Monday, November 10, 2008

Mental Slips

As I get older, I notice mental slip ups. The most common is calling Ron "Tim," which is embarrassing, but at least I know who Ron and Tim are, and I can quickly correct myself. Another slip up is to forget a word, and then talk around its definition, hoping that the word will come back. This is a lot like "The word's on the tip of my tongue...." That phenomenon is more common to me than it used to be, but I usually can either come up with the word, or at least make myself understood.

The strangest one for me, and the one that causes the most trouble is recalling names, either of people or places. In this instance, I recognize the person or the place, but I'm totally clueless about the name. I can access the information in my brain about the person or place, but I can't put any name on the person or place at all. The name is also beyond my own recall. It's like I've never know the name in my memory, I can only remember that at one time, I knew the name.

If I hear or read the "forgotten" name, I immediately recognize it, and it is once again connected to the "nameless" information with which it was once associated in my memory. My brain's grasp on those names appears weak, because I can easily forget those names again, and have no way to recall them. I compensate for that by replaying those names over and over in my head whenever I recover them.

Most names that I forget are in my long term memory, but within the last 10 or 20 years. I don't have any trouble with names from my childhood through high school or so. The most difficult names for me to remember are co-workers, some of whom I worked with for years. I can tell you where they sat at work, what projects they worked on, all kinds of things, except their names.

I think the challenge I have with names is that they are arbitrary. On the other hand, the information they represent isn't arbitrary at all, and the connection between the arbitrary name and its information can be lost. The information, itself, remains in my brain, but that pesky pointer to that information is missing in action.