Friday, February 3, 2012

Creative Thinking - Part 2: The Value of Mental Imaging

Advancements in the human condition were largely the result of our predisposition to create images for the purpose of future plans. When did our ancestors suddenly realize that creating pictorial representations had the power to evoke mental images of past experiences (defying time) and objects no longer present (defying space)?

Doing so, both now and eons ago, requires
(1) creating imaginative circumstances
(2) manipulating internal mental pictures
(3) engaging in abstract thinking.

Storing information in the brain for the sake of data accumulation would have forced early man to skip ahead to the final chapters of our species’ existence.

When we venture backwards on the timeline of human history to the "pre-literacy era," evidence abounds of our innate inclination to convey ideas, with images, illustrations, maps, and models (however crude they may have been).

Equally astonishing, the same human basic brain structures, processing mechanisms, and neuronal systems that sketched bison, horses, and deer on the Lascaux walls are used for learning in our classrooms today. Students decipher modern messages from paper, laptop screens, interpret computer-generated images on interactive whiteboards using precisely the same neurophysiological hardware.

Those ancestors who were best able to recreate significant events through visualizations, self-generated images and drawings passed those winning genes on to future generations includng the present generations. So, how should we incorporate this winning strategy into student learning?

While it may be no great feat to create pictures in the mind’s eye, translating an array of squiggly and straight lines on paper into mental images representing concrete objects is remarkable. But generating the exact same mental image, merely by a hand-drawn visual cue, in millions of other minds asynchronously (18,000 years later) is nothing short of astounding!

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