This morning I stumbled from my bed to the coffee maker, turning on NPR along the way.
The first story to penetrate my brain was about President Obama’s upcoming trip to Asia. The reporter began, “The narrative President Obama is going tell…” He went on to describe how the future of the US economy lies in Asia rather than Europe. So our president is going to tell a story that he hopes will create the future for the US that he desires. You understand me? Stories can create the future.
The second piece was from Story Corp, a project beloved by me because it collects and values the stories of everyday Americans. In this segment, Frank Curre, a Pearl Harbor survivor, tells the story of that attack. He describes helping with the rescue efforts and concludes by saying,
I still have the nightmares, never got over the nightmares. And with God as my witness, I read my paper this morning — and right now, I can’t tell you what I read. I can’t remember.But what happened on that day is tattooed on your soul. There’s no way I can forget that. I wish to God I could.
Frank Curre may wish that he could forget, but I, for one, am glad he can’t because his story maintains the past.
Finally, let me share with you a bit of science.
In THE ART OF IMMERSION (an amazing read), Frank Rose describes the research of Demis Hassabis, a game designer and PhD neuroscientist. He studied the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in memory. If memory works by assembling the bits and pieces of the experience during recall (rather like a puzzle than vs. a video tape), then he supposed the processes of memory and imagination should be linked. He found subjects with damage to the hippocampus and put them through a series of visual suggestions (e.g. imagine yourself on a beach).
The results were amazing. People who had damage in the memory center of their brain could not dredge up complex imaginings. In other words, the same part of Frank Curre’s brain that remembers the bombing of Pearl Harbor is also capable of creating the future.
We are hard-wired for story. And it MATTERS!