Losing the ability to experience images within our minds.

When humans first evolved into their present form, they found themselves in a tough world, where the most important information entering into their brains came though their eyes. They had to develop and store a vast inventory of images in their minds for imediate recognition. Images of food , signs of danger, sexual signals, and the ability to recognize friends and enemies were among the most important. Such images were essential for a successful life and the difference between a short miserable life and a long comfortable one. Not only was it useful for survival to recognise these images but it was even more useful to be able to manipulate the images in their minds as a kind of internal self communication. Early humans could move objects in their minds, make additions and subtractions, place them inside other objects or environments. This mental imagery played out in their minds and was watched by an inner eye. This thought code enabled them to imagine and understand what other animals could not, and gave them a huge advantage.

The problem with an internal image code was that it was very limited in value for creating a code that could be used for communicating with others. With the development of vocal cords and the invention of language based on sound, this internal manipulation of images was replaced by an internal speech as the default form of thought. Vocal language became so important for humans that more and more brain space was allocated to it. Thus it came to be that most children would begin to lose the ability to manipulate internal imagery as there ability to use language improved. Because vocal language is being used for external communication the tendency is to use it for internal communication as well, which in turn means that imaging is usually neglected if not simply abandoned. Indeed it may even be discouraged by parents who may encourage children to suppress it being percieved when it occurs naturally.

The constant stream of Images.

In his book "The Einstein Factor" Wenger and Poe make the suggestion that when we are thinking, that thinking is accompanied by a constant stream of visual impressions or images. Indeed he goes as far as to suggest that we are constantly dreaming even while awake but that we suppress this steam of data so we can concentrate on the word symbols that they surround. Although this seems a strange idea at first, it make a lot of sense in terms of how this site has presented the concept of meaninfulness and how meaningfulness is represented and expressed in the brain. 

This site holds that meaningfulness is built up by means of associations. An object or idea or concept is first associated with the emotions that are experienced in concert with the idea or object's appearence this is then associated with the tactile physical interaction that takes place in concert with the object, idea or concept's appearence. Finally it is associated with other sensory input that occurs in concert with the object or idea such as it's visual form it's sound, it's taste and it's smell. Obviously, of these final associations, the visual components of shape, colour, dimentionality and movement, would be the most salient and most likely for people to be aware of. Meaningfulness then is not someting stored in a particular part of the brain but is rather stored in the web of connections to various parts of the brain. Meaningfulness lies in the connections between neurons and not in the neurons themselves. The more oconnections there are for a concept the more meaning it has for us. 

Visual imaging.

The average person only thinks in sounds and usually only those sounds used in his/her native language. However, the people we call genius such as Einstein and other types of people of great creative ability often talk about thinking visually. It is difficult for the rest of us to imagine what thinking visually might be like because we are unable to do it. Wenger and and Poe point our that about 25% of humans have the greatest difficulty in even percieving any internal images. However, in their book "Sparks of Genius" Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein produce many introspective accounts of an ability, to not only see, but to manipulate internal imagery. The people they site range from the well known to the not so well known creative people and are convincing that such a phenomenon must exist. Not only that but as the Root-Bernsteins point out this facility seems to be almost a necessary ingredient in genius level creative ability. 

This it would seem is the very same pictorial imagery this site has referred to elsewhere as iconic code. Iconic code is actually borrowed from the cognitive psychological study of memory. Such studies suggest that visual information is stored in the mind and recalled in this visual code. Here however we are not just talking about recalling visual images or other abbreviated visual data but rather manipulating such code in the mind.

It seems that although many people are able to use this visualizing facility that they vary considerably in their ability to do it. Psychologists now recognize that if asked to imagine a triangle introspective accounts vary from a little success to a lot of success. Some people cannot see the triangle till they draw it on paper or at least draw it with their finger on say the desk in front of them. Some people need to close their eyes and sort of project the image of a triangle on to the backs of their eyelids. Some rare individuals can bring up the image of the triangle with their eyes open, superimposing the triangle on what ever they are looking at.

Steinmetz and Tesla.  

Very rare individuals can make the triangle change size, color, and perspective; they can make it twirl, jump, and pass through other figures. Presumably they can also add to it in a modular fashion, subtract from it the same way, multiply and divide, and probably perform any mathematical operation on it including the ability to morph it into a different shape. From their own accounts it would seem that both Charles Steinmetz and Nikola Tesla had this ultimate ability. This ability would allow problems to be solved in the mind without ever putting pen to paper. It also allows a kind of visual rehearsal that would be invaluable to inventors, designers and choreographers.

This ability was fairly well documented in the life of Tesla. Tesla himself described his ability in the following:

"I started by first picturing in my mind a direct current machine, running it and following the changing flow of currents. Next I would visualize systems comprised of motors and generators and operate them in various ways. The images I saw were perfectly real and tangible."

"It is absolutely immaterial to me whether I run my turbine in thought or test it in my shop. I even note if it is out of balance. In this way I am able to rapidly develop and perfect a conception without touching anything. When I have gone so far as to embody in the invention every possible improvement I can think of and see no fault anywhere, I put into concrete form this final product of my brain. Invariably my device works as I conceived that it should, and the experiment comes out exactly as I planned it. In twenty years there has not been a single exception."

In her book "Nikola Tesla" Carol Dommermuth-Costa said:

"Because of Nikola's unusual powers of visualization, he could actually see the machines in his mind and work on them without ever drawing a diagram or or building a model."

"As soon as a laboratory was rented on Fifth Avenue in New York City, Nikola got to work building various electrical machines. Since he had already worked out the problems in his mind, he was able to produce these units very quickly. All of the designs that had been resting inside his head since the breakthrough he had in Budapest could now be constructed. Although several years had elapsed since the day in the park with his friend Anital, he remembered the designs down to the last detail. Nikola had spent much time testing the designs in his head, and they all worked exactly as he anticipated."

This geometric representation of three dimensional four dimensional or whatever dimensional space within the mind it seem is not the only way visualization can be used in the mind. It seems that some people such as Fred Hoyle are able to think in what they call an algebraic form of what still must be a form of visualization. This presumably involves being able to visualize mathematical and algebraic symbols within the mind and being able to manipulate them there. Presumably formulas from physics and chemistry could be manipulated in the same way. This kind of symbol manipulation would kind of be like the equivalent of language in iconic code.

Visual imaging is not only useful for the visual arts and sciences but it is also reported by many of our most famous novelists, poets and play-writes as being the manner in which they first experience their works of art. The obvious example is Samuel Coleridge who wrote to a friend that, "a whole essay might be written on the danger of thinking without images". Dryden wrote that "imaging is the very height and life of of poetry". Among visual imagers can also be counted Charles Dickens and Tennessee Williams.

Other types of imaging.

Imaging is not restricted to visual imaging. As stated before we are all aware that we we are able to think in our native language, and this is a kind of sound imaging. 

Aural imaging. 

Being able to hear sounds other than language inside your head is usually referred to as aural imaging. Do we just hear words when thinking or are we able to hear inflections, rise and fall of tone, loudness or whispers. Do we hear the hmm and ah and other sounds used in speaking but not considered language. Can we reproduce in our minds other sounds like the sound of a motor car or the slosh of water as waves role in on the shore. Think about the following. Is there any reason that the sounds we hear when we think about them should be restricted to the noises we can make with our vocal cords? Most of us may be able to do these things a little but the creative geniuses can do this imaging accurately. 

Some bilingual people can think in in both languages and switch back and forth with ease. Most people can reproduce music in their minds. The great composers like Mozart and Beethoven could manipulate and change the music as they heard it inside their heads. Mozart once wrote "The whole, though it be long, stands almost complete and finished in my mind, so that I can survey it like a fine picture or a beautiful statue at a glance. Nor do I hear it in my imagination the parts successively, but I here them as it were, all at once." Beethoven likewise speaks of building whole compositions in his mind till all that remained was to transcribe them into musical notation. Also he was able to continue to write music after he became profoundly deaf. Sometimes a visual stimulus if it has somehow captured or expressed sound in visual form can help in activating this aural imagery. Look at the painting of the 'Scream' by Edvard Munch. Can you hear the scream? Even the cartoon representation below should evoke the aural image of a scream.

Gustatory and and aromatic imaging.

Motor, touch and balance imaging will be discussed under body thinking but there are two more senses that we absorb data in namely smell and taste that presumably imaging is possible in also. While many people need to be able to use their noses for discrimination probably very few people need to use their noses to be creative. Perhaps some of the great perfumers might have developed the ability to mix aromas and fragrances in their minds. Consider the character in the movie "Perfume". However although there is also little information on taste imaging a few master chefs have indicated that they use taste imaging. Both Charlie Trotter and Pierre Herme reveal that the finished taste that the 'finished taste' of a dish is cooked up in the imagination before it is cooked in the kitchen. Herme says, "When I create a cake I put the flavors and textures together in my mind... I already know what it will taste like before it comes out of the oven."

You may be tempted to think that the imaging of taste and smell have no place in creative genius just because they are not mentioned by many of those classified as geniuses. But it may well be that they are reported little because they are rare and might be quite useful to geniuses if they had them. Or maybe there is simply just less ways they can be useful because of our current culture and socialization.

How to image.

The Root-Bernsteins suggest that this facility to visualize can be cultivated by simply trying to do it. They suggest trying to first to visualize simple geometric shapes then progress to geometric solids etc. In each case the idea would be once you have mastered the rendering of such objects to then try and make them move rotate expand etc. Max Wertheimer wrote a book first published in 1959 called "Productive Thinking" which proposes more complicated imaging exercises that can be used to continue this self training in imaging. Another way of proceeding is to try and recall some image that you greatly enjoy seeing such as a painting or part of a movie or maybe some element ballet, or try and envision some idyllic beautiful scene from your childhood. Nobel laureate and biologist Francois Jacob reported that he began each day with by mentally recreating his room, then his house, then his neighborhood, and eventually the entire world while while lying in bed with his eyes shut. Lying in bed in the morning or when you first get into bed at night are ideal times to practice visualizing. In the book "The Einstein Factor" Win Wenger and Richard Poe have their own suggestion for inducing what they call image streaming. In that book they suggest the following procedure:

"You sit back in a comfortable chair, close your eyes, and describe aloud the flow of mental images through your mind. Three factors are are absolutely crucial. I call them the Three Commandments of Image Streaming:

  1. You must describe the images aloud, either to another person or to a tape recorder. Describing them silently will defeat the purpose of the exercise.

  2. You must use all five senses in your descriptions. if you see a snow covered mountain don't just describe how it looks. Describe its taste, its texture, its smell, and the sound of the wind howling across its peak.

  3. Phrase all your descriptions in the present tense.

Children and Imaging.

Children are not only good at imaging it seems likely that it is the method and code they use when communicating with themselves in thought especially early before they become conversant with language. It is of course the seductive lure of language that is ultimately the reason for the demise of imaging. Language is vital for communication and as young people use it more and more they begin to use it also for encoding thoughts and communicating with themselves. As this happens, imaging is used less and less, until eventually it is no longer used at all. While language is truly superior to imaging for doing our thinking, there is no real need to dispense with it. There is no reason for discarding it like an old shoe.

Many people lose all imaging ability. It is said that about thirty percent of all humans have lost the ability completely. Even the other seventy percent for the most part retain it in a very weak form. Still, even the people in the 30% group can still be highly creative and may even manage to become a genius. This skill though not essential to genius, is an extra advantage that can mean the difference between producing something creative and producing something truly extraordinary. It is a truly useful way of thinking and people who can use it as well in thinking have an enormous advantage both in getting an a truly unique perspective, and thus in being creative, and being able to perform the kinds of feats we attribute to geniuses.

Practice as iterative improvement is a necessity for life long creativity.

If we are to preserve the ability to perform imaging, to multiply our creative ability and improve our chance of achieving genius status later in life, it needs to be continually practiced with improvement throughout life. At the moment, the practice of imaging in the home and school are generally thought to be detrimental to learning language and are thus discouraged and even forbidden or suppressed. If we continually try to perform improved imaging in our daily lives we will find this ability not only does not fade, but rather becomes stronger until it may be manipulated in the way that such people as Tesla have described. This site is suggesting that concentrating on learning language and arriving at ideas only through the use of language may actually be a way of killing off this incredible ability, and we would do well to be patient with children learning language. Einstein for instance never spoke until he was four years old and he clearly describes doing most of his thinking in abstract images and the manipulation of those images. This site asserts that every effort should be made to retain this invaluable facility or talent which is useful for a whole range of human activities, including learning itself, not just creative ones.

Most of the time most modern people, are in all probability, suppressing their ability to perceive images in their minds, and in doing so are, depriving themselves of a rich variety of connections for concepts that could well form the basis of new and unique ideas.  Sure, the presence of images while we are permorming some actions could be dangerous and their presence could have some distracting influence on the development of a native language, but if we hope to have genius ever reach epidemic proportions it may well be a necessary ability. The amount of associations we build into our concepts may well be impoverished by our lack of skill in performing this ability. For us to have a chance at being a genius life long practice in using this ability may be a necessity. 

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Prodigies Genius Creativity Social Creativity Thin Slicing Observing Abstracting Recognizing Patterns
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