on the tip of your tongue

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on the tip of your tongue

Postby kenneth delves on Sun Jun 01, 2008 10:02 am

[bBeginning of a long article on how we recall faces and names[unIntelligent design or evolution]

http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas ... o_a_friend



Home / Globe / Ideas
What's that name?
You know the feeling that something is on the tip of your tongue? It offers deep insights into the nature of the mind.
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size – + By Jonah Lehrer
June 1, 2008
LATE IN 1988, a 41-year-old Italian hardware clerk arrived in his doctor's office with a bizarre complaint. Although he could recognize people, and remember all sorts of information about them, he had no idea what to call them. He'd lost the ability to remember any personal name, even the names of close friends and family members. He was forced to refer to his wife as "wife."

(Ryan Lane/Istock Photo)
more stories like thisA few months before, the man, known as LS in the scientific literature, had been in a serious accident. He was thrown from his horse and the left side of his skull took the brunt of the impact. At first, it seemed as if the man had been lucky. A battery of routine tests had failed to detect any abnormalities. But now he appeared stuck with this peculiar form of amnesia, so that the names of people were perpetually on the tip of his tongue. It was agonizing.

In the years since, scientists have come to a much firmer understanding of this phenomenon. It's estimated that, on average, people have a tip-of-the-tongue moment at least once a week. Perhaps it occurs when you run into an old acquaintance whose name you can't remember, although you know that it begins with the letter "T." Or perhaps you struggle to recall the title of a recent movie, even though you can describe the plot in perfect detail. Researchers have located the specific brain areas that are activated during such moments, and even captured images of the mind when we are struggling to find these forgotten words.

This research topic has become surprisingly fruitful. It has allowed scientists to explore many of the most mysterious aspects of the human brain, including the relationship between the conscious and unconscious, the fragmentary nature of memory, and the mechanics of language. Others, meanwhile, are using the frustrating state to learn about the aging process, illuminating the ways in which, over time, the brain becomes less able to access its own storehouse of information.

"The tip-of-the-tongue state is a fundamental side effect of the way our mind is designed," says Bennett Schwartz, a psychologist at Florida International University who studies the phenomenon.

One of the key lessons of tip-of-the-tongue research is that the human brain is a cluttered place. Our knowledge is filed away in a somewhat slapdash fashion, so that names are stored separately from faces and the sound of a word and the meaning of a word are kept in distinct locations. Sometimes when we forget something, the memory is not so much lost as misplaced.

The messy reality of the mind contradicts the conventional metaphor of memory, which assumes that the brain is like a vast and well-organized file cabinet. According to this theory, we're able to locate the necessary memory because it has been sorted according to some logical system. But this metaphor is misleading. The brain isn't an immaculate file cabinet - it's more like an untidy desk covered with piles of paper.Continued...
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kenneth delves
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