what exactly happens when we imagine stuff ?

Bill Skaggs skaggs at bns.pitt.edu
Tue Feb 22 15:26:30 EST 2000


"A.F. Simpson" <AFS7 at le.ac.uk> writes:
> Hmm...do imaginary scenes then create their own memory traces?  E.g.
> once you've imagined swimming in a goldfishg pond a few times, does that
> create a (separate) 'swimming in a goldfish pond' memory, which is
> actually a false memory?

This happens not only with imaginary scenes but even with real scenes.
The first time you remember something, it is a memory of the event
(usually distorted to some degree); the second time it is a memory of
the event mixed with a memory of the memory (both distorted to some
degree); and so on.  The result is that memories tend to mutate over
time, often regressing toward one's default expectations of the way
the event "ought" to have been.  Psychologists such as Elizabeth
Loftus have studied this process in some detail.

William Styron, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Sophie's Choice"
and "The Confessions of Nat Turner", gives a nice example in his book
"Darkness Visible" (which is mainly about his experiences with
depression).  As an adult, he had a very vivid memory of a traumatic
event that happened during his early childhood in Paris, in which a
strange man tried to kidnap him, and was only driven off by his
nursemaid's screaming and fighting.  He could picture in his mind, he
said, every detail of the terrible scene.  It turned out, though, that
when the nursemaid was on her deathbed, she confessed that the whole
kidnap event had never actually happened -- she had invented it in
order to gain attention and sympathy.  Thus the memory that Styron
had, in all its detail, did not come from the event itself, but from
being told about it many times by adults and consequently imagining
it!

	-- Bill




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