It has been demonstrated that anesthesia primarily affects the reticular activating system and psychological studies on patients undergoing anesthesia demonstrated a verbal memory defect. This study was performed in order to determine whether metabolic (uremic) encephalopathy follows the Jacksonian dissolution hypothesis and disrupts cortical function or whether it acts like an anesthetic, causes dysfunction in phylogenetically older systems and thereby produces a memory defect. Twenty-four uremic subjects were tested for memory function, language function, and intellectual function, and compared to 12 control subjects. The greatest difference between the groups was in immediate memory function suggesting that uremia probably acts in a manner similar to anesthesia (by causing dysfunction in the reticular activating system). It is postulated that poor arousal interferes with rehearsal and rehearsal is probably an important component of immediate memory. © 1975.