How Does Your Brain Work

by Andy Rooney


It may not matter to you, but I wish there was a better way for us to keep track of some of the numbers and information we gather throughout our lives. And then of course I'd like to be able to permanently forget some information. Sometimes I feel that we should be in more control of our brains.

A lot of numbers and general information don't really matter, but I'm curious about certain facts I wouldn't possibly remember. For example: How far have I walked during my life? How much food have I eaten? How many words have I written? How many hours have I've slept? There are a million other statistics that I'd like to know. It's my life and I'd know more about myself if I knew all of this information. Some stuff is better stored, of course, and our brains ought to be able to store information permanently. As a matter of fact, if would be great if our brains were able to compartmentalize certain information for use when needed. I think it would be a better world if we all had that talent.

There are several thousand numbers I know that I never think about day after day and I wish I could get rid of them. They must take up space in my head -- space I could use. I know half a dozen addresses, but I remember too many things and too many numbers and addresses that I no longer have any use for. I don't know why I remember eight or 10 telephone numbers including one we had on Partridge Street in Albany when I was 8 years old. It isn't a number that I will ever need to remember again, but it keeps popping up in my mind. There are some things we never forget and it would be good if we could. Our brains are filled with memories we have no use for. Even worse, we can't forget a lot of things we don't need to remember any longer. So does anyone care that my old telephone number in Albany was 6-2348 W? I don't think so. Also, what did the Telephone Company do with those letters of the alphabet they used to assign to all of our telephone numbers?

I remember my friends Alfie Gordon, Bobby Reidy and Jackie Kirchner well -- even though I haven't seen any of them for over 70 years. I don't know where any of them are -- or if they are still with us -- but if one of them walked in, I'd know him instantly. So how come I can't remember the name of the man who came to my office yesterday with an interesting story suggestion?

We desperately need to be more in charge of our memories.

Because I don't have a good memory, I like to think a good memory doesn't have much to do with good thinking. I'm dreaming, of course. Of all the people I have known in my lifetime whom I remember best, one stands out the most. That person was my smartest friend with the best memory, Harry Reasoner. His terrific memory and his intelligence were traits that were inseparable.

Harry would read a script and then deliver it flawlessly. He didn't have to look at what was written more than once. When I write a script, I need a teleprompter to displays the words on a machine that I read from over and over until my staff says I've gotten it right. I don't have the ability to look at a script I've written, and then deliver it from memory.

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