About Louise McDonald
In the eighties, a victim of a severe motorcycle accident, K. C., was found on examination to be unable to form episodic memories. Ask him what he had been doing an hour earlier, and he had no answer for you. Much to the surprise of his doctors, he was also unable to speculate what he might be doing the following day. This was especially unusual because he lived in a unit housing patients with severe traumatic brain injury where, sadly, one day was pretty much like another. This combination of impairments in the ability to form and retain new memories, or call up in his mind’s eye possible future scenes, suggested to two neuroscientists, Endel Tulving and Daniel Shachter, a connection between memory and imagination.When hooked up to a neuroimaging machine, K. C’s brain pattern of inactivation was virtually identical for episodic memory and for imagining events in the future. This suggested to Tulving and Shachter that our imagination is greatly dependent on memory; we clip and reassemble bits and pieces of past experience to model hypothetical, but as yet unrealized scenarios—in a phrase, we perform acts of imagination. We are talking here of the creativity that allows us to reconfigure remembered events from the past into imagined future possibilities.Even more exciting, the interplay between memory and imagination may run in both directions. Imagine doing something in a certain way and you wind up remembering it that way.Key to this new link between memory and imagination was the neuroscientific finding that the hippocampus is not only the initial stop on the memory pathway, but also the site where we create mental images of the world. Thus, the hippocampus plays a central role in creating mental scenes, allowing us to both experience the past and imagine the future. Brain science is thus confirming something that mnemonists have known for hundreds of years: as we progress in our ability to imagine, we strengthen our memories. That’s one of the reasons why creating bizarre, dramatic, and emotionally arousing imagined scenes provide the best structure for remembering all the things that we are trying to remember.Have you ever noticed that one member of a couple often serves as the historian for their shared experiences? It’s not that the other member of the couple experiences a failure of memory. It’s more like he or she enjoys re-experiencing past events through their partner’s fresh and different memories. “Do you remember what we did on our trip five years ago to Amsterdam?” Such a question is asked not so much because of a loss of memory for the trip, but in the hope that the response will rekindle not just a memory, but the feeling of familiarity that normally accompanies such recollections. This is one of the reasons the death of a spouse can sometimes be totally overwhelming. In the absence of the comfort which usually accompanies detailed and emotionally nuanced conversations with the deceased, the past seems bleak and loneliness-laden.Tyler Wetherall wrote a marvelous essay in the New York Times on the pains of missing out on shared memories. When her boyfriend sustained a severe head injury, his resulting amnesia included anything having to do with Wetherall. “The span of our entire relationship had vanished.” Worst of all, he could not remember the joy “and if he couldn’t remember the joy, it may as well have never happened.”
First Name: Louise McDonald
Display Name: Louise McDonald
Registered Date: 2022-08-13 05:19:31
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