In March of 1985, Clive Wearing, an eminent English musician and musicologist in his mid-forties, was struck by a brain infectionâ€”herpes encephalitisâ€”affecting especially the parts of his brain concerned with memory. He was left with a memory span of only seconds â€” the most devastating case of amnesia ever recorded. New events and experiences were effaced almost instantly. Oliver Sacks‘ fascinating essay The Abyss tells the tale:
Clive cannot retain any memory of passing events or experience and, in addition, has lost most of the memories of events and experiences preceding his encephalitisâ€”how, then, does he retain his remarkable knowledge of music, his ability to sight-read, play the piano and organ, sing, and conduct a choir in the masterly way he did before he became ill?