Time in Memory

I presented a ten minute introduction to this research for the 2021 ISSN Conference.
Psychologists and Narratologists, see also: Cognitive Emplotment
To understand the point of all this, see also: Six Applications of Theorizing Time in Memory

How do readers/audiences remember chronology? How do we remember the sequence of a storyline, after receiving that story in narrative form? How do we remember historical time while reading stories set in the past? What are the cognitive tools that we use while blending a foregrounded storyline together with a historical background, chronologically? What happens if we learn the context of the First Century as a collection of interrelated stories, and then re-read the New Testament's narratives and epistles? How does Time work in our Memory when thinking about events of the past?

Because remembering is constructive, and depends on cognitive efficiency, a Mnemonic Timeline is put together from memories that happen to display temporal implications. When information contained in a memory offers context clues with regard to some prior or subsequent memory, that mnemonic content thus becomes self-sequencing. When content structures itself, constructive remembering (of a timeline) can occur with less informational cost, without extra cognitive processing. Furthermore, the most common types of self-sequencing temporal information happen to reflect the literary conventions of Plot (causality), Character (development), Setting (movement), and Conflict (disruption). Perhaps these four categories are not "elements of literature" at all, but the roots of remembering time, and thus the cognitive basis of narrativity itself.

Here is my thesis in one sentence: Story is what memory makes from paying attention to change.

What follows is a list of posts, with links and summaries, in which I explore these ideas. Given the four types of temporal information (which correspond to the four basic "elements of story"), I have also planned a total of four blog series. Series One is about Plot and Causality, and also serves as introduction. Series Two is about Character and Biographical Development. Series Three and Four are still piles of notes in various parts of my laptop and office, but a description of each appears at bottom.

Each of these four series attempts to explore one of these four "roots of remembering time" and attempts to explain why each type of temporal information helps to make some stories more rememberable than others.

There's a lifetime of practical applications we can build from this theoretical research.

Enjoy reading.


Memory and Narrative

SERIES ONE (PLOT): Memory and Narrative, focuses on the mnemonic efficiencies of Plot, giving special attention to causality, contingency, and the beneficial distortion of "post hoc, ergo propter hoc".

Memory & Narrative, 1 (June, 2014): A Story is a coping strategy to deal with the fact that we'd like to remember the past but there's just too darn much of it.

Memory & Narrative, 2 (June, 2014): What if human memory's extensive need for efficiency is primarily responsible for the nature of how we construct Stories.

Memory & Narrative, 3 (July, 2014): Re-examining E.M. Forster's famous remarks on causality according to sequential information and mnemonic efficiency.

Memory & Narrative, 4 (July, 2014): A surprising connection (in audience memory) between the "chronicle" of history and the major "plot points" of authorial narrativizations.

Memory & Narrative, 5 (July, 2014): Complex historical causes versus simplified narrative causality; the mnemonic advantages of inflating causality.

Memory & Narrative, 6 (August, 2014): Simplicity versus complexity in representing the past; contingency as the bedrock of remembering change.

Memory & Narrative, 7 (October, 2014): A preview of the rest of my thinking on engineering efficiently rememberable storytelling - "post hoc", the "great man" theory, and ceremonial transitions.

BONUS POST: Five Variations of the "post hoc" Fallacy (September, 2014): Differentiating the mnemonic advantages of narrative causality, according to a five part taxonomy; (1) Assumed Causality (pure superstition), (2) Inflated Causality (isolating a single cause among many), (3) Bloom as Root (mistaking an intermediate effect as the original cause), (4) Multiple Effectuality (aggrandizing a cause by its many "effects"), and (5) Widespread Contingency (extremely broad cases of Multiple Effectuality)


Heroic History

SERIES TWO (CHARACTER): Heroic History, works through the challenges of understanding why and how rememberable stories can be more biographical in terms of structure, and less like a classical plot.

Heroic History, 1 (October, 2014): mnemonic efficiencies of an infamous narrative distortion

Heroic History, 2 (October, 2014): Why is the aggrandizing of character such a helpful mnemonic for storytellers?

Heroic History, 3 (November, 2014): mnemonic advantages of a narrative distortion: aggrandizing individual lives

Heroic History, 4 (December, 2014): on Aristotle's bias towards "unified plots" and his rejection of biography 

Heroic History, 5 (December, 2014): how biographical story structure both defies and aligns with Aristotle's ideas about "plot structure"... and how the rememberability of one structure compares with the other

Heroic History, 6 (February, 2015) the unique story-discourse dynamic in biographical narratives and the mnemonic efficiencies of remembering life stories

Heroic History, Recap (March, 2015) - a helpful synopsis of this series so far (and TaCSoRB, below)

Heroic History, 7 (May, 2015) - a placeholder for Remembering Life Stories

Heroic History is planned to conclude with three more posts, after I finish RLS.

Towards a Cognitive Science of Remembering Biographies

TaCSoRB, (1 of 2) (March, 2015): autobiographical memory VS remembering biographies; cognitive psychology VS narratology

TaCSoRB (2 of 2) (March, 2015): remembering time, as a way of remembering (lengthy & elaborate) storylines

Remembering Life Stories

Remembering Life Stories, 1 - Character Development (Introduction) (posted May, 2015)

Remembering Life Stories, 2 - Temporal Content (posted June, 2015)

Remembering Life Stories, 3 - Biographical Temporality (posted July, 2015)

Remembering Life Stories, 4 - Familiar Serial Patterns (posted April, 2016)

Remembering Life Stories, 5 - Biographical Expertise (posted April, 2016)

Remembering Life Stories, 6 - Narrative Redundancy (posted May, 2016)

Remembering Life Stories, 7 - Biographical Redundancy (posted April, 2017)

Remembering Life Stories, 8Teleological Reconstruction (posted August, 2017)

UPCOMING POSTS - Watch this space for updates!

***Progress has unfortunately been suspended while I write my Master's Thesis about contextualizing narrativity in Matthew 2:22***

Remembering Life Stories, 9 - Story Compression (Modeling Reconstructive Algorithms)

Remembering Life Stories, 10 - Summary & Conclusion


Series Three:

Representing Transitions

SERIES THREE (SETTING): Representing Transitions, is going to look at the temporal implications of physical movement, the paradox of continuous change, and the dynamic between "figure" and "ground" when delimiting "events" (i.e., the cognitive compression of dynamic mental images... a.k.a., how our brains remember movement). The best way to think about this compression is to consider graphic representations of action in sculpture, photography, painting, and drawing. In producing this iconic photo of a bullet passing through an apple, the camera captured multiple frames but the artist chose the one frame which maximized both the implication of temporal priority and also the implication of temporal subsequence. See also Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics for the representation of action (e.g., here and here). This kind of artistic efficiency accommodates our cognitive limitations, and simulates the brain's natural compression of continuous change into representative images which imply sequence -- still image which functions like a GIF. 

All of this is determined by our cognitive need for informational efficiency.


Series Four:

Memory & Irony

SERIES FOUR (CONFLICT): Memory & Irony, will examine the disruption of expectations. Recalling one set of events as a traumatic negation of prior projections (e.g., crushed hopes, failed plans) implies a temporal distinction between two perceived 'equilibria' (i.e., "time periods"). Series Four will also conclude by demonstrating how status quo and disruption bring the ultimate coherence to a story (optimizing mnemonic compression of a storyline); in short, status quo and disruption takes the figure/ground dynamic that our brains use for compressing visual action into a single "event" (discussed above, in Series Three) and uses that same dynamic for compressing an entire sequence of events.

In sum, the classic elements of storytelling were discovered precisely because they provide natural mnemonic advantages which optimize narrative coherence despite the cognitive limitations of human remembering. That is, good stories make it easier to remember a sequence of events. 

Or, more simply (as I said at the top), Story is what memory makes from paying attention to change.

INSERTED UPDATE (March, 2020): For a longer and more detailed introduction to the ideas which I hope that "Series Four" will eventually explore, please read this single blog post.


Post Script:  (March, 2018)

Obviously, these blog posts are mere explorations of the overall thesis, and eventually I'll hope to publish a more professional analysis. For now, however, Series One is complete and Series Two (2A, 2B, and 2C) is nearing completion. I have also posted a pair of very rough abstracts about Series Three and Four here. You can also read my early attempt to sum up the overall thesis in less than 500 words.

Progress below will continue as time and resources allow...

There is (hopefully) much more to come...

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