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Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, America’s sweethearts, starred in Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail, two well-regarded romantic comedies by Nora Ephron, director and screenwriter. Ephron was not involved in the film Joe Versus the Volcano, where Hanks plays Joe, a downtrodden man working at a dreary job for very little money. Out of the blue, he is diagnosed with a brain cloud, a rare disease that has no symptoms and kills suddenly and without warning within just a few months. The plot has Joe accepting a trade where he can live his last days in luxury if he agrees to be sacrificed to appease the gods of a tiny Pacific Island nation ruled by Abe Vigoda. Much silliness ensues until we finally learn that there is no such thing as a brain cloud and Tom and Meg’s characters live happily ever after.

There is a thing called brain fog, though

People of every age have moments where they cannot recall a word or a detail that seems just out of reach. As we get older, these moments happen more often. They are part of the natural cognitive decline that comes with aging, just as we all inevitably experience erosion of our physical and sensory skills. Brain fog is a term used by people whose thinking is sluggish and fuzzy. Billie Schultz, a Mayo Clinic physician, says “‘Brain fog’ is the feeling that all thinking is taking more effort, that you’re missing the details, almost as if you’re driving through a fog.”

Brain fog isn’t an official disease

It’s a cluster of symptoms that include :

  • Trouble paying attention.
  • Difficulty maintaining focus.
  • Poor judgment.
  • Frequent loss of your train of thought.

Train of thought 

The train is a reference to an uninterrupted sequence of interconnected ideas and reasoning. They progress in an orderly fashion with one idea leading to another just like a series of linked cars rolling down the railroad tracks. At its finest, following a train of thought is being in a state of deep, flowing concentration. Another way to describe a state of total involvement, blissful immersion and energizing focus is being in the zone. To me, the most interesting part of it is how deeply enjoyable it is to experience the process.

It is loosely related to having a one-track mind, which is to be fixated on and obsessed with a particular topic to the exclusion of everything else

The term comes from single-track railway lines where train traffic could go in only one direction at a time and all other trains sat waiting while one used the track.

What causes brain fog?

No one knows but many have opinions. Some say it’s an inflammation in your brain caused by your body’s immune response. Others say it is hormonal changes, stress, sensitivity to certain foods, unbalanced blood sugars and the effects of long Covid. No matter the cause, all agree the way you get rid of brain fog is by eating right and exercising more Note these are things few of us do as well or often as we should, so look for brain fog rates to be on the rise.

Brain cramp

This is a closely related term that refers to a momentary mental lapse caused by inattention, forgetfulness and carelessness.

Brain freeze

Studies show that half of us experience brain freeze, what Johns Hopkins Medicine calls sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia. When we take in very cold liquids and solids, the blood vessels in our mouths constrict, then open up quickly. This “rebound” sends a pain signal to the brain. Brain freeze is an example of referred pain, where stimulit in one part of your body (your mouth) signal pain in another (your brain).

Brainstorms

William Styron, author of Darkness Visible, A Memoir of Madness, thinks brain storm is a better word for depression because “it is a howling tempest in the brain that swallows its victims entirely, propelled by the intermingled factors of abnormal chemistry, genetics and behavior.”

Most of us know brainstorming as a marketing department activity

Marketers believe that creative thinking is stimulated through spontaneous participation in a group activity. This comes as a shock to inventors everywhere. Never mind brainstorming is more often a way for crafty people to advance their careers while lame brains reveal themselves as dull-witted persons, dolts and dunces.

Brain dumps

Think of brain dumps as the equivalent of garbage trucks emptying tons of unrelated trash at the landfill. You are supposed to take all the ideas and thoughts from your head and put them in writing but only the easy things actually get done this way. 

Brain dumps are supposed to turn random, abstract thoughts into to-do lists but more often just move your jumbled mess from one place to another

It is one thing to get all those confused, colliding thoughts out of your head and quite another to accomplish something of worth once you’ve done the easy part.

Brain drain

This is what happens when the smartest people leave where they are and go somewhere else. It originally applied to people with advanced technical skills and knowledge leaving one country for another because of an untenable situation.

The term was invented to describe the emigration of scientists and technicians from Europe to Canada and the United States during and after World War Two

It now applies to skilled and talented people who move to another country for more money, a better life, a safer environment and greater all-around favorable circumstances. These days it also applies to talented people who leave companies that don’t reward productivity.

Bonus

  • “The chief function of the body is to carry the brain around.” -Thomas Edison
  • “A brain is like a little empty attic that you stock with the furniture of your choice. -Arthur Conan Doyle.
  • “He hasn’t got enough brains to be unhappy.” -John Yossarian, Catch-22.
  • “The brain is a wonderful organ. It starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get to the office.” -Robert Frost

 

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