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The Bloopy Brain Theory

On the Metro yesterday, I sat near a couple of girls -- college students, I think, or possibly high school seniors -- who were talking about a class they were taking together together and how hard it was. It was a psychology course, and they were discussing the infamous ill-fated study wherein a group of college students simulated the roles of prisoners and prison guards. It is a famous study. You know. THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT, conducted by PHILIP ZIMBARDO in 1971.

That's in caps not because I have particularly strong feelings about the subject, but because I'm still revved from Googling "college prison experiment" and finally confirming a few little details about the study that I once knew by heart. Such as: a) the name of it; b) where and when it happened; and c) who was in charge of it. The caps are there because I spent an entire Metro ride home in agony, desperately wracking the dank corners of my cobweb-ridden brain for this information, because I knew it was in there somewhere.. It had to be! I got an A in that class.

But there was nothing -- nothing but an infuriating tease of a recollection that the psychologist's name started with a Z and ended with an O. That's as far as I got. I was disastrously thrown off course by the fact that, in the years between my AP Psych class and yesterday afternoon, "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy was produced on film; my cretinous brain kept circling back to the clearly false notion that the guy's last name was 'Zimbilbo.'

Now that I am finally relieved, I am beginning to realize that this was a very different phenomenon from that of the everyday fact that momentarily slips one's mind. This was not a minor slip -- this was a giant splat. A deletion. And there are many. For instance, here are some other things I once knew:

-- A sizable chunk of the French language (now basically atrophied to one word: croissant).

-- The plot and characters of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." Also "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," which involved just one day of Ivan's life but at least 237 of mine.

-- Every name, date and noteworthy incident leading up to the fall of Ancient Rome

-- Algebra.

-- The names of all the prehistoric eras and periods, and the order in which they occurred (currently, I get lost somewhere around the "Jurassic Park" period).

Leading astronomical theory states that the galaxy is basically swirling around a big black hole from which nothing, not even light, escapes. Clearly my brain also follows this model. There is room in there for only so many planets and solar systems, and when the space gets overcrowded, something inches too close to the black hole and -- bloop! Gone. It is clear that my Solar System of High School Academics has long since blooped into nonexistence. Also the Nebula of Books I Read in Undergrad. Everything I learned from watching 20 squillion episodes of "Nova" as a kid? Bloop.

To replace all the valuable knowledge contained in those lost worlds, I have helpful new additions such as: the "American Idol" Planet! Yeah! Sing with me now: Don't know much about his-to-ry, Don't know much bi-o-logy, But I do know that Jason Castro's hair makes me want to ralph.

Well, enough is enough. I will rage against the blooping. Maybe I will take a trip to the Natural History museum, where I will actually pay attention to the informative plaque at the trilobite display. I will re-read a classic of the literary canon on the Metro ride there. If I see any students with notebooks in my subway car, I will turn up the volume on my iPod.

-- Caitlin Gibson

By Editor  |  May 8, 2008; 10:00 AM ET
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