Brain storage space in jeopardy

The longer we live, the more history we have to learn.

This is the reason our founders were smarter than we are today. At least we often think this is true, based on things like the admissions standards for Harvard in the 1700s that included Greek and Latin. People back then had more room in their brains for classical languages because they had 300 fewer years of history to cram in their heads.

A history class I took in college was to cover U.S. History since 1877. It was an overview that turned into a partial view, like cheap mini-blinds that won’t fully open. We made it through World War II on fumes and ran out of gas near the 58th Parallel.

Age has a great advantage over youth when it comes to history. The older you are, the more history you’ve experienced. Been there, seen that.

We used to enjoy watching my father-in-law, who lived to be 97, watch Jeopardy. He rarely missed a history question because he was nearly a century old. It also didn’t hurt that he had a photographic memory.

My father-in-law would have been indignant over the recent Teen Jeopardy winner. Leonard Cooper won $75,000, but didn’t know the answer to the final question, “Who said, ‘The eyes of the world are upon you?’ June 6, 1944.”

“Who is some guy in Normandy?” was Cooper’s answer.

I could identify with Cooper. Let he who is without a memory lapse cast the first brain cell. Cooper illustrated my point that the younger you are, the more history you have to learn. I subscribe to the theory that we all have fixed memory storage. If only we could add a few megabytes with the swipe of a credit card.

But we can’t. So there are days when our brains are packed, the wheels struggle to turn and recall grows foggy . . . somebody said . . . I read somewhere . . . weren’t you the one who told me . . . I can’t remember where I heard this. . . I might have the numbers wrong.

We have a firm but slippery grasp of the facts. We are certain what we are saying is true, or reasonably true, we just have no memory of where we heard it, read it or saw it. Consequently, the conversation we are repeating may have come from a completely different setting, the chronology could be off by a decade or two, and the quote from Normandy might have been from Patton.

A lot of my memory storage was regrettably squandered on things like the theme song to Gilligan’s island and the lyrics to “Wild Thing.” Let this be a lesson to you young people lip syncing with Lady Gaga. Use your storage wisely. Save some for later when you will learn important things on your own once you are out of school and have more time to watch Jeopardy.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The guy in Normandy.