’d tell you who wrote it but… I can’t remember. Ah.)

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