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Monday, April 19, 2021

THE MYSTERY OF THE SENIOR MOMENT

 I have written before about what we old folks call a senior moment and in particular about my strange inability to remember the name of the great soprano Kathleen Battle. Last night, I lay in bed tossing and turning for more than an hour trying to remember a name that I simply could not come up with.  I could see the person in my mind. I knew that the person was a man. I knew he was American, that he was white, that he was pretty old, that he was short and funny looking, that he was a Harvard professor of law, that he spent summers on Martha's Vineyard, that he got bent out of shape when the folks on the Vineyard stopped inviting him to dinner parties after he came out for Trump, and I even remembered that he had been one of Trump's lawyers during the first impeachment. I knew his name was not Leo Durocher although I thought it was not too far off that but I just could not remember the name. Finally, I got up, went to my computer, and very quickly established that I was thinking of Alan Dershowitz.


Why on earth is it that I can remember all these things about a person and yet simply not be able to come up with his name? What special link in the brain is failing just for the name but not for everything else about him? That, I must confess, does not keep me up at night, but trying to remember "Alan Dershowitz" really did.

6 comments:

DDA said...

If only we could all forget both Alan Dershowitz and "Alan Dershowitz" .

Boram Lee said...

Dear Professor Wolff,

I have exactly the opposite problem. I can remember names pretty well, but am hard-pressed to recall earlier steps of an extended argument that I am currently reading about. Thus I find your ability to recall entire complex arguments from decades ago incredibly remarkable.

In the days of Socrates and Plato, when much of the ability to understand arguments must have depended on recalling earlier steps, I am sure I would not have been able to do philosophy or any theoretical tasks.

Anonymous said...

I have had this problem from childhood, so it's not necessarily only connected to seniors.

When I was teaching, I used to tell my students that I had this problem with names and that it was something like disability, so they wouldn't be offended when I couldn't recall their names after 8 weeks of class when they'd regularly contributed to discussions and I read their names from the attendance sheet each morning. I could remember all sorts of things about them, including the details of their various comments in class and the papers they submitted. Just not their names.

I have often wondered what the problem in my brain is. Currently I'm middle aged. I wonder if the problem will get worse as I age, which is hard to imagine.

-dd

Michael Llenos said...

If Socrates were alive today, he might say that the eternal forms: man, American, white, pretty old, short & funny, Harvard, professor, law, Martha's Vineyard, Trump, and impeachment are "recollected" more often than the combined letters that make up the name: Alan Dershowitz. Somewhat like Kant's categories, I believe the Platonic Forms (if they are factual) have their priorities of recollected-order in the human mind. Perhaps like a muscle, the more one mentally uses a Platonic Form the stronger its memory and recollection is. For I conceive that inside the human mind the ability to recall something, and it's priority, is based on how many times that something is used on a weekly basis by the mind. Let's face it you are a perfectionist, Dr. Wolff, and you're upset not because of the normal processes of the mind & how they function, but that you cannot command your mind to the highest degree of supreme efficiency. BTW, I believe part of your frustration is that you assume that the name of something commands the first place in it's individuality. But the truth is that to the human mind, the name of something could just be an unassuming part of it's collective whole.

Charles Pigden said...

With me failure to remember a name is sometimes due to the fact that another similar name is, so to speak, blocking it. I suspect that this is what was happening with Professor Wolf. He couldn't get to the grizzly name of the ghastly Alan Dershowitz because' Leo Douracher' was blocking it.

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