Re: On Luria's "Z" (by SP)

From: Stevan Harnad (
Date: Sun Feb 25 1996 - 20:56:56 GMT

> From: "Susie (Suzanne Jane Petrie)" <>
> Date: Sun, 18 Feb 1995 19:45:33 GMT
> All of these difficulties Z suffered from were due to major loss of
> memory. In the beginning, just after being wounded, he couldn't even
> remember his own name and the village that he lived in. Names would be
> lingering in his mind ready to be spoken, on the tip of his tongue.
> If he actually tried to to remember things he would find it extremely
> difficult to find the right words. But when he didn't happen to be
> thinking of it he suddenly found words coming to him. For example,
> familiar tunes would suddenly appear in his head. Even so, his memory
> was still very bad. It was also shattered into small pieces like the
> rest of his world.

You need to point out that when Z learned to do something he had become
unable to do, it was often by a different, unnatural means, not the
original means that he had lost. Recogniring letters of the alphabet is
an example. He lost the automatic recognition we have, and almost had to
figure out by logic that something had to be, say, a "t", because it had
two lines, one up/down, one across.

You also need to describe the automatic writing technique -- perhaps the
most important fact about Z -- how he couldn't read or wrote, but was
encouraged to just try to do it anyway, and then it began to happen,
automatically, thoug, because he couldn't read, he'd always lose track
of what he had written and would repeat himself.

> Even though his memory was seriously impaired there were some things he
> could remember more than others. He found it far easier to remember
> things from far back in the past like his Kindergarten building. The
> funny thing was he had trouble remembering the recent past. As he
> stated ,'my memories came back from the wrong end'. Instead of recent
> situations being easily remember Z could recollect childhood memories
> with a vivid imagination. Whereas simple common memories such as
> remembering what a cat or dog looked like was very hard for Z. He
> couldn't even visualise faces from his own family but he immediately
> recognised them.

The preservation of old memories and the lose of the able to retain
recent ones is a characteristic of many amnesias.

> Even though Z has tried for years to improve himself, in reality his
> wound has caused major brain damage. Damaged areas of the cerebral
> cortex could not be restored. Improvements haven't really been made
> although he has adjusted to his body peculiarities but they still annoy
> him if he's suffering an attack. However, problems with `space'
> continued for years. He was unable to orient himself in his own home
> settlement.

There was some improvement after his injury, but then that reached a
limit, and from then on, what he did by the force of his will and
perseverence involved very little real improvement, although he felt he
was getting somewhere (and of course his diary was a very valuable
legacy for us).

> When it came to reading and writing, he did actually teach himself how
> to do these skills again. However, it took a very long time. As you
> know it took him 25 years to write his journal at one page a day at the
> most. The content of his writing didn't really improve as his effort
> to express himself became no simpler. Although, his speaking improved.
> But his world continued to be alien and fragmented. Nothing altered
> his tragic state of memory. So to a certain extent Z never really
> overcame his trouble of memory. Instead he just constantly tried to
> improve things. In reality he was faced with a vicious circle of life
> which had no real end.

This strong quest for "recovery" of lost skills and memories is
characteristic of brain damage when it is not accompanied by anosognosia
(unawareness of the handicap). It is very touching, but unfortunately
very little real progress is possible, even today.

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