Sunday, September 06, 2009

Hippocampus

One problem with the executive lunch is that you need to strike a fine balance between holding up the conversation and stuffing your face. I found that out the hard way, when a travelling neurophysicist (no relation to the travelling salesman) visited us last week.

Lunch was taken after a rather elucidatory morning session that set me up nicely for a chicken sandwich on toasted panini bread. Having procured the said c.s. on the toasted p.b., I proceeded immediately to wolf it down in large mouthfuls, as is my wont. Our guest however, was in the mood for further discourse.

"Take for instance the hippocampus", he discoursed to the gathering around the table. "A fascinating organ, for sure. We know it is part of the limbic system, but no one knows how it stores memories. People whose hippocampi were injured in an accident have memories of before the accident, but have trouble forming new memories.

"That's because the brain maintains long-term and short-term memories differently, but even among these, names of people, places and things seem to be stored separately. What's more, the capacity to retain these different memories varies from one person to the next. For example, I could tell you the zip codes of all the places I've visited over the last three years, but wouldn't be able to address the gentleman next to me, whom I've met just today, by name."

Having the dubious distinction of being the gentleman next to him, I suddenly found the man pointing in my general direction. It seemed that he expected me to provide the missing information. However, having just chomped off a massive mouthful of the sandwich, I was in no position to provide much of anything other than half-chewed pieces of chicken sandwich on toasted panini bread. I gulped hurriedly, took a sip of water and mumbled something to the tune of "Mmmpfff Nnrarrgh".

The effort obviously didn't appease him. "I'm sorry, what was that again?" he smiled politely. I did the gulp-and-sip routine and tried again. "Growrr Mprinay".

The man just smiled. He was obviously taking some sort of perverse pleasure in watching me squirm. As precious seconds ticked by, I could feel the gaze of the entire table upon me. A lesser man might have panicked, maybe even choked; but not me. No sir. In a flash of inspiration, I reached into my wallet, pulled out my business card and plopped it neat on to the table.

Our guest was taken aback. The smug smile vanished from his lips. He stared at the card on the table. Then at me. Then at the card again. He knew he had been bested. "Ah, thank you", he finally muttered, visibly shaken. Trying his best not to appear flustered, he changed the subject to his favourite topic. "As I was saying... the hippocampus... uh-huh, the limbic system, of which the hippocampus is a part... memorizes forms... I mean, forms memories..." It was my turn to smile a subtle smile, as I quietly egged him on. He did his best, but the quiet self-assuredness had somehow left his voice. After a rather subdued remainder of the lunch, he shook a few hands and made a hurried exit. For my part, I pocketed the card still lying on the table, and slunk away back to my office. I had other, more important things on my mind. "Perhaps next time I'll try the turkey on rye instead", I remember thinking to myself.

2 Comments:

At September 10, 2009 at 1:44 PM, Blogger SDS said...

Good one! Did it happen over weekend? Just curious :-)

 
At January 13, 2010 at 3:42 PM, Blogger SVR said...

I read the entire post hoping that now a hippo will enter your campus :( ....deeply disappointed!!

Now you owe me a post about hippo in a campus.

 

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