Imagination and memory

Beyond Brushstrokes
Marivic Rufino

Posted on May 13, 2013

"MEMORY IS a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, and the things you never want to lose." -- (Quote from The Wonder Years)

Memory and imagination are fascinating functions of the brain.

Rev. Jesse Jackson declared, "My heart can believe it. I know I can achieve it."

Imagination is in the realm of the possible and what could happen. It is limitless. Children and creative individuals, for example, have active imaginations and use their right brains. Colors, dreams, numbers and images exist in their minds. These subjects can take form one day -- in an art work, a building or an invention.

"Imagination is a soul-fueled exercise, ending in delight!" Jungian psychologist Rose Yenko commented.

The great film director Alfred Hitchcock never sat among the audience to watch his films. When asked if he missed hearing them scream, he replied, "No, I can hear them when I’m making the picture."

Memory is about what has transpired. We have a data bank that stores details from the time we are in the womb. We have happy, sad, mundane experiences that are remembered when provoked.

Thus babies can remember sounds -- classical music or loud noise, words and feelings. They respond to the same stimuli when they are children and adults. Toddlers can recall celestial phenomena such as the solar eclipse, earthquake, falling stars, full moons, Mars the red planet. They are sensitive to exuberant fireworks -- bursts of color and explosions.

Kids absorb everything they hear and see like a sponge absorbs water. Their memory is fresh and uncluttered. Learning and retention are easy. (It is important that we keep our promises and do what we say because children do not forget.)

As we mature (and add chronological years), we notice little quirks. Our short term memory plays tricks. Beyond a certain age, people joke about "senior moments" and being forgetful about little things.

"Where are those reading glasses?" (They’re on top of one’s head. "Where are the keys?" (In one’s pocket.) "Who is that person?" (The face is familiar but ummmmmm…) These are awkward moments that occur occasionally. One takes them in stride and with poise.

Forgetting is normal. When one is still a teenager, it is panic time during exam week. A bright student suddenly forgets the algebraic formula or the chemical composition or the important historical date. At a thesis defense, he forgets a critical explanation for a theory. It is a lapse that happens due to nerves, cramming, lack of sleep or all of the above.

What is very interesting is that a person can recall minute details about a childhood adventure but she cannot remember a trauma or people associated with that event.

One would rather remember the happy times. When one undergoes a devastating experience, the brain has a protective mechanism that blocks certain painful memories.

An individual develops selective recall. One "forgets" the sad, heart wrenching moments of grief and loss. Victims of abuse suppress the memory. It is a defense mechanism the individual use so he can function. Psychological therapy and spiritual counseling are needed to deal with such traumas. A support system and time can heal the wounds eventually. Moving on takes time.

Having an elephant’s memory is a "figure of speech" that refers to a person’s ability to recall names, dates, details. Recently, it took on a different meaning when an internet video showed how baby elephants are tortured in training. These repetitive tactics using canes are used when the animals are being taught to perform circus tricks. Elephants and other animals -- especially humans -- can never forget cruelty, suffering and pain.

An individual with a photographic memory has the gift and advantage of remembering innumerable images, numbers and details. However, he may find it exasperating occasionally when he cannot recall dates and names. This could be due to stress, anxiety, worry or a simple overload of things happening too quickly or simultaneously. One needs to use an internal sieve to sift through the overwhelming, assorted, distracting stimuli and objects.

The brain’s memory bank can only store so much information. Overload can cause "brain freeze."

Memory experts say that one can thaw the freeze with practice. De-clutter the brain. Visualize pleasant scenes. Do crossword puzzles. To remember names: Pay attention. Visualize the name. Create mnemonic associations (ROYGBIV for colors of the rainbow -- red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet).

Here are more tips: Remind yourself. Write a list. For a healthy brain, limit alcohol intake. (Too much alcohol kills brain cells that will not re-generate).

Notice how the "older seniors" (the elders) have excellent long term memory. They can recount clearly what had happened several decades ago -- the war, the first meeting, the first trip and so forth. However, they forget what happened yesterday, a few hours or minutes ago.

The frequent class reunions in preparation of jubilee celebrations are occasions to reminisce the good old days. People like to enhance their recollection of events, to remember the pleasant things and how perfect things seemed to be.