Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Imagination in the brain

  1. Jun 20, 2003 #1


    User Avatar

    When we percieve objects through vision, our visual cortex is involved in processing the information. When we dream, I think it is also working. But what about when we imagine geometric objects that aren't really there? If I were to start thinking about an object from my memory, would the visual cortex be active during this process?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 22, 2003 #2
    yup...to use memory u have to use the visial cortex..memory is just a storeroom for infomation
  4. Jun 26, 2003 #3
    I once asked a group of 3rd grade children to close their eyes and imagine a scene that I was going to read to them. Several of them did not know how to do this! I had to teach them to imagine. I used a memory tool to get them started. I asked them to tell me what the room looked like where their TV was at home. Then I said "Think to yourself that you are sitting there, watching TV and then you stand up, cross the room, turn off the set and walk outside." From there we began the reading.

    It worked pretty good. The scary thing is that those 3rd graders had no concept of imagination. What do you think, is that the result of TV doing our imagining for us? Personally, I can't think of a time when I didn't have a vivid imagination.
  5. Jun 26, 2003 #4
    I've noticed the same thing with my sister (who is, oddly-enough, a 3rd-grader). I just didn't get it. As far as I can remember (my earliest memory being when I was 3-years-old) I have been able to "form pictures in my head", so to speak, or to imagine whatever circumstance I was reading (in fact, I learned to read at that same age, and I remember imagining different ways that "The Little Engine that Could" could have turned out - many of which are rather funny, looking back).
  6. Jun 26, 2003 #5
    i have no doubt that 3ed graders have the ability to imagine things. i think that they don't yet understand how to force this on command.
  7. Jun 27, 2003 #6
    I think that they just did not have a proper command of what the word meant.
  8. Jun 29, 2003 #7
    ok but how do the brain stores memories in the first place?
  9. Jun 29, 2003 #8
    You know what I think. I think as a result of media communication,people ( especially the children) is lacking imagination. Albert Einstein has put
    " Imagiantion is more impotant than knowledge.Knowledge is limited, imagination encircles the world".Personally, I admire Einstein so much. His theory has never been proven in reality. However somewhat he had use his wonderful imagination to create a miracle in science.
    Yeh, what do u think?
  10. Jun 29, 2003 #9
    I'm pretty sure you don't 'need' the visual cortex for memory. For visual memory yes but other types of memory no. I once taked to a blind guy who had damaged his visual cortex late in life so he could not bring an image to his mind but could still remember the sound of peoples voices etc.

    I think imagination, or creative thought or visualisation, comes about due to the way that our brains store and retrieve information. My understanding is that memories are stored with a combination of chemical and electrical imprints. I personally believe that we store only a tiny amount of information relative to input and that memory is an act of extrapolation based on joining up a whole lot of info using some sort of funky organic, compression algorithm analogue. So, for example, when we remember somebody's face, we don't have to re-remember the info about the fact that the person is a human and the basic facts about humans, we just attach the special details that single that person out from the others eg. hair colour and style, distinguishing features etc. Some of this stuff would use already stored info too so only a minimum of information is needed for the 'update'.

    In my younger experimental days with hallucinagens, I've had vivid waking dreams as I was coming down. Being fairly lucid I could close my eyes or stare at something and see something akin to a film playing. These images were as clear as a bell and didn't include auditory hallucinations but the visuals were highly detailed and included images of ordinary happenings and scenes that seemed to have no relationship to anything I was thinking, people walking down lanes, buses driving down streets. Many of the images seemed to form in relationship to random shapes (light through my eyelids) or shapes in the thing I was looking at, so I think that my brain was trying it's hardest at the time to make something which I understood out of the images. I think this is how dreams work.

    I think this happens in ordinary times during the day too. We only absorb detail of a small portion of the total input then the brain extrapolates the rest. I think the extrapolation effect means that unusual connections can be made between vaguely related memory information, or randomly between seemingly totally unrelated material, but in reality are using some of the same memory snippets.

    I have a 2 and a half year old boy and it is easy to see this extrapolation effect as he 'mistakes' objects for others by using the name of a similar object eg. when he sees a circle shape he calls it a ball. While the circular shape is stored in memory and is mostly connected to the word ball in his brain, other identifiers allow him to distinguish fruit or other round objects, but I'm sure that these differentiations are just based on an amalgam of previously stored identifiers rather than being stored in their entirity.

    This is really what neural networking is all about. I think the missing element in using this type of associative networking in computers is a reward for retaining the information. I think that the retention of information is associated with some sort of chemical 'reward' and other information is discarded. A computer doesn't know which information it needs to remember and I don't know if anyone is working on a system that incorporates a 'desire' or 'discerning' computer which selects information based on 'taste' or 'personality'. If one could program a computer to take lots of input, store identifiers, then focus on a particular type of information with a 'preference' algorithm based on virtual rewards, we would be moving one step closer to AI.

  11. Jun 30, 2003 #10

    Another God

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member

  12. Jun 30, 2003 #11
    What about creativity? If imagination is replaying memory fragments, how do we create something we haven't seen?

    Some people are better than others at doing this.

    By the way, I agree that I did not give them the ability to imagine, just possibly opened them to the idea of commanding the ability, or putting a name to it.
  13. Jun 30, 2003 #12

    Another God

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member

    rejigging of past experiences.
    We have experienced 'red' we have experienced 'blue'... why can't we put them together in a new way to create red and blue stripes even if we haven't seen red and blue stripes before?

    We have clocks, we have radios, stick em together, you get a clock radio. BRILLIANT!

    And i guess the more fundamental you take an experience down to, the more originally you can place it with other experiences, and the more novel you can create your imaginings....
  14. Jun 30, 2003 #13
    True enough. There is nothing new under the sun.
  15. Jul 10, 2003 #14
    I don't think imagination is related only with the past experience.
    As the discussion started:
    How does science explain the strange places, shapes that we sometimes imagine of dream about.They, ofcourse, have nothing to do with what we have experienced.
  16. Jul 10, 2003 #15

    Another God

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member

    Sure they do. We experience vertical lines, we experience horizontal lines...we experience lines of every degree inbetween. What makes you assume we cn't put those lines together to create novel shapes?

    Here's an interesting thought though: Think of a 3D graph...ONe with an X, Y and Z axis. Not too hard is it? Now think of a 4 Dimensional one. This is a little more difficult, but I think it is possible, simply by thinking of it as a dynamic thing, something which has a past and a future... That is the 4th dimension. Now, here's the impossible part. Think of a 5 Dimensional graph.

    You know we can have 2D graphs, we can have 3D graphs, and we can even have 4D graphs....so surely 5D graphs and up can exist too???!?!?

    But can u imagine one? I'll bet you can't. The best you can do, is try sticking another line inbetween the Z and the Y axis, and pretending that that creates another dimension, when in reality, it just imposes on two of the 3 spatial dimensions.

    We are subjectively trapped in 4Dimensions, and since we are unable to experience 5 or more dimensions, we will never be able to imagine them. (Actually percieve them in our imagination...of course we can 'concieve' of them....but to actually imagine them....I believe it is impossible.)
  17. Jul 10, 2003 #16


    User Avatar

    We are also trapped in a 4D existence and only able to view it from a 3D angle. That is to say we can only see 2 spatial dimensions at a time.
  18. Jul 10, 2003 #17
    I agree that the 3rd graders, if in fact this is a true story, did not understand what the word "imagine" meant. Children of that age (8-9) understand the word "pretend" a lot better.

    "Pretend" explains the act of imagining very well.

    When we "intend" to do something we are well on our way to doing it. The act or the state is well established in the frontal lobe of the brain and is about to become reality for the rest of our body and the external environment.

    When we "pretend" to be or do something... we are keeping the "intention" internal... it is played out "pre"viously to the act within the calculating confines of the brain. The actualization of the act or the reality of what is being pretended is in such a state where it can be re-manipulated and ruminated to a degree where the variables of the actuality can be calculated and pre-cognitized before taking action on the pretention.

    My two cents.
  19. Jul 11, 2003 #18
    In a manner I agree with QuantumCarl, studies show that childrens abilities to imagine things like gouls, ghosts, and hobgoblins only begins around those ages, 7/8/9, so we can envision that idea that the human brain undergoes lots of it's "develop'mental" stages/processes along the pathway of time, that is a human life.

    Least.....as far as I know, from nothing.

Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook