Places in the Mind

On Christmas Day I had another odd moment of a neurological nature. Many people travel to visit family during the festive season. We had a bit of a drive this year. On the way home, as I was looking at the scenery as a car front-seat passenger I got a rare special feeling of familiarity for the location that we were travelling through.

This stretch of road is special because it is the place that I always (I think automatically) visualize and also “feel” spatially in my mind when I think of particular concepts, as though the concepts are entries or articles in an encyclopaedia in my brain, and the visualised images are the illustrations that go with that article. The concepts involved are “camping in the bush” and “beyond the Darling Range, on the way to Toodyay”. The place visualized is a stretch of straight road, I think it’s on the Great Eastern Highway. If you are travelling towards Perth, it has a steep hill covered in trees and bush on the right side of the road, with cleared farm land lower on the left. At the end of the straight stretch the road curves to the right, up a hill I think, through more bushland. When I travel through such places for real, I experience a more powerful than normal feeling of familiarity, because these are places that I visit as memories more often than I visit in the flesh. It’s a little bit strange. I suspect that this is a feeling that could be mistaken by some people as some type of spiritual or mystical experience. Maybe I shouldn’t be so presumptuous about the origins of such experiences.

There are a few other places like this, locations that my mind habitually uses as visual illustrations for specific concepts. Some of these real places have changed from how they appear as my memories, and some have been demolished and redeveloped, unrecognizable if not for my sense of place and direction. These place memories are like concrete, real, locate-able examples of ideas that are not as real and singular and easy to find on a map. These memories are something like archetypes. I am sure that my synaesthesia and spatial memory are linked to this phenomenon.

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