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Pursuing literary immortality illuminates how the mind works, finds CWRU researcher
Date:12/13/2012

familiarity and create a never-fading image. Vladimir Nabokov's literary images imitate the look of an addictive sexual object. Neuroscience, Clune says, has shown that levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is linked to pleasure, are similar to the first shot of heroin and the first look at artwork.

"Where science can learn from literature is that it's not recreating the feeling of the first experience of the drug encounter, but that initial imagery associated with the intensity," he says.

Poet John Keats and philosopher Immanuel Kant were able to create a blueprint for a kind of melody that remains in short-term memory but resists being encoded in long-term memory, where it becomes habitual and the freshness fades.

For example, in Keat's Hyperion, the poet writes about a string of successive notes heard as one. "It will stay fresh, vivid and intense when encountered again and again," Clune says.

Poet John Ashberry has been able to overcome the mind's natural boredom by creating poetic images that imitate artifacts from an unknown or nonexistent culture. Out of context, and without a sense of shape, it keeps the mind active in searching but never finding, says Clune. The artifact combines an inkling of familiarity with the unknown, but just enough to keep the mind alert and aware of the object.

Literary immortality is also achieved by immersing the reader in an extraordinary experience outside the realm of their reality. George Orwell's 1984, for example, creates that kind of fictional world.

Vagueness also can works to keep the mind active. It isn't about a good or complicated plot in the story, Clune says, adding that the mind gives up its natural inclination to turn information into a memory when that information is too strange.

Clune found that empathy in writing also is a time-stopper, allowing readers to step inside an experience unlike his or her own.

Scientists have an
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Contact: Susan Griffith
susan.griffith@case.edu
216-368-1004
Case Western Reserve University
Source:Eurekalert

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