So often, it seems, we get up from our chairs in front of the computer to do something or get something in the next room that seems relevant at the time (yes, there is life away from the computer!!), but when we get where we are going, we have forgotten why it was so important to go there in the first place. Sometimes, if we go back to where we were when we got the inclination to do or get that something, we can remember, but other times the memory has completely disappeared.
Gabriel Radvansky, Sabine Krawietz. and Andrea Tamplin, a team of researchers at the University of Notre Dame, have shown that walking through a doorway makes us forget. They postulate that our brains are wired to keep the most relevant information handy until the need for it expires, and then our brains purge those details in preparation for new “need-to-know” information. (Please excuse this tangent, but I am laughing and had to share the joke. I just checked synonyms for “information” on MSWord, which I am using to write this post, and the only synonyms MS gives are: “in order,” “in sequence,” “in turn,” “in rank,” and “in a row.” Apparently, MS thinks “in formation” is a single word. Or maybe they think information is in such scant supply that we don’t need a synonym.)
According to the Notre Dame researchers, going through a doorway signifies that whatever information being held at the ready in our brains is no longer vitally important, and so our brains purge that information. In other words, we forget. Makes sense — we can’t keep every thought at the forefront of our brains, especially since a lot of what we learned in the past is no longer relevant. For example, we no longer have to remember how to crawl or how to let our mothers know our diapers need to be changed. Nor, in this digital age, do we need to remember where to put decimal points when multiplying percentages. For that matter, we don’t even need to remember how to add and subtract.
I have a hunch hallways are much like doors. Cross a threshold, walk down a hall and through a doorway into another room, and we are lucky to remember who we are, let alone what we were doing.
In the past couple of weeks, I have managed to blow up two pans of eggs I was hardboiling. Yep. Blew them up. Loud cracks of explosions. Bits of egg all over the kitchen. I do know how to make perfect hardboiled eggs, of course. The problem is that I do not have the patience to stand around waiting for the water to boil (I know for a fact watched pots do boil, it just seems like they don’t). I planned to set the timer, but the timer was next to my computer where I left it the last time I used it (because that’s where I was when the timer was set to go off, of course. What I said above about there being life away from the computer? Ignore that. I spend so much time online, I’m not sure it’s true.)
To set the timer, all I had to do was walk from one room, down a hall, and into another, and in those few seconds, I completely forgot about the eggs. Forgot to set the timer. It wasn’t until I heard the loud cracks of the explosion and went to investigate that I remembered. (I’m not sure why the eggs exploded. The water had long boiled off, so perhaps the heat conducted by the stainless steel pan was so great the moisture inside had turned to steam, and since the shell couldn’t expand with the steam, the egg exploded.)
The explosion wasn’t my fault, of course. It was the fault of a faulty memory system that doesn’t allow us to retain a thought from one room to the next. Yeah, that’s it. Not my fault at all.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.