What happens when your brain is full

I never expected this.  It was like a random thunderbolt from Zeus.

I spend my days scouring the internet for information about slow living so that you don’t have to.  I call it research.  Pam calls it slacking off.

In any event, I read articles, books, blog posts, web sites, dissertation abstracts. (I did that once.  I think I made a wrong turn.)

And I learn things – some of it useful, some of it not.

A few days ago I came across this: “Older people have much more information in their brains than younger ones, so retrieving it naturally takes longer.”


From no less a source than the New York Times, so it must be true.

If you haven’t figured this out yet, I read the New York Times every day.  It’s a compulsion.  But it gives me a lot to think about.  Normally my thinking runs along the lines of how the Yankees are doing in their never-ending quest to spend more money on more players past their prime than any other team in professional sports.

But I digress.

Oh damn, I forgot where I was.  Oh yes, old people with old full brains.

Come to find out some linguistic researchers from the University of Tübingen in Germany conducted a study and wrote their findings in a paper (abstract alert) titled, “The Myth of Cognitive Decline,” published in the January 2014 edition of the journal Topics in Cognitive Science.

Now if that title doesn’t get the heart of an old geezer pumping nothing will.  Except Martha.  She’s good for some extra blood flow, too.

Anyway, these good folks ran an experiment that simulated how an older, educated brain retrieves a word or word pairs.  They hypothesized that since the older brain has been around longer and has experienced more in the course of its lifetime, there must be more words up there.

They compared these results with that of a younger brain that, by definition, has experienced less and therefore has fewer words rattling around the young noggin.

Once they factored for the extra time that a brain full of words takes to retrieve information, versus a younger, emptier brain, the difference in retrieval time largely disappeared.

It is widely accepted that as people age their cognitive information processing capabilities decline.  This stands to reason.  If our muscle reflexes slow as we age, why not our mental “reflexes.”

Those of us still young enough to think clearly – in other words, we still have some room up there – can understand the logic in this reasoning.  As our computers age and the hard drives are filled with a whole lot of useless information, their processing speeds slow down.

Usually when that happens we go out and get another computer with a larger hard drive.  Except we can’t do that with our brain.  At least not yet.  Soon there will be a magic pill that simulates the expansion of our cranial hard drives.  Think Viagra.  Different brain, but still.

Sorry, I got sidetracked again.

The problem with this experiment was that it was a simulated exercise, conducted on a computer.  While it’s intriguing to extrapolate the results to the human brain, particularly one like mine that’s old and run down (pardon me, full), it’s a bit of a stretch.

Hope does spring eternal, though.  Even at the New York Times.

The journalist who reported this study concludes from its findings that “the larger the library you have in your head, the longer it usually takes to find a particular word.”

Senior moments have never sounded so sensible.

We know too much.  Who knew?

So the next time you’re having trouble recalling the name of your long-lost girlfriend or boyfriend, or even what you had for lunch yesterday, don’t feel dejected.  Feel empowered.  Feel superior, even.

Your brain is obviously too full and it’s going to take awhile to sort through all the accumulated information up there.  You’ll eventually come up with the answer.  You always do.  Just because it’s next Thursday while taking out the trash doesn’t mean a thing.

And that young whippersnapper who condescendingly answers your question before you even finish asking it?  He’s just an empty-headed know-nothing who hasn’t really lived yet.  The time will come when he, too, wonders where he put his slippers.

Slow.  It’s the new fast.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *