This is Your Brain On Awesome Thoughts on the world from a student of the mind

26Aug/10

Imaginawesome…

On the subject of scientific approaches to the world, I thought I'd share an article that covers another integral aspect of any person's daily life - imagination.

I know that this sounds hokey, of course everybody uses their imagination - but as much as we like to use it in our day to day lives, I think it's still underestimated as a valuable tool for solving any problem.

This is the stance taken by Timothy Williamson, a philosopher at Oxford University.  He argues that, while deduction is certainly an important part of understanding the world, it isn't as simple as just crunching the data you're given and cranking out an answer.  The world is far too complicated for such a simple method of problem solving, and perhaps our ace in the hole is our ability to imagine.

While it's easy to think of hearing or seeing or smelling as a simple matter of analyzing the sensory information you're given, in truth any sensation you feel is the product of a two-way conversation that is constantly occurring between your brain and the outside world.  What you perceive is highly influenced by what you expect or what you've seen before, and this is where imagination comes in.  Humans do not simply use deduction to understand their world, they also use induction.

So what does this mean for all of us?  Well, if imagining things plays such an important role in our ability to understand the world, then we should certainly make an effort to improve our ability to  do so.  I'd certainly like to see what the folks who are trying to cut many of the creative arts in our public schools have to say about this.

In addition, this kind of approach to cognition points to the value of larger, more ambitious, and ultimately rougher theories about the world.  It is with these kind of guiding ideas that we can connect our minds with the data that the world gives us and come up with truly amazing results.

And even if it weren't so valuable as a life skill, at least you'd beat all your friends at pictionary...if you don't mind, I'm going to go look at the clouds now.

via The New York Times

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  1. It occurs to me that forcing yourself out of your “comfort” zone stimulates imagination.


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