June 24, 2009

Memory, Math, and Cognitive Science Fiction

I just finished a delightful novel called The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yōko Ogawa and translated by Stephen Snyder. What was interesting from a cognitive science perspective was that the (unnamed) Professor had a traumatic brain injury which left him with only 80 minutes of short-term memory. He remembers everything prior to the accident which occurred in the late 1970s, but he can only remember the past 80 minutes and anything prior to that is forgotten.

The Professor was a mathematician and copes with his lack of memory by doing mathematical puzzles. He is very interested in prime numbers, and fractals, and the book is full of math (and Japanese baseball).

It was well-written and both the story and characters are memorable. I was particularly struck by the difficulties a person encounters when he has only 80 minutes of current memory, and the Professor's coping mechanisms are fascinating. If you like a good story, math, baseball, or are working with people who have short-term memory loss, you might enjoy this novel.

For More Information

No comments: