Food gets stale (and if you’re eating TOO MUCH of it before it has a chance to, you need Anne Strieber’s famous diet book!) and experiences do too. For instance, a song that we hear over and over again eventually loses its thrill. A book we read again is almost never as good as it was the first time we read it. When we go to a movie with a plot that’s too familiar, we almost think we’ve seen it before.
Researcher Michael Clune thinks that’s because the brain naturally functions as a kind of ticking time bomb, obliterating the thrill for artistic sounds, images and words by making them familiar over time.
Clune says, "We are evolutionarily designed so that we focus on new objects and ignore familiar ones. When the mind confronts a new object, our perception is intense and vivid, but it soon dies with familiarity. Every minute, this feeling fades as the mind grasps the object." This trait is one of the things that led us from becoming tool users to becoming technological innovators.
So why do artists bother to create anything new (since almost nothing they create will last)? Two words: neurobiological forces that are designed for our survival are what make our interest in specific works of art fade. Clune is interested in what writers can do to block or slow that natural erosion over time. He says, "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."
His suggestion for writers: Empathy–it’s a time-stopper, allowing readers to step inside an experience unlike his or her own. In other words, for TV, movies and even song lyrics, it’s the characters that count (don’t you wish more writers realized this?)
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