Feb 1, 2010

On Memory Lapses and Coping Mechanisms

Left: I am a prisoner of reminder notes

Over the past few years I have noticed a gradual decline in my ability to store information in my head. In particular my short-term memory faculty is susceptible to annoying lapses, and I have also noticed a decline in my episodic memory. I am running with the theory that my brain has maxed out its storage capacities and that bits of data are getting randomly discarded inside my head.

I have some health issues that may be contributing to my less-than-ideal memory, but let's face facts: at age 45 I am past my peak years of instantaneous information retrieval, though I am not quite ready to start funeral planning. I have been experimenting with methods by which I might work around momentary memory glitches and function at the level to which I am accustomed.

I have lately been in the habit of carrying around a small notebook to jot down ideas, anecdotes, and appointments that I used to file away in my head. This system works well on the days I remember to bring the notebook, but of course there is irony in the fact that I often forget to use this tool.

Today I scratched my head trying to remember for the umpteenth time the telephone numbers and procedure for my university voicemail. My brain simply refuses to recall the Audix number and my 5-digit extension (though I am fine with the password I chose). I came upon what I thought was a foolproof solution: type this information into a Word document, print the page, and the cut-and-tape the reminder to my work desk.

So I reached for my cell phone a few minutes ago and started dialing. The funny-pathetic part of this story is that at some point in the recent past I programmed all of this Audix information into my phone, and I today I completely forgot about the new voicemail memorization mechanism I just designed.

Good news: I guess this would be an example of memory compensation redundancy, though my forgetting of the recent cell phone programming is still irksome.


Anonymous said...

Dude you are a genius, and even if you lose half your brain you are still twice the thinker of anyone I know.

Hooda Thunkit (Dave Zawodny) said...

Dr. Mike,

Surely you can't believe that your brain is full when we as a species typically use only a few percent..., even with the amassed knowledge from your Doctoral pursuits.

More likely it's just a taste of the onset of what's popularly known as "Old Timer's Disease."

But just try to forget your oldest memories and you'll se that they are permanently ingrained and refuse to be willfully tossed aside.

My theory is that this affects primarily newer memories and has more to do with the attention paid to the new memory when you try to remember it than with anything else.

At least, that's what I think causes it...

(BTW, it doesn't get any easier, just more annoying :-(

historymike said...


You are too kind, but you have not seen me wander into the next room and forget what I went there for.

historymike said...

Thanks for the words of encouragment, Hooda. I tell people that the best thing about teaching college is that when I have a brain spasm I can just go into Socratic mode:

(Me, to class): "Now, what is the name of female monarch for whom the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713 took place?"

(Class): "Maria Theresa of Austria."

(Me, playing coy) "Ah, yes. Maria Theresa of Austria."

You get the picture.

Hooda Thunkit (Dave Zawodny) said...


"You are too kind, but you have not seen me wander into the next room and forget what I went there for."

Been there done that; you are not alone my friend ;-)

Mad Jack said...

So... do you remember what you did with the lampshade, the waitress and the banana cream pie at the ToledoTalk meet?

historymike said...

Yikes! Drawing a blank, but I'm betting the YouTube highlights would not be flattering.

microdot said...

The mind is like a bathtub....thank goodness we have an overflow outlet or there would be mess on the floor.