The Power of Imagination
by Dimitrios Papalexis
Best-Selling Author and Psychologist, Norman Doidge, left his fancy laboratory to embark on a journey across the United States and interview famous scientists from the field of neuroplasticity. His results about how imagination leads to material changes, reveal the power of imagination and the infinite possibilities of the human mind.
Scientific Experiments Prove the Effectiveness of Imagination
Alvaro Pascual-Leone chief of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical center, part of Harvard Medical School, conducted experiments showing that “we can change our brain anatomy simply by using our imagination”. He conducted an experiment that shows how thoughts can lead to the change of the material structure of our brains.
During the experiment a number of students learning piano was divided into two groups. The first group, with the name “the mental practice group” sat in front of an electric piano two hours a day, for five days, and imagined both playing the sequence and hearing it played. The second group, that was named “physical group”, actually played the piano. The brains of both groups were mapped before the experiments, each day and afterward. When both groups played the sequence after the end of the practice, a computer measured how accurate their performance was. The results have shown that both groups learned to play the sequence. The mapping of their brain showed similar brain map changes.
The above experiment demonstrates that mental practice or imagination alone “produced the same physical changes in the motor system” as if the students had actually played the piece. That means that mental practice or imagination can be effective for learning a physical skill without having to physically practice.
Anatoly Sharansky Became a Master of Chess Through Mental Practice.
Another story presented in The Brain That Changes Itself shows how imagination leads to physical changes. While in prison, most political prisoners are mentally falling apart due to a lack of use of their brain that needs external stimulation. Anatoly Sharansky, a jewish computer specialist, who stayed for a long time in prison in the worst conditions of isolation, played mental chess for months which helped him to keep his brain from degrading.
During his mental practice, Sharansky played both white and black, holding the game in his head from opposite perspectives which is an extraordinary challenge to the brain. The result was that when word champion Garry Kasparov played against Sharansky, he didn’t manage to beat him. Sharansky became a master of Chess only by using his imagination.
How Imagination Changes the Human Brain
Neuroplasticity shows that our brains change through imagination. When people close their eyes and visualise a simple object, the primary visual cortex lights up in the same way that it does when people are actually looking at the object. Brain scans reveal that many of the same parts of the brain get active when we act or imagine things. This provides a scientific proof for the effectiveness of visualisation.
According to Doidge, when one imagines using his muscles, he/she strengthens them. That happens because the imaginary muscles’ contraction leads to the activation of the neurons that string together sequences of instructions for movement resulting to increased strength.
Norman Doidge says that because the human brain can reorganise itself so quickly and individual parts of the brain are not committed to processing particular senses, people learning a new sill can recruit operators devoted to other activities, increasing in that way their processing power. The way to do that is by blocking the operator from its usual function so it can be recruited for the other function.
Imagination Changes Reality
The latest findings of neuroplasticity show how imagination engages the same motor and sensory programs involved in action. It shows that whatever we imagine leaves material traces. The finding that “our thoughts alter the physical state of our brain" is of huge importance since people can use the power of their mind and imagination for their benefit and improvement.