On imagination


Using the visual and auditory areas to execute acts of imagination is a truly ingenious bit of engineering, and evolution deserves the Microsoft Windows Award for installing it in every one of us without asking permission.  —Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness

As someone who spends what I imagine to be a disproportionate amount of time lost in the musings of my brain’s frontal lobe, the takeaway of Gilbert’s book is rather comforting:

  1. “The world as we know it is a construction, a finished product, almost –one might say –a manufactured article, to which the mind contributes as much by its moulding forms as the thing contributes by its stimuli”*

  2. “The areas of your brain that respond emotionally to real events respond emotionally to imaginary events as well…”

  3. Our imaginations often neglect to include the negatives when projecting the future. 

  4. “The brain and the eye have a contractual relationship in which the brain has agreed to believe what the eye sees, but in return the eye has agreed to look for what the brain wants.”

So, why waste time in the present at all?

We can’t see or feel two things at once, and the brain has strict priorities about what it will see, hear, and feel and what it will ignore. Imagination’s requests are often denied. …when we ask our brains to look at a real object and an imaginary object at the same time, our brains typically grant the first request and turn down the second. The brain considers the perception of reality to be its first and foremost duty, thus your request to borrow the visual cortex for a moment is expressly and summarily denied.”

Not so. For instance, I don’t find it necessary to close my eyes in order to slip into the frontal lobe during earnings seasons when listening to management’s opening recitation of facts I’ve already read in the press release/supplement. My brain has simply adjusted so that I can simultaneously look as though I’m intently listening while imagining a chess game on the cliffs at Machu Picchu, details of my lover’s arms, etc. Of course, this means I can never answer questions during the call concerning that last fact that you just missed, because perhaps you too were dozing off. But, I consider the fact that my facial expression failed to give way to my frolicking in the virtual world to be a rather significant skill, and one that I’ve worked on honing since realizing the frivolity of sitting around a conference table with more than four people.

*Gilbert quoting historian, Will Durant


2 Responses to “On imagination”

  1. grindingoutgranularity Says:

    This isn’t really directed at you specifically, but is more of an observation about general human behaviour. But since you’ve made the claim…and I’ve witnessed a performance…
    Have you considered that the blank, disinterested, and glassed-over look on your face is actually an obvious tell? I reckon, odds-on, that true poker faces are actually fairly rare and you may be mistaking your coworkers’ complete lack of interest in your cerebral status for validation that you have them fooled. Before touting your ‘mad skillz’ in deception, may I suggest you practice taking a note or two while your frontal lobe is gallivanting to exotic destinations, chess set in hand – it may help when you decide to go pro.

  2. empiricalskeptic Says:

    grindingoutgranularity, the lighting in the back conference room is far too dim to be productive.

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