Every time when I go to my gym, generally three times a week, my brain spits out a four digit number at me as I walk from my car to the gym. It does so although I don’t need to remember this number anymore because the gym switched to scanning of tiny membership cards which most people attached to the car key ring. So all I have to do now is just scan it, it beeps at me, and that’s that.
I don’t know how to tell my brain to stop remembering this number because this information is now useless. My brain is like a dog – it has a mind of its own, and I can’t really talk to it, no matter how hard I try.
This morning I when I woke up, I was thinking about something involving telephones, and to my consternation I realized that I don’t remember the three digits in my home and office phone number, (and the fax too, I keep telling myself that I can finally get rid of that but I still have not done so), just after the area code. What is it, I thought to myself, 310 …. no, that’s the area code for Southern California, 315 …. no, that’s not it either….. In the end I had to look at my business card to recall that it is 312. Of course it is 312! How could it be that I do not remember it? I have been using these phone numbers, (all of which have the same three digits after the area code) for 14 years since I moved here from California where my telephone number was …. (all I remember is the area code 757).
There are people who remember numbers, and there are people who remember names, but I don’t belong to either of these two categories. Some of my brain-dog’s reluctance to remember numbers may have to do with the fact that I never liked math (and never was very good at it), and some of its reluctance to remember names may have to do with the fact that my poor brain had to remember names in different languages, which may be harder than remembering them in just one language. Slavic names first, followed by German names, then American names and Japanese names.
I seem to remember Japanese names better than other names, probably because I can visualize the characters that go with the names. Ohno-san was the daredevil who worked next to me in my office and who was commuting to work on motorcycle, Fukuzawa-san was the guy with a crooked smile who was fascinated by gaijins (foreigners) and who was running a tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Setagaya-ku after work in the office.
How is it possible that for a few minutes I forgot my own phone number, and yet, my brain remembers all of these names, ancient information about things that happened 30 years ago, which probably means that there is no good reason why I should still remember these names? This too is now useless information, isn’t it? Or is it because Japanese names are so different from any other names and thus easier to remember? Or is there another reason?
People talk to dogs all the time, although dogs clearly don’t care about human languages and have no use for human language, since all they need to say to us can be generally communicated much more efficiently and very elegantly with their tail. When we talk to them, they try to look knowingly at us, the crazy people who talk to dogs as if dogs could understand us, to makes us feel good about ourselves because then we can tell ourselves that our dogs do understands us, probably better than our wives, husbands, and children.
I do understand the mysterious ways in which human brain works and operates, but only to a very limited extent. For example, I know that when there is no meaningful relationship between the roots of words or characters in a language that I am translating and their meaning in English, my brain refuses to remember the correct term in the translation, especially if it knows that it is a particularly arcane term that I will probably not need for another 10 or 15 years. So I write the translation on a yellow post-it, sometime with and sometime without the equivalent in the original language, stick it on the bottom of the monitor, and quickly glance at it when I need it.
There is no need to fight my brain on this, is there? Just like a dog has its own doggie logic, the brain has its own brainy logic. If it makes sense for it to remember something, it will remember it and sometime even create a permanent or semi-permanent connection to the place on the brain’s hard disk where the word will be stored so that it can then be quickly accessed also from the memory cache. If the brain does not want to do that for me, I just have to write things on post-its.
There is no arguing with your own brain.
The challenge of remembering a dozen or more passwords that we need to remember to do just about anything on the Internet these days is now definitely beyond the capacity of any human brain. It was no problem at first when all we had to remember was a couple of simple passwords for a couple of e-mail accounts.
But how things have changed! Like most people, I had to write down dozens of passwords for everything from Apple ID to Reddit, T-Mobile and something called XING (which I have not used in at least 3 years) on a sheet of paper that I keep under the desk cover in all three locations of my three desktop computers. Whenever I create or change a password, I should remember to make the same change in the other two locations, but since I am generally too impulsive and absorbed in whatever else I happen to be doing at the moment to be bothered by something like that, none of the lists is 100% reliable at this point.
One day I may be locked out of every single account that I have created over the last five years.
My inability to remember three digits of my own damn telephone number for a few minutes this morning is probably some kind of a message that my brain is sending to me.
But I don’t know what this message means. It is much easier to talk to your dog than to your own brain because …. the trouble with your brain is that unlike your dog, it does not let you know how it feels about anything by wagging its tail at you.