My old friend, The Commissioner, had cataract surgery last week, a procedure that involves slicing the eye open, plucking out the inferior lens and replacing it with a superior one. It’s a pretty “routine” surgery, TC told me as we sat in the recovery room, a clear plastic cup taped over his new eye. And, thankfully, it seemed to have worked out OK in this case. I drove him home and when he showed up at my place yesterday to watch a little football, he wasn’t wearing his glasses and was marveling at how much his vision had improved.
I’m happy for my pal, don’t get me wrong, but I’m even happier that I haven’t had to consider a procedure — “routine” or not — that messes with my aging eyeballs. And that’s not just because I’m uncomfortable with the idea of someone cutting my eye open. It turns out that geezer vision has some special qualities that just get better with age — depending on your view.
Researchers at Brown University have found that folks my age and older actually absorb visual information more effectively than youngsters do. I’d like to think that’s because we’re more mentally focused, but it’s actually just the opposite. As we get older, we’re less able to filter out irrelevant information. We take everything in.
This is not the way the younger brain is wired, according to the study’s author, Takeo Watanabe. He argues that our command center has a limited capacity for learning new stuff and is designed to reject trivia that might crowd out more useful info, like where I left the car keys last night or Ty Cobb’s lifetime batting average (.367). So, that special quality for absorbing visual information may not be that helpful.
Trivia, of course, is in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it? TC is a revered figure in certain circles for his ability to name every World Series winner from 1960 to the present day or the number of goals and assists Wayne Gretzky recorded in the 1981-82 NHL season. My old friend, Leo, has in his seventysomething noggin the results of every presidential election since Calvin Coolidge won the White House. And, if you’re interested, I can tell you without consulting Siri where Karl Marx is buried and in which city and against which NBA team Wilt Chamberlain once scored 100 points in a single game.
Watanabe says he wants to use the information garnered from his study to design strategies to help geezers learn more effectively — and avoid absorbing info we don’t need. It’s an admirable pursuit, I suppose, but I kind of like the idea that as I get older I can count on my eyeballs to deliver all sorts of information to my brain. I guess I’m not too worried that very much of importance is going to be crowded out.