Cognition – Imagination – Distraction Activity

Friday, June 27th, 2008 at 8:00 am.
by pre.

Anecdotes about great artistic, philosophical and scientific discoveries coming to people as they sleep abound. Paul McCartney is said to have dreamed up the tune for “Yesterday”, Shelly to have been asleep when Frankenstein’s Monster came to mind, a snake eating it’s own tail was the dream-prompt that lead to the discovery of the structure of the benzine ring. You’ll find dozens more if you search. You can probably even pick some from your own life.

While most of our useful imaginative ideas come to us while awake, as we’re actively searching for them, some of the most creative, the most magnificently imaginative ideas (and the most stupid of course) come to us in our dreams.

While you are searching for an idea, you are setting up conditions in your mind, training it to recognise a solution to that idea. Your senses and experience, thoughts and ideas, are all being scanned for things which match those criteria. Constantly. And when they come across something which will work, you get that little ping of epiphany, the buzz of new inspiration.

Dreams, of course, provide some of the strangest and most unlikely sense input patters you’re ever likely to ‘see’. It’s no surprise that some of the strangest and most unlikely new ideas are inspired by those conditions.

The base effect though, that constant looking out for a neural pattern, happens while you are awake too. As we mentioned previously when discussing how restrictions can fire the imagination, a blank page can be the most inspiration sapping stimulus you could have. There’s nothing in a blank page which will be recognised by that idea-matching system.

This mechanism means that a more or less random stimulus can push your pattern matching equipment into prompting an idea, and the effect is visible in many familiar experiences. You’ll have struggled yourself to remember some forgotten thing that “pops into your head” later, when something (possibly subconsciously) reminds you of it. The perfect come-back to that witty remark occurs to you days later when you see a prompt in the washing up bowl.

When trying to build something, inventors have described how it can be useful to wonder around a hardware store, looking at the things they’re selling, wondering which will best match the needs of the particular new thing they’re building. That wide range of tools and materials gives the prompt to understand a problem more deeply, to see a solution which will fit the desired criteria.

Artists also find inspiration in the most mundane things as well as in the transcendent. Almost anything in the world can prompt an new imaginative combination. You never know from where your best ideas will come.

Improving Your Imagination

If you have a difficult problem, or a vexing issue, if you’re looking to exercise your growing imagination, perhaps the first thing you should try is to sleep on it. Many of our fundamental mental processes only really happen while we sleep. Memories are sorted, stored, refreshed. New facts assimilated into our world knowledge. Free association and dreams can help us to find new solutions.

While awake, performing distraction activities can help. Keep your problem in mind, certainly, think of it often to keep your pattern matching tuned to solutions for that problem, but seek inspiration elsewhere. If you’ve been thinking for some time and come up with nothing, you’re likely going around in circles. It will take time for your ideas to ferment, to grow relevent connections, and you can speed up that process by concentrating on something else. Let your mind fill with other, even completely unrelated patterns. The solution to your problem will be found by inspiration in the world more often than by deep thought.

Guided Meditation File 5 – Cognition – Imagination
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