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January 7th, 2008

To Evision Your Tomorrow, Remember Your Past

For those folks in my life who think I dwell too much on the past…

Psychologists Use fMRI To Understand Ties Between Memories And The Imagination

Psychologists have found that thought patterns used to recall the past and imagine the future are strikingly similar. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging to show the brain at work, they have observed the same regions activated in a similar pattern whenever a person remembers an event from the past or imagines himself in a future situation…

For some, the best hope of ‘seeing’ the future leads them to seek guidance — perhaps from an astrologist. But it’s not very scientific. Now, psychologists at Washington University are finding that your ability to envision the future does in fact goes hand-in-hand with remembering the past. Both processes spark similar neural activity in the brain.

"You might look at it as mental time travel–the ability to take thoughts about ourselves and project them either into the past or into the future," says Kathleen McDermott, Ph.D. and Washington University psychology professor. The team used "functional magnetic resonance imaging" — or fMRI — to "see" brain activity. They asked college students to recall past events and then envision themselves experiencing such an event in their future. The results? Similar areas of the brain "lit up" in both scenarios.

"We’re taking these images from our memories and projecting them into novel future scenarios," says psychology professor Karl Szpunar.

Most scientists believed thinking about the future was a process occurring solely in the brain’s frontal lobe. But the fMRI data showed a variety of brain areas were activated when subjects dreamt of the future.

"All the regions that we know are important for memory are just as important when we imagine our future," Szpunar says.

Researchers say besides furthering their understanding of the brain — the findings may help research into amnesia, a curious psychiatric phenomenon. In addition to not being able to remember the past, most people who suffer from amnesia cannot envision or visualize what they’ll be doing in the future — even the next day.

Also from the same web site:

Lack Of Imagination In Older Adults Linked To Declining Memory

I’ve always found charming, the head on collision between George Santayana’s "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" and Shaw’s "We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future".  All my life I’ve intuited that remembrance and imagination, which is the key to any future you may hope to have, were inseparably interlocked chunks of a personality, and to turn away from one would be essentally to kick the legs out from beneath the other, and leave you just an empty shell walking zombie like in the present.  And actually, I see a lot of people in this world who seem to be doing just that.

I am not living in the past.  I am living with it.  Sometimes it’s a struggle.  But it’s the life I have and I can’t go forward without taking it with me.  Nobody does.

2 Responses to “To Evision Your Tomorrow, Remember Your Past”

  1. Peterson Toscano Says:

    wow, very cool. I especially like the link with creativity and memory. I imagine creative exercises really rejuvenate the brain. Perhaps they need to do more imrov theater at old folks homes.

  2. Bruce Says:

    I thought of you when I was reading those articles.  A lot of your performance art, particularly in "Doin’ Time…" flows from out of your own personal history and remembrances.  It’s what makes that play so powerful…gives it its heart.  What’s interesting is now they can see that it’s the same parts of our brains working both when we remember, and when we imagine.  Imagination carries us forward in life.  It keeps us young in spirit.  But so does remembrance.  It doesn’t trap us in the past.  I think Santayana is right.  The more we try to forget the past, the more it traps us.  You have to look back at it, so you can imagine where you want to be tomorrow.

    Heh…my "Ex" wrote me once saying that even though I was older then him by about ten years (I was in my mid thirties, he in his mid twenties when we first started dating…), I always seemed the younger of us.  And I have been told often that I present younger then I am.  But it’s not arrested adolescence.  It’s wonder. 

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