I have recently become curious about the brain, and how it functions. I know that there is a ton of fresh research in this field, and I am trying to digest a bit of it. My concern, however, is more personal than it is academic. I am discovering that the warm computer between my ears is growing older along with the rest of my body. In particular, my memory has taken a strange turn. I now make it a habit, when I am at a lunch table or in a meeting, or even on the streets of our community to call out to myself the names of those I encounter. But here is the problem. While I get most names right, there are several people I know well whose names have not gotten etched in my memory, and try as I might I come up with a blank when I try to name them. A few minutes later the names will come to me—unless I am still thinking about it!
There are other blanks in my memory. The other night I spent hours lying awake trying to remember the names of the three Baltic States. I could get two of them but not the third—and when the third finally came to me, one of the others disappeared. I finally looked up the names of the three– Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, but I am still having a difficult time keeping all three in my mind at the same time.
There is another, even more curious side of this problem. Let me illustrate. The other night I had a dream and in it I told someone that his facts were wrong and I recited to him something I knew about the property of inert, or noble, gases. Where did that come from? Seventy years ago I took a high school class in chemistry. I was not particularly interested in the subject and probably faked my way through it. I am sure that I haven’t considered the properties of noble gases since then. Why should I? But there it was in a dream, conjured up from some remote crevice in my brain.
These days I find myself singing little songs and reciting strange poems I first heard from my grandmother eighty years ago.
Tammy was a Welshman, Tammy was a thief.
Tammy came to my house and stole a bit of beef.
I went to Tammy’s house, Tammy was in bed.
I took a marrow bone, and hit him on the head.
Where in the world did that racist thing come from?
These days I also find myself humming little songs from my earliest Sunday School days when I was about three or four.
Climb, climb up sunshine mountain faces all aglo..
Climb, climb up sunshine mountain, looking to and fro.
Turn, turn from sin and doubting, looking to the sky.
Climb, climb up sunshine mountain, you and I.
HORRORS! What is that doing somewhere in my consciousness?
All this is enough to drive me back to writing about politics.
There is another aspect of this concern that has some currency where I live. It is the conviction by some of my friends and neighbors that the mind—or soul—personal consciousness lives on after the brain and the rest of the physical body have died. They find evidence for this phenomenon in what are called “near death experiences,” and in concerns about a heavenly existence or reincarnation. My skepticism is rather profound, but I do listen to those who are interested in those subjects.
I doubt that my level of fascination will drive me into a new career regarding the nature of brain function. But here is a request. Is there some book that discusses this subject in simple language such as “Brain Function for Dummies”? If you know of one, send the details to me