Cognition – Imagination – Improving Imagination

by pre., Friday, June 6th, 2008.

Imagine for a moment that your imagination was better than it currently is. What kinds of things are you able to do with your new improved imaginative powers? Can you see yourself able to see yourself more clearly because of that improvement? Will improving your imagination increase your understanding of how your understanding would be improved?

Your understanding of the world is based deeply in your imagination. It allows you to model the world, and to change that model’s details, the particulars, and see the consequences. It makes questions like “should I buy this sandwich?” meaningful because it enables to you compare two worlds, one where you have a sandwich but you don’t have a pound, and one where you don’t have a sandwich but at least you still have your money. You can imagine living in both of those worlds and see which you prefer.

It lets you combine ideas in your mind, and thus invent new ones. Imagine combining wheels and baskets: You just ‘invented’ the shopping trolley. Imagination is at the heart of invention, of planning, of thinking.

Imagination helps us see possible solutions to problems, as your imagination improves so does your understanding of obstacles, and ability to create solutions, to generate new ideas.

A first-rate imagination enables you to project yourself into a detailed world, which in turn enables you to describe it vividly, to enrapture those listening to you and capture their imaginations, help them to see what you can see, it’s infectious and mind-changing.

Improving Your Imagination

When you want to improve your abilities, the most obvious thing you can do to do so is to practice that ability. Spend ten minutes a day doing it, and pretty much whatever “it” is, you’ll find you’ve improved, you’re better at it.

So how do you practice using your imagination? By imagining things! By seeing what would happen if the world were slightly different. By concentrating on the details in your vision of that world, seeing them colourful and bright and loud and animated. Describing them to yourself in exciting, evocative language. By imagining solutions to problems in that world, thinking up new experiments to try in it.

You can also use this world to plant suggestions to yourself, help your brain understand and focus on the relevent parts of the act of imagination, help it to see what should be growing.

This Month’s mp3

We give an example of this kind of imagination-improving meditation in this month’s mp3 file. It encourages you to relax, get into as suggestible a state as you can, before vividly imaging yourself sliding out of your body so that you can see yourself lying back, relaxing.

Next it suggests that you improve your imagination by imagining yourself literally operating on your brain. Think up a way to open the top of your skull, and then watch yourself doing that. Imagine a way to locate the imagination areas of your brain and watch yourself doing that. Then think up a way to encourage those parts of your brain to grow, before vividly and animatedly watching that happen before you. Finally, imagining yourself closing up the wound and sliding back into your own body to feel the warm glowing growth of your imagination. To try and imagine how it feels to have that improved imagination.

Each time you try the meditation, think up new tools, new methods, new techniques for doing each of the tasks involved in growing that brain, remember that if you can imagine how it feels to have improved your imagination, you just have to practice feeling like that in order to have actually done it.

Congition – Imagination – Restrictions

by pre., Friday, June 13th, 2008.

“Zen and the art of motor cycle maintainence contains this short story on a failure of imagination:

He’d been innovating extensively. He’d been having trouble with students who had nothing to say. At first he thought it was laziness but later it became apparent that it wasn’t. They just couldn’t think of anything to say.

One of them, a girl with strong-lensed glasses, wanted to write a five-hundred-word essay about the United States. He was used to the sinking feeling that comes from statements like this, and suggested without disparagement that she narrow it down to just Bozeman.

When the paper came due she didn’t have it and was quite upset. She had tried and tried but she just couldn’t think of anything to say.

He had already discussed her with her previous instructors and they’d confirmed his impressions of her. She was very serious, disciplined and hardworking, but extremely dull. Not a spark of creativity in her anywhere. Her eyes, behind the thick-lensed glasses, were the eyes of a drudge. She wasn’t bluffing him, she really couldn’t think of anything to say, and was upset by her inability to do as she was told.

It just stumped him. Now he couldn’t think of anything to say. A silence occurred, and then a peculiar answer: “Narrow it down to the main street of Bozeman.” It was a stroke of insight.

She nodded dutifully and went out. But just before her next class she came back in real distress, tears this time, distress that had obviously been there for a long time. She still couldn’t think of anything to say, and couldn’t understand why, if she couldn’t think of anything about all of Bozeman, she should be able to think of something about just one street.

He was furious. “You’re not looking!” he said. A memory came back of his own dismissal from the University for having too much to say. For every fact there is an infinity of hypotheses. The more you look the more you see. She really wasn’t looking and yet somehow didn’t understand this.

He told her angrily, “Narrow it down to the front of one building on the main street of Bozeman. The Opera House. Start with the upper left-hand brick.”

Her eyes, behind the thick-lensed glasses, opened wide. She came in the next class with a puzzled look and handed him a five-thousand-word essay on the front of the Opera House on the main street of Bozeman, Montana. “I sat in the hamburger stand across the street,” she said, “and started writing about the first brick, and the second brick, and then by the third brick it all started to come and I couldn’t stop. They thought I was crazy, and they kept kidding me, but here it all is. I don’t understand it.”

Every writer, artist and worker has suffered to some degree from “blank page syndrome“. Not having any idea where to start. You’ll have looked at some problem and just been at a loss for any way to begin a solution at all. You’ll have wanted to talk to someone but been drowned in awkward silence, finding it impossible to know what to say. You’ll have been unable to think of a gift for someone. When faced with too many possibilities your mind can find it hard to find a pattern to focus on. Something in inspire.

When you listened to our mp3 file last week, you will have found it very easy to know what to visualise, and fairly easy to pick the tools and methods you used to improve your imagination. Yet if we’d simply said “Visualise something imaginative” you’d have been much more likely to just freeze.

Solutions beginning with “P”

The difference between the two particulars is, of course, that in the primary one we have added almost completely arbitrary restrictions. Narrowed down part of the pattern, limited the possibilities into something we can use to prompt our imaginations.

Primarily: You are inspired by limitations.

When you find yourself stuck for lack of ideas, add arbitrary conditions. Don’t just think of something to say to that person, think of something beginning with the word Pancake. Don’t just try and draw a picture, draw a picture of something pink. When trying to think of an example, think of one beginning with the letter “P”.

Chose your own letter, your own restriction, though. Obviously. You don’t want to be drowning in Pee.

You should start, gradually, to find different ways to tell stories to your brain about how and why your imagination is growing. Slowly expand the restrictions in this month’s mp3. Imagine different scenarios, situations, be as creative as you can be. Learn how to cope easily with wider and wider selections of options in front of you to gradually reduce the “Blank Page Effect” in yourself.

And in the mean time, if you get stuck, just pile in a few more arbitrary preconditions.

Cognition – Imagination – Try New Things

by pre., Friday, June 20th, 2008.

Robert Anton Wilson describes The Jumping Jesus Phenomenon, in which the amount of time it takes for society to double their current level of knowledge has been shrinking at an exponential rate. The entire range of human thought has been doubling increasingly quickly since before the time of Jesus. Raymond Kurzweil takes a more rigorous approach and calls the effect Accelerating Change. He researches, maps and graphs a whole range of human knowledge measures and finds they make straight lines on logarithmic graphs. Exponential growth! What’s do you imagine drives this incredible process?

Human imagination allows us to combine ideas, and since each combination produces a new idea, every act of doing so increases the pool of ideas available for combination.

Every tool we invent allows us to modify all the other tools we have invented. And here what works on a societal level also works on an individual level. Every idea you have gives you a larger pool of ideas to call on when you’re trying to solve a problem.

In order to have the greatest pool of ideas available to you, the largest range of mental tools, and thus be as imaginative as you can you will start saying “Yes” more when asked to do new things. Seek novelty for it’s own sake. Do things differently just to catch yourself off guard.

As you do so, you’ll also be literally encouraging your brain to grow. Just last month the NY times reported research which suggested you should aquire new habbits because studies indicate doing novel things literally keeps your brain from rotting:

It turns out that unless we continue to learn new things, which challenges our brains to create new pathways, they literally begin to atrophy, which may result in dementia, Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases.

Convincing yourself to try new things

It’s very easy to get trapped into your normal routine, the rut of your day to day existence. It’s comfortable there, but that very comfort may be letting your brain rot. What can you do to make it more likely you’ll try something new?

Simply reading this article and so knowing that doing new things is important to you may give you a slight edge. But allowing that suggestion to sink deeper into your unconscious can’t be a bad idea. Try a five minute meditation, allow yourself to drift into an emotional state, then just tell yourself you’ll do new things, and think about the last new thing you did. Concentration on those things will help you spot opportunities to practice the novel, and pay more attention to them when you do.

Finally, if you can’t do something new, do something old in a new way! Try it left-handed. Try it upside down. Try it with one arm behind your back. The more variety your life has, the more food your imagination has, your brain will begin to burn with new ideas, which give you new things to do. Pretty soon you’ll be doubling your own knowledge every few years too!

Cognition – Imagination – Distraction Activity

by pre., Friday, June 27th, 2008.

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
Backing Music “Ambient Voyager” By Zero Page
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