Cheat sheet for patient with temporary short-term memory loss


63 Responses to “Cheat sheet for patient with temporary short-term memory loss”

  1. Prezombie says:

    I’ve seen quite a few of these sheets, and they’re funny, sad, and scary to read all at once.

    One thing they all had in common was the response to a non sequitor remark. It’s funny on the surface, thinking that the person has a simple one track mind, but once you see enough of them, it becomes apparent just how deterministic our minds are. Same input to the same state will result in the same output. The illusion of free will shows itself to be an illusion.

    • timquinn says:

      So you are saying the letters you just typed were determined at the big bang?

      • Prezombie says:

        No. As far as we can tell, the universe isn’t completely deterministic. I’m saying that the human mind is very deterministic, and people without the short term memory to prevent retreading the same path over and over will. As individuals, we are deterministic machines. I made no claim about the universe as a whole being that way.

        • timquinn says:

          Yeah, I am reading about the unconscious mind now (by coincidence.) I was just riffing on the idea of no free will and how many ways that can be interpreted. Apparently we are a story we tell ourselves to explain the actions of the underlying animal. Shades of gray there of course, most of them toward the dark end.

          • oasisob1 says:

            Was it really by coincidence, or was it predetermined?

          • Prezombie says:

            Why not both?

            Shuffle a deck of cards, and deal out five cards. Those cards turn out to be a full house. Coincidence in the sense that it’s a small chance of happening, and predetermined in the sense that those cards were in just the right spot to end the shuffling at the top of the deck.

          • gd23 says:

            Enjoy this trip…And it is a trip

        • DrMedicine says:

          you WOULD say that.

    • miasm says:

      I always would have made this comment.

      • Prezombie says:

        If could safely, reliably, and temporarily shut off my short term memory faculties, I would love to do so for experiments. Being asked for a comment on a short article multiple times would be a simple way to run the tests.

        I wonder if knowing that I have retrograde amnesia would affect how my response would be. I have a scary vision of trying to say random things, and seeing nearly identical non sequitors in the results.

      • timquinn says:

        yet my response is entirely inspired by the moment. How can this be?

    • blueelm says:

      I don’t know that this specific thing doesn’t have to do with memory itself. My grandmother does this. She has vascular dementia and some other complications. As a result she has basically no short term memory at all, and deeply impaired functioning. Talking to her, strangely, is a like part talk board and part parrot. She has a desire for the interaction, but you have to call and return along certain patterns because there are only so many things she can remember to say, or even observations she seems able to make. So she might say “That coffee was good” many times, should anything be there to trigger “coffee” to her. It’s like the last things she thought about it, or bits of memories, are still intact enough that she uses them to kind of patch together an interaction.

      Some times it really feels like what is happening is that the environment is triggering a thought that is on the cusp of something else. The way you might run your tongue over the gap where a tooth was lost, over and over, never quite finding what should be there.

      But then I think the idea and the sensation of free will are psychological phenomena. Probably necessary ones though.

    • Tom Hudson says:

      You know, I was thinking this same thing.  Having read a few letters like this, I think that upon learning I had the condition, my first question would be, “How many times have we had the same exact conversation?”  And I would be surprised if the answer was anything other than something like “50–and that’s your first question every time.”  I mean, unless something NEW is presented to me, why WOULD I expect my reactions and thoughts to be anything different than the times before.  Certainly there are subtle differences; position in the bed, degree of discomfort, whether I’m hungry or not, time of day, the position of the curtains in the window, whether there’s someone else in the room, what’s playing on TV.  But without any new information, the state of my mind hasn’t been altered in any way, so I would anticipate it to respond to the same way.  If it did, I’d actually be concerned.  Because then that would mean that I’m not in control of my own thinking, that the outcomes of my ability to process new information and act accordingly is at the mercy of some random process that I can’t understand or influence. Hell, any way you look at it, free will is an illusion.

  2. Brainspore says:

    If that ever happens to me I’m granting permission ahead of time to write “Remember Sammy Jankis” between the forefinger and thumb on the back of my left hand.

  3. Very, very nicely done!

  4. Stefan Jones says:

    Oh, man, you could have a lot of fun with one of these cheat sheets:

    “Wait . . . ALIENS? I was kidnapped by ALIENS? And they hit me with an amnesia ray?”

    • planettom says:

      Somewhat along those lines, John Varley’s 1989 short story “Just Another Perfect Day” (Can be found in THE JOHN VARLEY READER, 2004).

  5. welcomeabored says:

    ‘No, your grandma didn’t speak in tongues, but she did sob.  You called her a dipshit.’

    Was that one of the questions:’ Is grandma speaking in tongues?’  ‘No, she’s sobbing.’ ‘ Dipshit.’  (over and over)  I think I might have left that one off the cheatsheet, just her to hear her ask, then call grandma a dipshit all day. LOL

  6. —Because it is VERY tiresome to have the same conversation over and over and over again with somebody who has short term memory loss.  At least that’s what they told me after I recovered from it.  

  7. planettom says:

    This sounds like a grand idea, but it doesn’t always work — I tried it with a relative with these kind of memory problems, and they could read it, but they couldn’t really conceptualize that what was on the sheet applied to them — they felt it must have been written for some other person who’s not here right now.   And isn’t that odd, they’re having memory problems TOO!

    •  That’s the problem I kept having with the film Memento. How can he capture half this stuff with his short term lost every five minutes?

      • Garymon says:

        My understanding of memory loss like his is that it isn’t dumped at such a regular interval. Rather, if the context remains the same the span can stretch longer or if the context is very short then so is the span of memory retention. Of course there is a max span but I don’t recall how long that tends to be. An example of a context change is you open a door and introduce yourself. As long as you stand there (up to the max time) they will retain your name. But as soon as you close the door you and your name are lost even if it has been only a few seconds since you introduced yourself.

        So in Memento he could retain a memory long enough to tattoo it but if that memory was about a person he would need to write or tattoo it before they left and changed the context. 

    • blueelm says:

      This is a common thing too with brain injury. And also the sensation that everything of yours has been replaced with an exact copy. Like, these are EXACTLY like the shoes I had right down to the smell, but these aren’t my shoes. That guy who came all this way to be here and is crying looks EXACTLY like my dad, but he’s not my dad. Etc…

  8. spacedmonkey says:

    I had this for a couple hours once when I hit my head snowboarding, and apparently had exactly the same conversation many many times with my friends on the (long) way to the hospital.

  9. Mister44 says:

    My wife once had that knock out gas that doesn’t totally put you out because you can respond to commands. When she was done she was asking the same things over and over. It was kinda funny.

    • Crashproof says:

      I have a ridiculously overblown gag reflex, and so when I had my wisdom teeth removed they tried putting me under with some specific kind of anesthetic that was maybe going to make it easier.  (It didn’t; they could barely keep my mouth open.  But I was unaware of the whole thing.)

      Apparently as I was recovering, I was talking all about the time I went to Cincinnati.  Nevermind that the closest I had ever been to Cincinnati at the time was Roanoke, Virginia…

      • blueelm says:

        I always wish I got that silly from those things. But the worst I did was ask for some water. Why is that bad? My mom handed me a bottle of water. I tried to drink it without considering that my face was numb and basically paralyzed, and that my mouth was full of gauze and blood (explains why I was thirsty). I figured that out when I managed to pour the water in my mouth only to watch helplessly as it continued down my shirt. Now looking like I dressed up for a zombie run I turned to my mom who was laughing hysterically and said “Oh shit. But I’m still thirsty.”

  10. timquinn says:

    I often get the feeling, staring as I am at my monitor, that I am reading and writing the same comments over and over forever in some bland version of hell.

  11. Avram Grumer says:

    Gene Wolfe’s fantasy novel Soldier of the Mist is a diary being kept by a man who can’t accumulate memories across periods of unconsciousness. It starts off “Read this every day”, but as it gets longer, it becomes obvious that the protagonist doesn’t have time to read the whole thing every morning, and is losing track of important details. 

  12. …To be fair, those are some pretty fancy floors…

    • billstewart says:

      I’m wondering if the floor thing could be a symptom; one of my reactions to psychedelics is that floor patterns really grab me, at least if they’re over a moderately large area.  Or maybe they’re just shiny.

  13. Aeron says:

    I wish I was that free to pee.

  14. Rodney Hoffman says:

    The link below the item needs correcting.  It should be:

  15. chgoliz says:

    Interesting order.  My first question would be about the kids (and they haven’t nursed for over a decade).

  16. jackbird says:

    My best friend in HS got a concussion and had this effect for a few hours; the worst/best part was that every time the nature of his condition dawned on him (every minute or so), he made the same bad joke.

    As for the 50 First Dates reference, I always wondered how she handled the pregnancy/labor they skipped over to get to the last scene of the movie – that would be utterly terrifying.

  17. jbond says:

    The marks on your arm are to remind you how many times you’ve seen The Silence.

  18. axoplasm says:

    So if I have 5 minutes of active short term memory, am I gonna want to waste 3 of them reading something like this?

    • Jacob Ewing says:

       Yes, because you won’t be remember that you only have a brief recall, and that list would presumably be of the questions you keep asking over, and over, and over, and …

  19. Frank Diekman says:

    “I have to pee” should be at the top of the list.

  20. IndexMe says:

    This reminds me of the index cards on keyrings I once saw that Ted Nelson still I presume carries around to assist his memory (not as bad as the OP I believe). Which apparently led to hypertext… 

  21. GazHunter says:

    How odd…I wrote this some time ago, not realising it’s reality:

  22. Ryan Lenethen says:

    Off topic a bit, sort of. But one of the best halloween costumes I have ever heard of was a duo of friends. One was dressed as Pinocchio, the other guy wore a white shortsleeved shirt and tatooed himself up with a sharpie like the dude in Momento.

    In his front pocket was a picture of his buddy in the Pinocchio costume from just prior to going out to the bar, and on the back of the picture in sharpie was written “Don’t believe his lies!”

  23. Jason Scott says:

    I had short term memory loss once.  It sucked big time.

  24. He seems to be suffering anterograde amnesia, the inability to store new things into long term memory. I’m genuinely curious as to why people tend to call this condition “short term memory loss.” Any suggestions? 

  25. timquinn says:

    I think what he means is the reasons we tell ourselves we do things are not the real reasons we do them. QED: our sense of free will is an illusion.

  26. Prezombie says:

    Oy vey, no need to reply to every single one of my posts with the same argument.

    Obviously others wouldn’t be identical to other people, even when put into the same situation. We are each a unique black box full of memory and circumstance. Determinism doesn’t say that everyone’s reactions are identical.
    Determinism shows itself in such situations because in the simplest terms, determinism hypothesizes human minds are a device which receives inputs, spits out outputs, and is altered by both. When the process of self-modification is taken out of the picture, but the rest of the machine is left intact, you get loops because the patient has the same set of inputs of senses and pre-damage memories, but no memory of reacting to those inputs before.

  27. euansmith says:

    These are none-secateurs… they actually are pruning shears.

  28. SamSam says:

    That argument makes no sense at all. If I have a bunch of different-sized billard balls and drop them on a table, they’ll all scatter in individual ways. Each of those ways is deterministic, but that’s not at all the same as saying that all of them will scatter in the same perfectly-identical way.

    No one is proposing that all human minds are identical.

  29. GlyphGryph says:

    Joe… I don’t think you actually know what deterministic means. It’s simple as saying that if you created infinite iterations with the same state and same inputs, you get the same output. It’s a pretty trivial statement for humans. It has nothing to do with free will. The only interesting bit here as that the inputs just need to be pretty similar, not identical, for the same outcome to happen.

    All of your examples either change the state (two different people) or change the inputs (a different environment). They are non sequiters, completely unrelated to the question at hand.

    I’m not entirely sure what you think your arguing against, but it isn’t deterministic behaviour.

    Deterministic != Predetermined

  30. tim necciai says:

    Joe, you aren’t making sense.  Saying that the human mind is deterministic is not the same as saying that *all* human minds are exactly the same.

  31. Jacob Ewing says:

    I would guess that it varies somewhat from case to case, but having “enjoyed” a hit of Transient Global Amnesia a month ago, I can answer no… ish.
    I very very vaguely remember a moment in a taxi on the way to the hospital, and slightly less vaguely recall later events in the hospital, but have no recollection of entering the hospital, or the taxi, or a few hours at home before that.

  32. Prezombie says:

    If you change the inputs to a deterministic machine, Of course the outputs will change. I’m starting to think that you don’t have the right definition of deterministic in your mind. I state that when a black box has the same set of inputs and internal state, if the same output results, the machine is deterministic rather than random. Short term memory loss allows us to have the black box known as the human mind in a relatively fixed state, and the result is that people loop rather than having different outputs each time. In that state and you offer the subject the same choice over and over again, they will make an identical choice over and over again. even if there’s no difference between the two options besides the left one and the right one.

    You’ve argued that if the inputs change, or if we swap in a completely different black box, the outputs change, therefore the black box isn’t deterministic, which doesn’t make sense. Deterministic means that the inputs are a major factor in the output, and so is the internal state of the black box. It doesn’t mean that all black boxes have to be identical. Deterministic machines don’t have to be set in stone, merely non-random. If the black box is a mathematical one, taking an input number, and adds to the result the number of times input has been recieved, you get 7>8, 7>9, 7>10, 7>11. The pattern isn’t set in stone, but it’s still deterministic. With the memory loss added, it forgets how many times it’s done the operation and we start getting 7>11, 7>11, 7>11. If you swap in 29 or any other number, the output will be different because the input has changed.
    If we really had something resembling free will, and had an internal mechanism allowing us to choose in a way that wasn’t solely based on our initial state plus the current inputs, people with retrograde amnesia wouldn’t loop so neatly. Sometimes they would ask a question, but other times that same person would be able to deduce that the detail isn’t worth mentioning. When given a room full of different inputs to comment on, they wouldn’t always pick the same one each time they forgot that they had made a comment about the room already.

  33. SamSam says:

    I think you’re confused by what is meant by “deterministic.” It definitely does not mean “pre-determined.” It may help to read up on Chaos Theory. (Then again, maybe not.)

    I think you’ve been arguing this whole time about something completely different from what the rest of us are talking about.

    It means given the exact same inputs that you’d get the same output.

    This is why the comment was first raised about amnesia — it’s as close as you can be to getting “the same inputs” — the same person, the same situation, and the same memory each time. Each time it’s a fresh occurrence  no recollection of the previous times, and the person asks the same quite-random question each time.

    Of course even in this case it’s hardly “the exact same inputs.” There is certainly changing brain state and some imprinting going on even for a complete amnesiac, and the situation itself isn’t aways exactly the same (people in different positions, different nurses, etc). It would be impossible to actually create the exact same state down to the very last atom. But would certainly be interesting if, hypothetically, the closer you got to replicating the exact same input state in a human, the more their outputs were identical. If this were so, it would be suggestive that humans are deterministic.

  34. tim necciai says:

    I think that you are conflating the meaning of deterministic with “destiny” or something like that.  Deterministic does not mean “pre ordained.”

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