05 December 2009

Putting the I Back Into Imagination and Imaging

Curiosity and imagination are inextricably tied to each other. When our curiosity is aroused, we begin to imagine how things might be -- and how they might be different than they are. Cascading emotions triggered by our imaginings raise our curiosity even higher -- or sometimes shut our curiosity down in fear and anxiety.

Imagination calls upon "mental images", which may be visual, auditory, otherwise sensory, or emotional in nature. Mental images call upon much of the same brain real estate that is utilised when we perceive sights, sounds, tastes . . . or emotionally-tinged situations.
We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess the maximal degree of shared neural processing in visual mental imagery and visual perception. Participants either visualized or saw faint drawings of simple objects, and then judged specific aspects of the drawings (which could only be evaluated properly if they used the correct stimulus). The results document that visual imagery and visual perception draw on most of the same neural machinery. _Ganis, Thompson, Kosslyn 2004 CognitiveBrainResearch
Mental images "connect up" with a wide array of sensory, motor, cognitive, and emotional centers of the brain. Understanding the broad nature of connectiveness of mental imagery should give a hint to the power of image and imagination.
Brain studies now reveal that thoughts produce the same mental instructions as actions. Mental imagery impacts many cognitive processes in the brain: motor control, attention, perception, planning, and memory. So the brain is getting trained for actual performance during visualization. _SeeingIsBelieving
Mental imagery has been used by world class athletes for over 50 years. Even golf champion Tiger Woods has used mental imagery for decades (although he probably didn't see that 9 iron coming). Imagery is also useful in rehabilitation from stroke and brain surgery.

Recent research in Lausanne, Switzerland suggests that mental imagery can improve our perceptual skills. In other words, if we train ourselves to "see" ambivalent visual phenomenon more precisely -- using our imagination with a bit of (non-visual) feedback -- we can actually learn to perceive such phenomena more precisely. A tricky concept to put into practise, no doubt. But highly suggestive nonetheless.

So -- how would we go about putting the I back into imagination and imaging? What I mean by that is how do we compensate for generations of neglect by governmental institutions of education, to train individuals in constructive, creative, and productive imagination and imagery? We have spawned generations of low-curiosity graduates, who instinctively appeal to authority rather than puzzling a situation out for themselves. Their imaginative facilities are atrophied -- except in regard to popular topics within a very superficial zeitgeist. The events occurring underneath the very foundations of their existences go undetected, in their dull-witted and incurious ignorance. All of this obliviousness occurs within minds of high and low IQ alike.


Education is currently dominated by highly verbal indoctrinists, professors in university schools of education caught in the ambiguous verbal slipstream of meaning. Modern philosophies of pedagogy are prone to fad and fashion, lacking basic grounding in any meaningful or sustainable reality. A society built upon graduates of such educational theories will be prone to the type of failure that leads to authoritarianism and totalitarianism. This is precisely what has been happening throughout the western world.

Visual images tend to be more permanent and lasting than verbal "imagery." Visual images often contain their own "falsifiability" criteria. Consider the ice age cave paintings found in southwestern Europe. One can easily identify the objects represented, and can judge the level of accuracy in representation, tens of thousands of years later. Those paintings predate any evidence of written language by tens of millenia.

Just as painted imagery predates printed language, so did mental imagery precede verbal thought. That is true evolutionarily and it is true in individual human development. Our brains may have evolutionary advantages that allow us to use language, but images and non-verbal imagination came first.

It is important to understand how human minds are built -- more sophisticated and artifactual tools are built upon the simpler and more natural structures of "thought." Language is built upon image, in a sense. Even verbal thought is based upon imagery -- often emotion-loaded imagery. (of course, skillful language conjures emotional images just as emotional images can trigger involuntary verbal utterances) Basic language metaphors are built of images of various types. More complex language constructs are built of basic language metaphors.

What is imagery built upon? Emotions? Well, they certainly work together. Curiosity is an emotion, after all. And curiosity uses imagery and is also triggered and stimulated by imagery. If a child is deprived of both curiosity and imagination, he is doubly damned by the frivolous gods of pedagogy and neglectful sprites of parenting.

Imagery is built upon pre-verbal, pre-image metaphor. More on that later.

It is enough to understand that our kludgy consciousness is built from lower level spare parts, all the way down to the turtles. (from there, it's turtles all the way down...) Some levels are accessible and trainable, and some are not. We are neglecting much of what is trainable.

The point is, that the "play pedagogy" that permeates Montessori education and also is used in executive function training programs for young children, is a form of training of imagination and imaging. It is an approach that boys are desperate for, and that could also benefit girls immensely.

Uh-oh! By stating that boys might benefit more from training in visual imagination, I have alienated leftist and feminist curriculum designers. There is, after all, an undeclared "war on boys" happening. No matter how desperate the condition of boys in education becomes, they must not be favoured in any way -- not even a little!

That, too, is beside the point. There are other types of images than visual images. Training in many of those forms of images would benefit girls more than boys, on average. But curriculum designers themselves lack imagination. They never learned to use imagery themselves, so of course they would never think to design a curriculum to help children learn these vital skills.

It is a blindspot for leftists, largely due to the focus on the "I" in imagination and imagery. Think about it, and you may see what I mean. But the rest of us can act without their permission, can't we?

Addendum: Imagination, Mental Imagery, Consciousness and Cognition, is the best one-stop information source on this general topic, according to Al Fin cognitive scientists. The author is Nigel J.T. Thomas, PhD.

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Blogger SwampWoman said...

I think that the use of imagination is probably verboten to the leftists. If people started imagining possibilities instead of following the party line of scarcity, rationing, and big daddy government taking care of its little babies, where would it end?

Saturday, 05 December, 2009  
Blogger al fin said...

Too true, SW.

The key part of any leftist takeover is the purge (and purge again). There can be only one true leftist vision of the perfect world. All subversives, heretics, and Trotskyites must be be burned to make way for utopia.

Teaching children to imagine and think on their own defeats the purpose of the "one pure path to utopia."

Sunday, 06 December, 2009  

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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