The Unforgettable Image, Part Three

Lee Stoops is back for week 3 of guest blogging:

 Understanding the Science of Imagination and Memory 

mobius stripMemory and imagination are interchangeable in a way because of the way they inform one another. This is especially true in storytelling. And it’s kind of like a closed loop, a Mobius strip, with no clear chicken or egg. Memory is created by witness, which is immediately followed by processing, followed by recall, which is only possible because of imagination. It goes on like this.

It’s been shown with MRI technology that in both cases of memory and imagination, blood flows to the same parts of the brain at the same rate, regardless of which is being used. (To read more on this, check out Priscilla Long’s My Brain on my Mind)

What we might label “long term” memories are stored deep in the brain and are easier to recall because we recall them all the time. The “unforgettable images” we read and write go into the same place – we can’t get rid of them and we can’t

help ourselves but think about them. That long term space is quick setting concrete and it’s out of our reach of control.

In case you’re curious (if you’ve gotten to here, you are – and thank you), it’s the Neocortex and Thalamus that are responsible for controlling the brain’s imagination. These are, unsurprisingly, the same pieces that control both consciousness and abstract thought.

So, imagination involves a bunch of different brain functions: emotions, memory, sensory recall. Understanding how memory and imagination are linked within the brain (not the physiological so much as the way they interact with our interior selves) means we can start to understand and link significant experiences with imagination for the sake of our work.

story time

As children, we all went through basic training for imaginations by listening to others tell stories. In narrative, it all comes down to the exactness of chosen words to evoke imagination and a sensory experience.

We focus on the senses – smell, taste, sound, texture, sight – because it’s what we’ve been trained to do. By others and by our brains. And while we remember much of what we read and write, because we can’t help ourselves, it’s the very specific images that make all the difference – this is our biology at work.

This is important to reconcile because our visual sense becomes our primary sense when we read and write. What we see in our mind, and the emotional response it evokes, relies on what we can “see.”

In the next post, we’ll build a case for changing the way we think about our imaginations and memories.

The Unforgettable Image Part Two: The Link Between Imagination and Memory

by guest blogger Lee Stoops:

but I’m such a cute cliché…

 In our generation of images and scenes, we tend to recreate the things that have strongly affected us. I need to note something about cliché here. Something is labeled cliché when it affects (or has affected) a lot of people. The problem with cliché, and why it doesn’t work for unforgettable imagery, is that it doesn’t have power. Because it’s common, overused. Clichés don’t surprise or evoke…anymore.

So, getting back to what we know and how we imagine: There are those few experiences that infect us, the things we can’t forget, especially the things we often times want to. These experiences are deeply informed by both imagination and memory.  So let’s break it down a bit.

Imagination: It has a fundamental and paradoxical dichotomy. It’s sensory, yet exists separate from the physical. Imagination makes hearing possible when there is no sound, remembers smell when there is no scent, makes images available when the eyes are hidden behind the flesh of lids.

But, the purpose of imagination is to provide meaning to experience and understanding to knowledge. It is the fundamental faculty through which people make sense of the world. It plays a key role in our human learning process.

Imagination, informed by memory, makes it possible for us to create, deepen, and understand the idea of the “other” – something I’m suspect we, as humans, are alone in our ability.

Memory: It is nothing if not imagination. The generation of feelings, both emotional and sensate, past and present, is the work of imagination.

While imagination is the tool with which we tell stories, paint pictures, sculpt statues, and compose music, process our world, make sense (or try to) of everything that happens, and then draw connections, what we’re really doing is forming memories to inform future experiences.

When we write, we use both imagination and memory to develop our scenes, our images.

When you write a scene, whether something you’ve a sense of for a story or something you remember for a personal essay – what happens?

As soon as it’s in words, it sharpens. And becomes permanent the way you imagine/remember it.

We’ve all heard that our memory is our truth. But what’s more? When we take the time to write these things, fiction or nonfiction, they also become our memory – they round memory out, possibly even replace memory.  

In the next post, we’ll dig into the science and how we can use it as storytellers.