19 May 2007

Encroaching Senility, Or An Insight Into How The Brain Works?

Every night when it's time to shut down the computer and go to bed, part of my routine is to move my glasses and my phone from my desk over to my bedside stand. I've been doing this for a long time now, years, I guess, so I don't think too much about it, it just kind of happens almost automatically.

So imagine my surprise the other night when I reached the bedside stand and found myself trying to set down a drinking glass where my reading glasses usually go. I might not even have noticed except that while there's just enough room for a pair of glasses to rest in between the radio and my notebook, there isn't enough for a drinking glass. There I stood, temporarily befuddled, simultaneously questioning whether I was having a senior moment and wondering what had become of my glasses.

The glasses, as you might expect, turned out to be on my face, but that still didn't explain how the drinking glass had got into my hand. Apparently my brain, working on autopilot, had said, "Pick up the glasses and move them to the night stand," and my body had moved to comply. Not finding a pair of glasses, it had picked up the closest approximation thereof, but that's where the mystery comes in.

A pair of glasses and a drinking glass have little similarity in terms of size, shape, weight or appearance. Well, at least the style of glasses I wear doesn't; I can't speak about your fashion choices. You could say they both contain glass, but that's a pretty nebulous connection, as you will know if you've ever tried to read through a drinking glass.

So the main factor tying the two together is linguistic, i.e., the word "glass." Is the brain that easily fooled or distracted? Does a restaurant employee, told to bus some tables, go outside and get on a city bus? Will I find myself ordering a sandwich in Subway one of these days when I'd intended to take the subway to Manhattan?

Maybe I'm just humoring myself, or am in denial, but I actually don't think I'm going senile just yet. For just an instant, though, I felt I was able to understand a little more clearly how the brain works. Or, as in this case, doesn't.

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