Thursday, 7 January 2010

The space inside your head


The brain is the primary sensory apparatus of sight, hearing, balance, taste, and smell. As we all know, the brain is an extremely complex organ - in a nutshell. But what does the brain really look like when it's dissected? And where do those fantastic ideas come from? Where exactly are they stored?

Do the ideas simply start off as foetuses and simply grow until they're ready to be 'born' as a stream of words? And how do we remember the storylines of all those novels we have read? Is the brain simply a library with small compartments, each featuring one book, or is it one big unstructured mess, with our favourite novels vying for the most prominent places within the brain? What is the memory capacity in gigabytes? How many books can the brain hold? And is it true that we only use a tiny fraction of our brain throughout our lifetime? If we used it to its full potential, would we churn out magnificent masterpieces in quick succession?

When you write your own novel is it stored in a special elevated place within the brain, so that you can recall the storyline, characters, sub-plots and incidents more easily than you would a novel in your collection?

It's all very complicated. I realise these are a series of questions, rather than an opinion as such. But the simple answer is that none of us know for sure how the brain functions.

And what about those 'bottom drawer' novels, the ones which are bastions of cringeworthy-ness? They're the ones which illustrate clearly ignorance of POV and the ones where we start the paragraph in first person and end in third. Do we instantly want to forget them as if they never existed, and do we urge our brain to push them further and further into oblivion in case they tarnish our well-written novels?

14 comments:

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Oo-er Gillian, these are big questions! (esp. as have just woken to heavy snow - in Cornwall! - and my brain feels somewhat snowed up too). Maybe there's a kind of 'underbrain' where we store those old novels,'forgotten' memories, and all our shadow stuff. And maybe there's lots of good material in there too, if only we trusted it enough to access it?
Susiex

Kate said...

Goodness - some deep questions!!

I'm quite happy not knowing the answers - I don't really care where ideas come from - so long as they come. But as for those bottom drawer novels - the novel may be dead but the idea behind it will live to rise another day.

Gosh - now you've got me thinking!!

Gillian McDade said...

I love the idea of the 'underbrain' Susie! :) Kate, I've put my BDN ideas to bed too!

CarolineG said...

Yes, really big - and really interesting - questions. I think there is still such a lot that isn;t understood about the brain and creativity...

I love the idea of the 'bastions of cringeworthyness'...check!

Samantha Tonge said...

I think one way in which writers are different to other adults is that they don't grow out of using their imagination.

That's one reason i strictly monitor my kids' use of the Wii, Nins etc as i feel they prematurely put an end of imaginative play. Some of their friends who are allowed unlimited use of these gadjets no longer have any idea of how to play with toys.

Interesting post, Gillian!

Samantha Tonge said...

Or rather, an end TO

Gillian McDade said...

I'm glad this has generated a little thinking! Are there others who are 'scared' to read too much, in case it swallows up the room allocated for the WIPs?

Derek said...

I always hoped that the very act of writing something down - and making it tangible - meant that it took up less brain space.

Gillian McDade said...

Good point Derek, but I feel it still festers in the brain somewhere!

Anonymous said...

There's a 'short term' memory and a 'long term' memory. The short one enables us to get by with information that we only need for the time being. That holds about 7-9 pieces of information and when new information comes in the old drops out.

Writing a novel you would be processing information and that puts it into the long term memory, which is said to be infinite. We don't remember everything we read, or write, unless it is startling in some way; if we 'process' it by having to write an essay on it we remember it for a very long time.

There are lots of things in long term memory which we think we've forgotten but that is because it needs 'cues' to retrieve it. Sometimes if you are reading biography you suddenly remember things of your childhood - 'oh, yes, I remember that now, that happened to me too, so so long ago, I thought I'd forgotten it' - which the writer has 'cued'. Place sometimes acts as a cue so that if you revisit a place of your past you begin to remember the experiences there.

CarolineG said...

Gillian, I think it's almost negligent for writers to NOT read, personally. I went on a writing course once where about seven of the nine people said they didn;t 'have time to read'. I was really shocked by that...

Fionnuala Kearney said...

Suffice to say team that the 'space inside my head' was not firing on all cylinders yesterday! Thought provoking post Gillian... FX

Lydia said...

Very profound! I agree that so much is never lost: think about the memories evoked by a song or a smell. You're right Anon - so much is just waiting to be cued. But I'm with you, Kate - I don't care where they come from as long as the ideas keep coming!
www.lydiajones.co.uk/blog x

Rosalind Adam said...

I often wonder if my brain would be more efficient if I could delete all the words to all those 1960s songs and free up room for something more useful instead.