Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Mind Junk

Mind junk.When I was in college, I heard a story on the radio about Mel Blanc, the man who voiced Bugs Bunny and myriad other characters. After a stroke, he was unable to talk until one day, a doctor spoke to him not as Mel Blanc but as Bugs. "How are you doing today, Bugs?"

"Not so good, Doc."

That was a starting point for his recovery at the time. (This was back in the 1970s.) After decades of voice work, Blanc was able to access the part of his brain that knew how to perform as Bugs Bunny, even though his normal speech center was on the fritz (Friz?).

Similarly, lots of people with Alzheimer's seem to have an easier time accessing very old memories than recent ones. New memories become hard to encode and store, but the well-traveled paths to key memories from 1935 or 1947 still function.

So what am I to make of this? If memes produce mind clutter, as Richard Brodie claims, with lots of junk ideas well-adapted for survival and propagation, then many of my most accessible memories are memes. Last night, for no particular reason, I IMed lines from kids' books I read forty years ago. I take perverse pleasure in the fact that I can still sing the 1960s jingles for Byrne Dairy and Syracuse Savings Bank. Watching a Star Trek episode for the first time in 30 years, I recite choice bits of dialogue along with Kirk and Spock and Bones. Is this a good thing? Yes, it means that I have a good memory for words and patterns of words, rhymes and lyrics and dialogue, and that can be useful. But am I remembering literature and pop culture at the eventual expense of more important memories? When I'm 80, will I still sing about Syracuse Savings Bank, but not know my husband or how to hold a fork? Come to think of it, John would say that I already don't know how to hold a fork properly.

Maybe I shouldn't worry about this. At 81, my dad is still sharp, with very little memory loss. My mom had significant dementia at 73, but she was a smoker. And anyway, medicine marches on. Eventually there may be effective treatments for memory loss, or even a means of prevention. If I live that long, I may still have a decent memory at 80, especially if I start taking care of my body now (fat chance). But still I wonder whether, like Mel Blanc, my  brain will still be accessing Bugs Bunny when more useful functions have gone kerflooey.



jeff466 said...

I can see me at 80 not remembering who I am but remembering the phrase "yourrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr'e disssssspickable" and that at some point a daffy duck said that to a silly wabbit.    

alphawoman1 said...

Standing in line at Watmart (God help me I can not stay out of that place) I picked up one of those rags at the cash register and read about the pro's and con's of diet soft drinks....I think the aspertine(I know I spelled that wrong, but the sugar substitute).  I have heard it is linked to a multitude of  maladies...one of which is memory loss.  So I stopped drinking them last week to see if my Senior Moments would diminish.......? We'll see.

chasferris said...

My very educated Mother just sat upon nine pillows. One thing to remember it and another to know what it was for.  I wonder.
True vigins make dull companions will set your boat straight somehow.  St. Wapniacl will tell you the members of President Rooseveldt's cabinet. Quickly we educate rapid typists, yet, understand, I order practice will help you type.
My phone number in 1937 was 935-M.  M meant two rings, but one ring was for somebody else on the party line.  You could listen in, but they were a pretty dull family so you didn't bother, often. In 1923 I lived at 612 Alpine Drive in Beverly Hills though it was not known as 90241.
My mind is filled with such stuff.  No wonder I once forgot my Grandson's name.

ryanagi said...

I love my house, I love my nest...in all the world, my nest is best. ;-)