Meet the man with only a seven-second memory

Today is former musicologist and conductor Clive Wearing's birthday. He's 84 years old. But if you told him that, he'd forget less than a minute later. Wearing has both anterograde and retrograde amnesia, preventing him from forming new memories or accessing old ones. The condition arose in 1985 after he contracted a form of herpes called Herpesviral encephalitis that affects the brain and central nervous system. Above is a short video about him.

And here is an excerpt from a 2005 documentary interview with Wearing:

Do you miss your old life?

Yes. But I've never been conscious to think that. So I've never been bored or upset. I've never been anything at all, it's exactly the same as death. No dreams even. Day and night, the same.

When you miss your old life… what do you miss?

The fact that I was a musician. And in love.

Above is a brief documentary about Wearing's curious condition. From Wikipedia:

His memory for events lasts between seven and thirty seconds. He spends every day "waking up" every 20 seconds or so, "restarting" his consciousness once the timespan of his short-term memory (about 30 seconds) has elapsed. During this time he repeatedly questions why he has not seen a doctor, as he constantly believes that he has only recently awoken from a comatose state. If he is engaged in conversation he is able to provide answers to questions, but he cannot stay in the flow of conversation for longer than a few sentences and is angered if he is asked about his current situation.

Wearing remembers little of his life before 1985. He knows, for example, that he has children from an earlier marriage, but he cannot remember their names. His love for his second wife, Deborah, whom he married the year before his illness began, is undiminished. He greets her joyously every time they meet, believing either that he has not seen her in years or that they have never met before, even though she may have just left the room momentarily. When he goes out dining with his wife he can remember the names of food, but he cannot link them with taste, as he forgets what food he is eating by the time it has reached his mouth[…]

Despite having no memory of specific musical pieces when they are mentioned by name, and an extremely limited recall of his previous musical knowledge, Wearing remains capable of playing complex piano and organ pieces, sight-reading, and conducting a choir.

For more on Wearing, read Oliver Sacks's 2007 profile of him in the New Yorker: