For a variety of converging reasons, I have been reflecting lately about how my brain works. And to some degree, I have been coming to terms with long-resisted realities. For example:
1. I just don’t “do” small print–not even slightly small. There are countless books on my shelves that I have intended to read and finally realized that I never will, simply because the print is slightly small. Recently I carried a book around for three days, fooling myself that I would read it, but the print was just slightly small. The funny thing is that it is not a problem with my vision, because even with a perfectly fresh prescription for my glasses I have trouble with small print; the problem is not that I can’t see the letters. I can, quite clearly. Conclusion: The problem is in the way that my brain processes visual information. Practical conclusion: I have given myself permission to buy Kindle books.
2. I can’t remember dates. I have made a number of attempts in recent years to learn history, but I find that important dates just keep slipping. In Biblical history, which should be my specialization, I eventually just required two dates of my students, namely the dates of the exiles of the kingdoms of Israel: 587 for the south and, um, 722 or something like that for the north–I can’t even retain both of these important dates, it seems. I don’t know the birthdays of my siblings; I have to think hard to pull up birthdays of my own kids, and I’m rarely confident about it; just tonight I was wrong about my wife’s birthday. (She, on the other hand, instantly knew the saint whose feast is celebrated on the day that I wrongly stated as her birthday–and she reminds me about my siblings’ birthdays.) Conclusion: The problem is not that I never studied the dates, but that my brain does not handle dates well. Practical conclusion: I need to “encode” dates in some other form that I tend to remember better. (For example, I can remember what people wear, how they sit, their facial expressions, and so on, but my wife can’t remember any of those things.)
3. I don’t handle little details well. After joining the Board of Directors for my place of employ, I have many times studied a financial spreadsheet, but I can never make sense of it. In fact, my brain “crashes” and I need to look out a window and breath deeply after even looking at all those numbers in rows and columns. (That’s not because of how our finances are doing–in case you wondered!) The multitude of e-mails I receive frequently overwhelms me, because it requires handling lots of small details–including details about dates (see the above). If I could have a secretary to do one thing, it would be this: he would look through my e-mails to pull out the agenda items and important dates and put them in lists for me. I have a wonderful routine that helps me get through it, but even so I can sometimes put it off for days because it is so stressful. I can never remember what month something happened, even if it was important–when we moved, when a family member died, etc.–I can’t even remember what year things happened. (I ask my wife.) I worry about offending people, so I try to hide it. Conclusion: My brain works very well in big-picture mode and in seeing causal connections, and even when it comes to details of an argument, but my brain does not handle temporal-spatial detail well. Practical conclusion: I rely without guilt on others who do these things well, and I wish I could have more help.
Hypothesis: Could the above be connected? Could the central thread be a problem with processing physical detail?