Monday, February 07, 2011

The Things We Know We Know

How many times have you felt a piece of information -- a name, a restaurant, an actor -- was just beyond your reach?  You could almost taste it, but you couldn’t say it.  It was just a TOT -- tip of the tongue phenomenon.
It happened to me last night as I attempted to tell our friends about the place where we had breakfast three days in a row in San Francisco.  A restaurant called The Grove on Fillmore Street it turns out.  Just as I went to consult Google, it popped into my head and I said “How did that happen?”
They mentioned their daughter had studied with Deborah Burke, a psychology professor at Pomona College, who has done research on TOTs for the past three decades.
I’m not alone in not having perfect recall.  The ability to recall all sorts of information diminishes with age.  Burke, who is just about my age, has shown that the left insula in the brain is most responsible for pulling up stored random information.  It shrinks with age and causes older people’s recall ability to vacillate.
We all quickly concluded the antidote to recall problems is Google.  Within seconds most questions can be answered with just the click of a few keys.  Unfortunately Google will not provide the name of a long-time friend you are trying to introduce.  We will just have to learn to call a TOT a TOT and move on without embarrassment, knowing this is an experience everyone has from time to time.


Blogger Merle Sneed said...

This only happens to me about ten times a week.

Can Google help me remember what I went into the kitchen for?

11:09 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Merle -- Unfortunately Google can't help with everything. When I get hungry or thirsty AGAIN, I usually am reminded about why I went into the kitchen. It happens to me a lot. We are the same generation, aren't we? The ones with the shrinking left insulas...

11:28 AM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I tend to either triangulate and get the other person to remember it for me based on referential information or just let go because it will pop into my head once the pressure drops. It always does. If it doesn't? It probably wasn't that important.

11:36 AM  
Blogger Gary said...

This happens to me too. But sometimes it involves something I was going to do and then forget what it was. I don't remember until I retrace my steps and go back to the place where I originally had the idea to do whatever it was in the first place. It seems to work every time. I just wish in those instances that the house wasn't so big.

8:20 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kristin -- I love that feeling when a sought-after bit of information suddenly presents itself. I wish I understood better the whole mental process.

Gary -- Part of the problem is our tendency to multi-task. It is hard to keep our minds actively moving in two or more directions at the same time. It seems like our brains were designed to function serially. But fortunately your trick of retracing one's steps often seems to work.

11:13 PM  
Blogger Angela said...

All my desks and tables are full of little pieces of paper, filled with reminders of what I wanted to do. Then I cross out a few finished tasks and add more. Looks messy but seems to work. The names or things I forgot come to me in the middle of the night, making me sit up straight. But yes, I think it is all right to become older and forgetful. Our forefathers were allowed the same. I only have to remind myself I AM that old already!

12:07 PM  

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