Emoblog/2015/11/11/cognitively defective

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An almost-argument just now has given me an example to use in explaining one of my main cognitive deficits.

We did lawn-mowing this morning, and it emerged that there was a moonflower growing up into a hibiscus, and Harena was all excited about it because she hadn't realized that the moonflower was still alive, and I was happy for her because it was.

We focused on mowing other areas of the lawn until the battery ran down, then we went out and got lunch and did a couple of errands, and then we came back to finish up the mowing since the battery had recharged... by which time I had completely forgotten about the moonflower, and unintentionally mowed right through its stem.

This was obviously rather upsetting to everyone, but we've dealt with that and what I want to talk about is something that came out of the discussion that happened right afterwards.

Background: I'm always telling H that she needs to watch me carefully when I'm mowing anywhere near anything important, because I may forget that something is there, even if she has told me a zillion times. (In other words, yes, this kind of thing has happened before...)

In the wake of the Mownflower Incident, the subject of Lawncare Botanical Safety Protocols naturally came up again. She was saying (quite reasonably) that she couldn't watch me every second, and why can't I "write it to your hard drive" that the hibiscus has a moonflower in it, and don't mow there?

Well, that's a good question, isn't it. If I want to remember something, and it really matters to me, I should be able to remember it, right?

The thing is, as I explained to H, I don't have a hard drive; I have something more like volatile RAM that gets switched off arbitrarily and fills up quickly. I can't decide what to remember. There are some things I can do to increase the likelihood that I will remember something, but only by a little, and it takes a lot of effort and concentration. If I wanted to have a 90% chance of remembering something in an hour, I'd basically have to not do anything else for that hour, and make a point of checking the time every 5 minutes or so and refresh my memory as to what I was trying to remember. (Leaving aside technological aids like computer alarms – but then I have to be sure I'm not going to be working away from the computer, etc. etc. etc.)

This brought up a recent memory (ha ha) of trying to explain this same phenomenon to my dad, who generally responds with "oh, well, I have that problem too", and the discussion usually ends there because what can you say?

...BUT, as it happens, not too long ago H & I had been talking about how parents (mainly Dad) always thought I was "being stroppy" – doing it deliberately – when I would forget something "obvious" like this (a common objection is "how could someone so intelligent forget something that obvious?", often accompanied by counterexamples, e.g. my having memorized pi to 40 digits in middle school, quoting long stretches of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, etc.), and this time around I was able to connect the two...

...and the conventional wisdom seems to be more or less what Dad said: 'Oh, everyone has to deal with that.' But the thing is, if that's the case, then why did they think I was doing it deliberately?

Another piece of conventional wisdom is the "if it really matters to you, you can remember it – so if you forget it, that means it doesn't really matter to you – which means you're lying if you said it did matter to you, and/or your priorities need adjusting" sequence, which basically boils down to "it's your fault" / "you're not trying hard enough" (with a large side-order of "you're dishonest").

The piece of that which always, in the past, managed to get me to accept blame for forgetting things was the fact that the general rule for {things I can remember} is {things that I find interesting} – so obviously all I need to do is take an interest in something, and then I'll remember it, right? Therefore if I forget things, it's because I'm choosing not to take an interest in them – therefore forgetting things is (again) my fault.

After much pondering, I worked out that there's a difference between {making the effort to take an interest in something} (which usually seems to satisfy people when they expect you to be interested in something) and {actually being interested in something} – and I don't know about anyone else, but I don't have any control over what I find interesting.

I seem to recall actually managing to work through this logic at some time during my childhood, explaining it to an adult, and basically having it dismissed as "not trying hard enough" or "just being silly" or something.

But again, if it's so easily dismissable, then it can't be something that "everyone has to deal with", otherwise they'd understand it, right?