Thinking Out of the Box: The Projected Mind

By Larry Kilham

“Imagination is more important than knowledge,” Albert Einstein

An apple falls from the tree above you. The bath water increases in depth when you step in. Eureka! You have begun the discovery of the law of gravity or the law of buoyancy. Such discoveries may not have been that simple, but if they add some glamour to the occupation of scientific discovery it’s probably not a bad thing.

To make new theories, new inventions, and other great creations, you have to do better than adjusting existing theories and designs. You must move your mind beyond the existing thinking about the subject. You must move out of your conscious world and focus your mind in a new place occupied only by the new creation.

Abstract Thinking and Refocusing the Mind: When an inventor comes up with a truly novel idea or insight, he or she has been exploring relationships, patterns, and associations until a productive interplay of ideas, images, and data of all kinds is found. That encouragement signals the brain the chase is on. The mind is to be projected to a special little world encompassed by this project.

Einstein placed himself in speeding trains, moving clocks and elevators in space. This was more than metaphorical thinking; it was a mind transforming itself to another place. Einstein’s strength came from his imagination and creativity. For the most part his mathematics is a precise description of the relationships he discovered rather than the way he arrived at those relationships.

Peter Kilham invented a phenomenally successful bird feeder that is the very familiar plastic tube with metal perches. He started by imagining himself to be a bird on a perch. Then he envisioned a geometry that would be most accommodating to the bird. Only after the bird was satisfied did he select the materials and manufacturing processes to make an attractive and economical product.

Creativity, Cognition, Language, and Imagination: How the projection of the mind to a uniquely productive imagination space happens is a subject of a lot of current conjecture. One school of thought says much more information is stored in our unconscious mind than our conscious mind. In the intensive imagination and invention process, the unconscious memory is searched for clues and ideas and promising ones are resurrected from time to time. One such time everyone can relate to is thinking about an unsolved problem just before going to sleep and awaking with the idea in full sound and color. The mind had been rummaging around its archival memories overnight, probably while dreaming.

Experts say that human intelligence is much superior to animals because of language. While it is generally accepted that many animals recognize dozens of words, there is no evidence that they can learn expansive vocabularies or use grammars. In other words, animals cannot think in or communicate with language.

While dialoging with themselves is a common way for creative people to force their minds into creative spaces that normal thinking wouldn’t bring them to, and language becomes even more important as more research is done using the Internet, there are other ways to guide the mind. Thinking in pictures and images is another approach.

Imagination gets us beyond the here and now. It gives us the ability to ask questions in a new spirit of discovery. It facilitates seeing ahead and exploring the best way to go. This is an essential step to go from innovation to creation to invention. This puts us in a class distinct from very smart animals and super intelligent computers.

The Emotion Factor: Emotion is very important in high level thinking, but its exact relationship to the thinking process has not been precisely defined. A heightened emotional environment may cause the thinking person to switch into a higher or lower level of mental activity. This may be particularly true for the creative thinker.

One emotional influence is the socioeconomic pressures of a given era. Times of tension and danger often seem to foster creative and inventive efforts. The great artists of the warring states of the Renaissance and the incredible scientific developments made during WW II are classic examples. Was the creativity enhanced because there was a top-down pressure on creative thinkers to work even more diligently on their projects?

Was it because the pressure of the times somehow modified the brain chemistry of the creative people forcing them into an extraordinarily productive mode much of the time? The influence of chemicals ranging from alcohol to narcotics to imbalances of neurochemicals such as serotonin to dopamine has been noted and discussed from ancient Greek times to the present. Many creative people such as writers feel that immensely creative states of mind are reached when the mind is not in a normal equilibrium state.

Despite the many problems that hems in almost every child, children still have the almost nave capability of unfettered imagination. Some people, very few, keep this imaginative ability through adulthood. Their imaginings leads to inventions, art, designs and explorations of many frontiers never seen before. Emotion is part of this creative formula, and perhaps the emotional element is what is hardest to reconcile in equating the human mind to an advanced computer or an artificial intelligence machine. Did you ever see a computer cry?

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