When I was in school, many of the books I needed were in the stacks of the library and had to be retrieved by a page. This person took the slip of paper with the needed title and disappeared for a time until reappearing with the requested volume. Depending on where the book was housed, this could take from 5 to 30 minutes, and it wasn’t possible to predict the wait.
I find that my fact retrieval system lately seems to be operating in the same way. If I need information that I frequently use, it usually is immediately available to me. However, if I haven’t needed to know something for a long time, my retrieval is delayed. I imagine a little page running around my brain, going into the back recesses trying to find where something is stored. I can imagine it going,”When did she learn this and where did she stash the answer?”
Take state capitals, for instance. I learned all the capitals of the then 48 states of the U.S. when I was 10 years old. I had never been to a majority of the cities, so the capital was the only name I knew. Then I didn’t need the information for 60 years. No random person stopped me on the street to inquire about the capital of Iowa. But since my grandson is studying state capitals, he asked me the capital of North Dakota. No matter how long and hard the page searched the back nooks of my mind, he couldn’t find the answer.
Apparently, at some point, just as the library eventually discards books no one asks for any more, my brain functions to clear out space. Unfortunately there is no handy reference to let me know that no matter how hard I look, I won’t find the answer. Google to the rescue. Bismarck, not Fargo, is the capital of North Dakota. I knew that. (Once!)