We all need a strong dose of nonverbal imagery to make us better learners, copers, and all-round human beings, asserts Robertson (Psychology/Trinity College) in a work that’s half do-it-yourself, half explanatory neuroscience.
It’s all well and good that we are early weaned to the Word, states the Dublin-based author, but in the process we lose a rich store of imagery from eyes, ears, touch, taste, and smell that could enrich our lives and improve thought, memory, health, creativity, and all manner of mental and physical skills. Robertson leads with Robert Graves’s poem “The Cool Web,” which contrasts children’s raw sensuous experiences with our learned “cool web of language [that] winds us in,” and uses this as a refrain throughout chapters reviewing how the brain processes language, sensory input, memory, and emotion. He also provides tests designed to stretch readers’ abilities at imagery, sometimes by guided reading, other times by asking what connections a person can make from arbitrary collections of words, letters, or shapes. The author makes the point that storing images along with verbal details facilitates memory and learning by expanding the neural circuitry engaged in the processes. He acknowledges that imagery can be a two-edged sword for the nervous speaker who imagines paralyzing stage fright or the dental phobic who hears the whine of the drill, and that memories can be implanted by the interrogators of young children or criminal suspects. In later chapters, Robertson discusses how imagery can reduce stress, control pain, mitigate effects of cancer treatment, and improve athletic skills. He comments that hypnosis appears to tap into an individual’s readiness to experience the sensations suggested by the hypnotist. In the final section he discusses the sense of self and alternative states of subjective reality. He concludes with an argument that science and religion are intrinsically incompatible, insofar as one is logic-based and the other image-driven.
Maybe a little too overemphatic on the virtues of imagery, but on the whole a useful corrective to word-driven worldviews.