(Editor’s Note: what follows is an excerpt from Dr. Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan’s new book, The Naked Lady Who Stood on Her Head: A Psychiatrist’s Stories of His Most Bizarre Cases)
Gigi and I had moved to Studio City, about a forty-minute commute to UCLA. On weekends, we often went to the movies at Universal CityWalk, a replication of Los Angeles within Los Angeles. Why people couldn’t just walk down the real streets of Los Angeles made no sense to me, yet there we were, on a Friday evening, eating ice cream and strolling down a simulated street.
We had just seen Total Recall, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s new sciencefiction film about a construction worker who undergoes a false memory transplant that takes him on an imaginary trip to Mars. But things go wrong, and when he comes out of it, he can’t tell what’s real and what’s imagined.
“When he first got back from Mars, there were so many signs that he was from the future that I believed it,” I said.
“But honey, before he had that memory implant done, he was perfectly happy living in the present—on Earth. Then he got all paranoid.”
“Of course he did. How do you know what’s reality if you can’t trust your memory?” I asked.
“I don’t know; you’re the memory expert. I want to go into this shop for a minute.” Gigi disappeared into a record store.
As I ate my ice cream and watched the crowds, I kept thinking about those questions. If two realities seem equally true, how would you know which version to believe? Many of my patients struggled with similar issues, whether they were psychotic, demented, or simply having memory problems.
Over the past few years, I had begun to concentrate a large part of my practice on memory issues—not just in older patients with Alzheimer’s disease but in middle-aged people who were worried about their increasing forgetfulness. My research was also focusing on early detection of dementia and age-related memory decline, and I was developing brain imaging as a diagnostic tool.
Gigi came back with a bag of CDs and said Read the rest of this entry »