Sunday, December 30, 2012

Visualization and the Human Brain  
(Part 1)

 "Imagination is more important than knowledge, for imagination embraces the world."
--Albert Einstein

Over the millennia, our ancestors endeavored to teach survival skills to each subsequent generation.  It quickly became evident that maximizing their innovative capabilities enhanced survival, increased longevity, and advanced a culture.

Anthropologists recently discovered that the ratio of older inhabitants to younger members of a civilization frequently determined, if and how far that group advanced on the path from short-term primitive living to sophisticated civilizations. Today’s mission for the next generation remains no different than it was 50,000 years ago.

Over the eons, the remarkable human brain evolved to store information, not merely for the purpose of being able to recall the past and its myriad details. Instead, early hominid brains developed in a manner that permitted them to successfully navigate a frequently dangerous and unpredictable world. While the physical world has always been governed by the same universal natural laws, our ancestors increasingly relied heavily upon patterns and relationships in nature to anticipate the future and to plan their behaviors accordingly in order to survive environments that were subject to change at a moment’s notice. These early “scientist-explorers” devoted the majority of each day to avoiding the numerous dangers while taking advantage of any clear and present opportunity. Keys to survival were
(1) distinguishing danger from opportunity
(2) storing accurate memory records
(3) visualizing appropriate responses.

Matters relevant to the danger-opportunity continuum warranted visualization and memorization. Early mankind learned to visualize future possibilities by using their imagination, asking the right questions, making observations, gathering data and information, classifying objects and events, making predictions, thoughtfully conducting tests and experimenting, operating on “best-guesses” and hunches, framing explanations based on evidence, communicating ideas, using trial-and-error strategies, revising their thinking as-needed, dedicating their lives to “making sense” of their environment –the ultimate quest of human knowledge. At the core of these new competencies was a complex web of curiosity, inferential and abstract thinking, not for academic purposes, but for survival. 

Two million years ago, Homo habilis began an exponential brain growth enlarging both the cerebral cortex and expanding the cranium to encase and protect a much larger brain. Within a million years, the Homo sapiens brain doubled in size to 1350 cm2. The most distinguishing features evolved
(1)  a brain that was extremely large relative to body mass
(2)  the cognitive abilities to create tools and technology, to reason and plan
(3)  a unique ability to adapt to a plethora of environments and circumstances, as well as to create their own environments, rather than just adapting to natural surroundings. 

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