Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.

6.03.2010

The Life of the Brain

Leelu just shared an essay with me, thinking I'd be interested. She was right. I'm going to start with the author information, because I have a tickle in the back of my mind that I've recently seen this name and/or book title associated with something else, but can't place it.

Paul Bloom is a professor of psychology at Yale University. He is author of the forthcoming book, How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like (W.W. Norton & Company), from which this essay is adapted.

The essay is called The Pleasures of Imagination. Some excerpts:

Our main leisure activity is, by a long shot, participating in experiences that we know are not real. When we are free to do whatever we want, we retreat to the imagination—to worlds created by others, as with books, movies, video games, and television (over four hours a day for the average American), or to worlds we ourselves create, as when daydreaming and fantasizing. While citizens of other countries might watch less television, studies in England and the rest of Europe find a similar obsession with the unreal. . . .

We enjoy imaginative experiences because at some level we don't distinguish them from real ones. This is a powerful idea, one that I think is basically--though not entirely--right. . . .

Why do we get pleasure from the imagination? Isn't it odd that toddlers enjoy pretense, and that children and adults are moved by stories, that we have feelings about characters and events that we know do not exist? As the title of a classic philosophy article put it, how can we be moved by the fate of Anna Karenina?

The emotions triggered by fiction are very real. . . . at every level—physiological, neurological, psychological—the emotions are real, not pretend. . . .

But the idea here is more interesting than that--it is that even once we consciously know something is fictional, there is a part of us that believes it's real. . . .


This is not a new area of consideration for me, as Leelu knows, and as I was reading it I was synthesizing it with other things I've experienced and read. One of the things the essay mentions is that the ability to distinguish fantasy from reality seems to begin almost from birth, and that kids have just as active imaginative lives as adults. This reminded me of the book Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence by Gerard Jones. In it, Jones makes a very convincing argument that kids need imagined violent experiences to be able to deal with the emotions involved in power, violence, fear, and the like.

Also, in one of my older posts I quoted the following:

The same part of the brain we use in seeing is also used in imagining that we are seeing, in remembering seeing, in dreaming that we are seeing, and in understanding language about seeing. The same is true of moving. The same parts of the brain used in really moving are used in imagining that we are moving, remembering moving, dreaming about moving, and in understanding language about moving. Mental "simulation" is the technical term for using brain areas for moving or perceiving, imagining, remembering, dreaming, or understanding language. It is mental simulation that links imaginative stories to lived narratives. . . .

In short, some of the same neural structure in the brain that is used when we live out a narrative is also used when we see someone else living out that narrative, in real life or on TV, or if we imagine it as when we are reading a novel. This is what makes literature and art meaningful. It is also what makes crossovers between reality, TV, and the Internet work. It is why Second Life can flourish on the Internet, with thousands of people finding real meaning in their second life that is not in their first. . . .


And, finally, I thought of my experience participating in college athletics and the emphasis Coach placed on visualization and mental imagery. From a somewhat random source found through Google:

During visualization, the brain is directing the target muscles to work in a desired way. This direction creates a neural pattern in the brain, a pattern identical to the network created by the actual physical performance of the movements. A neural pattern is similar to diagramming the specific wiring and circuits necessary to transmit an electrical current. Alexander Bain (1818–1903) of Great Britain was the first scientist to develop a theory as to how the brain built such patterns to direct and control repeated physical movement. Numerous researchers since that time have expanded on the concept. Visualization alone will not develop the most effective mechanisms in the brain to later perform the desired action, but physical training coupled with visualization will create better recognition of the required nervous system response than physical training alone. . . .

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