Perception is based not only on past and present knowledge but also on feelings. James Gibson in the 1950’s called perceptual learning the active process of information pickup. You pick up different information depending on the mood you are in and your feelings. Have you ever had the experience of looking at an article of clothing and thinking it was great, then having some event happen to you when you were wearing it, and suddenly it falls out of favor with you? Or perhaps it is a song. It was your song when you were in a relationship with another, but now you have broken off that relationship and when you hear that song, you go crazy. You just can’t stand to listen to it. The song hasn’t changed and neither has the article of clothing, but your perception of them has.
Visual perception is what brings clarity to an otherwise complex and fragmented world. It is extraordinary in two ways. First, it has the ability to make you aware of a highly lucid and ordered world. Second, it provides you with these experiences without your being aware of the complex computational analysis involved in the production of this world (Turk-Browne, Isola, Scholl & Treat, 2008).
Max Wertheimer’s Gestalt theory marked the beginning of the reversal of the behaviorist learning theory by making it clear that it was impossible to separate what is from the individual’s interpretation of what is. Gestalt theory expounded that an individual imposes his own meaning or perception on a world of complex phenomena, a more inclusive approach that stated that behavior could not be separated from the individual’s perception, meaning that perception was subjective rather than objective in nature. It is in the foundations of perception that you can find the roots of constructivist theory of learning. Gestalt theory gave us the idea that the sole creator or constructor of thoughts is the individual. This pronounced the individual as a holistic unit, meaning that behavior could not be separated from the rest of the individual.
You can see with more than just your physical eyes or external vision. You can also use your mental capacities to “see.” Visualization is the ability to see, not with our physical eyes, but with our internal vision or mind’s eye. Visualization, or mental imagery, has become very popular with athletes, healers and others seeking to bring about physical, mental and emotional change in a variety of disciplines. When you visualize you reproduce in your mind an object, scene or feeling as though it were occurring right now in your physical reality.
Many meditation and relaxation techniques use this approach to help people unwind. Imagine yourself by a quiet stream with the water flowing and the sun shining. Or imagine you are at the beach and the waves are gently hitting upon the shore. Images come to your mind, maybe even smells or feelings of a gentle ocean breeze. All of the senses are available to you when you visualize in this way.
Recent technological innovations have determined that not only do we see when we visualize, but our recognitions can go far beyond the visual areas in the cortex. Mental imagining tends to mimic actual performance in both oxygen flow to the brain and blood flow. Also muscular activity and visio-motor behavioral rehearsal can be influenced. Visualization has been shown to have many properties in common with actual perception.
Visualization can assist in a shift in attitude and belief as well as in ability or skills. A landmark study conducted in 1943 by Vandel, Davis, and Clugston (2), “The Function of Mental Practice in the Acquisition of Motor Skills” showed that basketball players who mentally practiced free throws improved their skills similarly to those who physically practiced the task. The players using visualization only increased their free throw percentage by 23%, those that physically practiced shooting free throws by 24% and the control group that did not practice either way showed no improvement.
Another one of the major breakthroughs substantiating the power of visualization came when Rodger Bannister, 1954, broke the four-minute mile, a barrier thought unbreakable. Bannister claimed to have a mental image that he could break the record even though many people were sure it was not humanly possible. Once he did it, 52 others followed in his footsteps the same year.
Visualization is thought to be more than external mental imaging when the person sees him or herself as if watching a movie. Visualization incorporates an internal kinesthetic knowing comparable to actually being there. Since the original breakthroughs, a considerable amount of research has been done and more is underway. Using just the mind, visualization can incorporate cognitive, affective and physiological imaging and has proven to be effective in expanding human potential.
Albert Einstein (1929) said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.” Imagination is what you use to create. You can use it to create stories, theories, or ideas. With imagination you get in touch with your own creativity. Imagination lets you recognize relationships. It lets you go where others have not yet gone.
Daniel Pink (2006) describes a right brain thinking process called “symphony.” Symphony, he says, is found in the right side of the brain which operates in a contextual, real-time and relationship-oriented manner. This, I would contend, is the part of the imagination which allows you to determine relationships yet undiscovered, to see the big picture and to invent something new. Bold leaps in consciousness and imagination are responsible for all our new discoveries. The mind literally “sees” a thing it has never seen before. Imagination connects with feelings, thinking and instincts. The imagination is what takes our thoughts to a whole new level of consciousness, allowing us to synthesize thoughts and to create new concepts, inventions and meaning.
Using what you already know, the imagination asks the question “what if?” and then creates new or revised ideas. Imagination is different from what you believe because you internally know it is created by, and is a result of, your own thought process and that it may or may not be shared by the rest of the world. A belief, on the other hand, is generally thought to be widely accepted in the outer world. So powerful is our imagination that Robert Russell (1950) says, “The difference between success and failure is often in the use that one makes of imagination.” Picasso said “Everything you can imagine is real.”
Our imagination is a powerful tool that is unique to each individual. It allows us to see and feel things that are real to us in a way that is ours alone. In the historic book “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” neurologist Oliver Sacks examines the influence of brain functions such as excesses, deficits, altered perceptions and extraordinary mental functions on our realities. In presenting cases like Dr. P, “The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat”, he reveals that many of the axioms most entrenched in classical neurology and brain science should be challenged. In the Case of Dr. P, brain damage, which has long been assumed to reduce or remove the abstract and categorical abilities of thought, does just the opposite. Dr. P has lost, in the visual sphere, all emotional, concrete and personal association with reality. He can see only the abstract and categorical. Examining case after case, Sacks infers that the mind may not be as objective as we had previously pronounced. By looking at disorders and diseases, he links the age old problem of mind, brain and the neural foundations of the self (Sacks, 1985).
The study of neurology began in France in the mid 1800’s and really came into its own during the Second World War. Studying the functions and the interrelationships between the left and the right side of the brain have lead to the conclusions that the right side of the brain is more primitive than the left. The left is thought to be more sophisticated and specialized. The right, however, is thought to be more responsible for our perception of reality (Sacks, 1985). Today’s advances in technology have guided us to brain mapping and imaging in an attempt to understand the interrelationships of the brain and the mind. Imagination is the bridge between what is visible and invisible and what is real and unreal. All famous works in literature, invention, and technology were once part of someone’s imagination.
Much has been written lately about the topic of cognitive load and visuals for e-Learning. I will touch upon some of the best practices in this area in a later chapter. The purpose of this book is not to help you understand the nuances of neuroscience or brain research. The purpose is to enable you to take some of this information and use it to create better presentations, webinars, seminars, courses and classes. Success is all about your ability to apply what you are learning to your situation.