Feature

Editor's letter: The real reason you’re so forgetful

When you consider how much junk we’ve stored in our brains, it’s no surprise we can’t remember our PINs.

I can’t remember when I’ve heard a more encouraging bit of news. All those times I couldn’t recall someone’s name, or a new PIN or password, or where I’d left my keys or my supermarket list, were not signs that my mind is sliding into senescence. This frequent forgetting of new information only demonstrates just how much I already know! So says a new study by German researchers (see Health & Science), who have concluded that the otherwise healthy brains of people over 45 resemble computers that have been loaded with an enormous amount of data: They whir and click, with the “wait” signal flashing, as they upload new information or sift through the old.

It makes perfect sense. Consider the volume of data I’m storing between my ears. The name of the girl I had a wicked crush on in fourth grade (Janice). Cleon Jones’s batting average in 1969 (.340). The life stories of old girlfriends, their siblings’ and parents’ names, how they liked their coffee. Mental maps of dozens of places I’ve lived or visited, from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, to Salt Lake City, to Florence, Italy. Dozens of old phone numbers. How to drive a stick shift. The plots of thousands of novels and the basic premise of thousands of books. Millions of articles. Tens of thousands of songs. The lyrics of the theme from The Beverly Hillbillies. And along with all this flotsam, the deep wisdom only long experience can bring. As cognitive specialist Denise Park said in response to the study’s findings, “There’s a reason we don’t have 20-year-olds running the world.” Damn right! And as soon as I can remember what it is, I’ll tell you.

William Falk

Corrections
The Briefing in the Feb. 7 issue incorrectly stated the projected population of California by midcentury. State officials have estimated that California will have about 50 million residents by 2050.

A Travel piece about Yellowstone National Park in the Jan. 31 issue misstated how often Old Faithful erupts. The famous geyser erupts approximately 17 times a day, according to the National Park Service.

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