Guest Column: Memory loss

As many of us get on in years (a euphemism for getting older), we tend to suffer from short-term memory loss. I often forget the plot of a movie which I saw only months ago, although a few friendly hints will bring it back. What is truly extraordinary about this condition is that I still remember infinite trivia collected over 73 years.

No matter how hard I try, I can’t forget that Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor starred in “Singing in the Rain,” or that Kareem Abdul Jabar, Karl Malone, and Kobe Bryant are the three leading scorers in the history of the NBA. I can remember that Montpelier is the capital of Vermont and that Frankfurt, not Louisville, is the capital of Kentucky. Oh, how I wish I could discard all this useless information clogging my brain.

What good is knowing that Ferdinand Magellan was the first person to circumnavigate the Earth when I can’t remember the author of the book I am now reading? How does it help me to recall that Pat Boone sang the theme songs in both movies “Friendly Persuasion” and “Anastasia” when I don’t remember what I did last Wednesday?

I have thought long and hard about this phenomenon, and think I finally understand why I know the Brooklyn Dodger’s right fielder Carl Furillo was known as the “Reading Rifle;” whereas, I haven’t a clue what column I submitted to this newspaper last month.

I am no scientist, but I think our brain functions a lot like a computer. There comes a time when the computer reaches its capacity, and if you don’t delete, there is no room for additional input. In other words, my brain is downright full. It has reached its capacity, and unless I can get rid of some of this useless matter, I can’t accept new input. It’s as simple as that.  I don’t need a tool for remembering more — I need a tool for getting rid of what I already remember.

If only I could delete some of what is stored in my brain, I could finally make room for fresh memories. Perhaps I could forget beautiful Beth Donaldson with her blond ponytail sitting in front of me in the fifth grade (no, no — I really don’t want to forget that). Well perhaps I could forget the time I beat the best chess player in our high school league (no, I would like to retain that memory also).

And there’s the rub. We need to come up with some method whereby we can choose which memories to discard and which to retain. I would gladly forget the time I lost an election running for congress, but would not want to forget the time I won the election for Mayor of Fort Lee. The person who comes up with a solution for this dilemma will most assuredly win a Nobel Prize, but I will still probably forget his name.

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