The tip-of-the-tongue state is a common experience where you know you know something but can’t quite bring it to mind. This everyday experience has told us a great deal about how the mind and brain work, as explored in an article for the Boston Globe.
It’s a paradoxical experience if you think about it. You know something, but you can’t remember it.
Just this tells us that the storage of information and the ability to access it are distinct in the brain.
It also tells us that the brain must have ways of monitoring itself and communicating how successfully it carries out its operations to the conscious and unconscious mind.
This is known as ‘metacognition‘ and is one of the most important concepts in modern psychology.
The Boston Globe article (by Jonah Lehrer of the Frontal Cortex blog) is a remarkably lucid exploration of exactly this topic, looking at how it has been studied in everything from lab studies to people with brain injury who suffer near permanent tip-of-the-tongue states.
Link to Boston Globe article ‘What’s that name?’.