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Imagining and Seeing 

woman covered in paint as part of canvas

Capturing Your Imagination

Is it possible for science to tackle the human imagination. Well, neuroscientists made some important discoveries about imagination as an unexpected bonus from studying the parts of the cerebral cortex involved in vision.

The cerebral cortex is divided into a patchwork of areas with different functions. The areas with visual functions connect to form a hierarchy. Cortical areas at the back of the brain get visual information from the eyes first and respond to simple features like edges. Signals progress up the hierarchy to areas that respond to complicated features like objects and faces. Signals also travel back down the hierarchy. These may help us recognize the simple features of an object once we know what it is.

Picture This

Many of these studies were done in animals. But when neuroscientists used brain scanning technologies on humans, they made a surprising discovery. They found that some of the same cortical areas become active when people imagine a scene as when they see it.

Furthermore, a team of researchers from Wisconsin and Belgium used electrodes on the scalps of people to measure overall signal flow through the visual cortex. In 2014, they reported that when subjects see a scene, signal flow up the hierarchy from bottom to top dominates. But, when subjects imagine a scene, signal flow down the hierarchy from the top to the bottom does.

So science and imagination aren't entirely separate domains after all.

Read More:

"Perception and Imagination: A Neuroscientist's Perspective" (BrainFacts.org)

"Imagination Can Influence Perception" (Association For Psychological Science)

"Imagination, Reality Flow In Opposite Directions In The Brain" (Science Daily)

"The Brain Creativity, Imagination, and Innovation" (Ross Institute Summer Academy)

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