Geoff Hudson-Searle

4 years ago · 4 min. reading time · 0 ·

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Do we really use our Senses, Imagination and Knowledge?

Do we really use our Senses, Imagination and Knowledge?


After reading an incredibly interesting research paper recently, named: “Berkeley’s Two Mental Events: Ideas of Senses and Ideas of Imagination and Memory”, authored by Tzofit Ofengenden, Tübingen University, the paper triggered some interesting observations and questions… ‘There’s no question that our ability to remember informs our sense of self and knowledge, however, the relationship may also work the other way around: so can our sense of self influence what we are able to remember through imagination and knowledge?

If you close your eyes and imagine an apple, an apple exists, but only in one place in your brain. That is the difference between perception and imagination. … comes from recordings from single neurons in animals and humans. … close your eyes and consider these questions: What shape is a Scottish Terrier’s ears? Which is a darker green: grass or a green tree python? If you rotate the letter “N” 45 degrees to the right, is a new letter formed?

In seeking answers to such questions, scientists say, most people will conjure up an image in their mind’s eye, mentally “look” at it, add details one at a time and describe what they see. They seem to have a definite image in their heads.

But where in the brain are these images formed? And how are they generated? Without hands in the brain, how do people “move things around” in their imaginations?

Using clues from brain-damaged patients and advanced brain imaging techniques, neuroscientists have now found that the brain uses virtually identical pathways for seeing objects and for imagining them – only it uses these pathways in reverse.

In the process of human vision, a stimulus in the outside world is passed from the retina to the primary visual cortex and then to higher centres until an object or event is recognised. In mental imaging, a stimulus originates in higher centres and is passed down to the primary visual cortex, where it is recognised.

The most important lesson from 83,000 brain scans; good activity, ‘too little activity or too much activity by our brain’ by Daniel Amen

Dr. Martha Farah, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, recently said: “People have always wondered if there are pictures in the brain,” More recently, she said, the debate centred on a specific query: as a form of thought, is mental imagery rooted in the abstract symbols of language or in the biology of the visual system.

Vision is not a single process but rather a linking together of subsystems that process specific aspects of vision. To understand how this works, Dr. Kosslyn said, consider looking at an apple on a picnic table 10 feet away. Light reflects off the apple, hits the retina and is sent through nerve fibers to an early visual way station that Dr. Kosslyn calls the visual buffer. Here the apple image is literally mapped onto the surface of brain tissue as it appears in space, with high resolution.

Imagination…..the creative power of the mind

Knowledge versus imagination. Einstein’s aphorism reflects a recurrent theme in human thought. The ancient dichotomy between what we know and what we dream, intuit or sense by instinct is found, in some form, in every field of human intellectual endeavour. It is seen in the contrast between rationalist and mystic interpretations of the world’s great religions, between realism and surrealism in the visual arts and between the brutal number-crunching of much experimental physics and the feathery abstractions of superstring and membrane theory.

Knowledge concerns itself with what is present to the senses, but is also a stored and shared repository of publicly acceptable thoughts, many frozen into physical symbols (written or spoken), transmitted through time and space. Knowledge coded, stored and expressed using symbols can, because of the entrancing flexibility of symbol systems, be broken up and reassembled in a multitude of novel combinations. It is this act of recombination which underlies the power to imagine. Our imagination is and must be grounded in our knowledge. The more memories we accumulate, the more material we have to work with, the richer and stranger are the fruits of our imagination.

Imagination, however, is not just the recombination of stored experiences. Such recombination happens every night even in organisms blessed with much less cortex than human beings. What distinguishes us is our capacity for controlled and wakeful dreaming. This is a useful survival aid, helping us to solve problems, anticipate challenges and conceive alternatives. But we have turned imagination into much more a good in itself. Like money, sex or drugs, we use it to satisfy our needs, flaunt our wealth and status, tighten our social bonds, or distract us from realities we would rather avoid.


Knowledge binds us to a sometimes-oppressive existence; imagination helps us escape it. However, imagination evolved as a tool for facilitating survival. Imagining, we take a step beyond what we know into the future or into another world. We see alternatives and possibilities; we work out what we need to reach our goals. Unhooked from reality, imagination no longer serves these life-enhancing purposes. Without new knowledge to feed it and keep it in check, it can become sterile and even dangerous: “nothing but sophistry and illusional”.

Another measurable way of thinking about the balance between imagination and knowledge is to consider each as private or public, individual or group. Ludwig Wittgenstein famously argued that language is essentially public, requiring consensus about the use of its symbols in order to maintain consistency in meaning over time. One might say the same about knowledge: it must derive from experience in a way which can in principle be reproduced by others. Imagination is a private thing, the leap of a single brain from established fact to exciting novelty.

Was Einstein right?

Is imagination more important than knowledge?

As our realities become more complex we seem increasingly to prefer imagination, but that preference is culture-dependent. Imagination flourishes when its products are highly valued. Leisure, wealth and a degree of political stability are prerequisites for the freedom essential to creativity and for the use of artistic products as indicators of social status.

So, is imagination more important than knowledge? It depends on whom you ask, what you ask about, and when.

Limiting our imagination, is limiting our knowledge and importantly our ability to communicate, as Ludwig Wittgenstein once said:

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.”

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Jerry Fletcher

4 years ago #23

Geoff, Ian and Zacharias Thank you for expanding on how we address and play upon the universe. Feynman never lost his sense of humor even when his wife was desperately ill. And, to my knowledge, he never bowed to authority. That ability to walk one's own path regardless of what stands in your way is the hallmark of a wise man in my view.

Geoff Hudson-Searle

4 years ago #22

Thank you Zacharias \ud83d\udc1d Voulgaris I must read your blog on wisdom I am sure it will provide interesting reading. I really enjoyed reading your views and prospective on the subject. I guess as T.S Eliot once said "Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? We now live in a world where we are inundated with more information, on a daily basis, than we can possibly process. It is an over-communicated environment. There are so many unwanted messages bombarding us, that often the ones we want get lost in the noise. The average person can now communicate faster, with more people without thinking than ever before. Information has become disposable. It doesn't matter whether you are connected to the Internet or not. We get hit with it at every turn. At work. At home as we try to relax. And at all points in between. Fundamentally, I believe it is important to understand that wisdom is grounded in reality. To connect with reality and develop wisdom, we need to learn to be aware. Aware of ourselves and aware of those around us. We can learn from other people's success and we can learn from their mistakes. From early on, we have all been told that we should learn from other people's mistakes. Yet we see people in trouble all the time, but we forget to learn from their mistakes.

Zacharias 🐝 Voulgaris

4 years ago #21

Wisdom, in my view, is indeed higher in the hierarchy of information than knowledge. However, it is not merely another level of knowledge since it is inherently different. I would also include "know-how" though in this hierarchy, as it is something in-between knowledge and wisdom, while also a great facilitator to our understanding. Being more hands-on than any of the previous types of information, know-how is a very practical kind of knowledge, a kind of knowledge that you don't really think about. Wisdom is like that but more generic. For example, being able to solve any classification problem involves not just data science knowledge but know-how too. This is linked to the mindset matter I keep talking about in my blog. Wisdom goes beyond that though. It involves more big picture matters, such as "should we apply classification at all, or would it be better to frame the problem using some other methodology?" or "is the signal in the data strong enough to render classification a viable option for capturing it and representing it in a predictive analytics model?" Also, wisdom has to do with emotional intelligence as well as morality. That's why it's not just higher in the information hierarchy, but a whole new level of thought and perception altogether. As for Einstein's contribution to all this, I think he was more geared towards knowledge and growth than wisdom. Maybe he was wise in some aspects of his life. It's hard to tell though from just his scientific work. I believe there were other scientists of that time that were far wiser, people like Richard Feynman (who developed a whole new way of making science relevant to the world, getting people excited about it), as well as Jacques Fresco (who envisioned a whole new society that harnesses technology for its betterment rather than as another means of production). In addition, there are also people like Carl Sagan who demonstrate a certain level of wisdom in their work, following Feynman's footsteps.

Geoff Hudson-Searle

4 years ago #20

Thank you Zacharias \ud83d\udc1d Voulgaris his memes of data>>Information>>knowledge>> imagination>> wisdom do you feel there is a correlation and transfer of hierarchical information from the cellular or is this possible a new perception on cell control mechanisms which frees us from the limitations of genetic determinism? Your Einstein comments are truly interesting, a question we could ask is 'has Einstein provided us with wisdom or a legacy for knowledge and growth?

Geoff Hudson-Searle

4 years ago #19

Thank you again Ian Weinberg for sharing The Complete Triangles Model, definitely some interesting bed night reading! Have a great weekend!

Geoff Hudson-Searle

4 years ago #18

Ian Weinberg suggested your tag, you words have stimulated even more thought provoking ideas.

Geoff Hudson-Searle

4 years ago #17

Thank you Debasish Majumder for your weekend kindness, I am happy you enjoyed the buzz.

Zacharias 🐝 Voulgaris

4 years ago #16

Fascinating topic! Thank you for sharing and most importantly, for the thought-provoking process that inevitably ensues such a post. Here is my 2 cents on the topic: imagination and knowledge are equally important, though their relative importance varies depending on the application. When someone is trapped in a cage (even a metaphorical one), imagination is key for finding a way out. However, if that same person it taking an exam or some kind of test, knowledge may be more important for them for that task. Perhaps Einstein's quote is taken out of context. He lived in a time when knowledge was very dogmatic and (particularly in the fields of science), something lacking any creativity. After all, science at that time was busking in the afterglow of the innovations of some ingenious scientists and inventors of the previous century, people like Tesla and James Maxwell. With these giants featuring in the scientific books, no wonder people started adopting a very passive approach to science, focusing on knowledge. However, Einstein wanted us to break away from this pattern and be inspired by scientific innovation, rather than be entrapped by it. Hence his unconventional approach to science and his praise of imagination as the most important faculty in our possession. It's easy to go to the other extreme though and neglect the value of knowledge (collective memory) by focusing too much on imagination. After all, imagination in the human brain would be impossible if it weren't for memory...

Ian Weinberg

4 years ago #15

Continued: I have written extensively on the subject in different contexts. It may interest you to read some of the neurophysiology - see - specifically pages 6 to 10. It should also be emphasized that the brain responds physiologically in a similar way to perceived environmental stimuli and imagined data (stored integration). Innovation and creativity is the integration of existing networks which become wired together based on a unique subjective bias which brings those different networks into focus simultaneously ('neurons that fire together, wire together' - Hebbs Rule for neuroplasticity). Neuroplasticity is the term used for creating new neuronal connections and breaking down redundant one's = learning and change. Neuroplasticity is driven by meaning, purpose, curiosity, reward-gratification, achievement and value contribution.

Ian Weinberg

4 years ago #14

Thanks for the tag Randall Burns There's so much to say on this subject, I'm not sure I can do it justice in a single comment. But here goes: I think we need to guard against converting the eloquent neuropsychological functions into scan-based mechanistic representations. In spinal imaging we have shown over years of the MRI scanning that what we're seeing doesn't always correlate on a one to one basis with the clinical reality. 'Vision' like the other senses represents the convergence of genetically determined neural pathways with environmental stimulation. This byte of info then becomes integrated into more extensive networks in our memory banks for later recall and integration = expanding awareness. The expanding awareness becomes our subjectivity which 'colors' the represented entities and all subsequent perception involving those entities - bottom up network creation, top down subjective coloring. Finally let us not equate all human behavior and consciousness to those pretty pictures lest we treat the picture and not the person!

Debasish Majumder

4 years ago #13

nice buzz Geoff Hudson-Searle! enjoyed read and shared. thank you for the buzz.

Geoff Hudson-Searle

4 years ago #12

Ali \ud83d\udc1d Anani, Brand Ambassador @beBee memes of data>>Information>>knowledge>> imagination>> wisdom is an interesting way of viewing the world, and although some business schools believe that a pyramid or hierarchy of data > information > knowledge > imagination > wisdom is not necessarily the right approach because it incites too less wisdom, I personally believe this is individual, however, creativity and imagination is not always suiting to be confined to a box of a power point slide, I would be interested to receive your views?

Geoff Hudson-Searle

4 years ago #11

Thank you Randall Burns provide his prospective on the subject. Have a good weekend!

Geoff Hudson-Searle

4 years ago #10

Sara Jacobovici so lovely to hear from you and thank you for your wonderful comments.I am so happy that you enjoyed the buzz, I find the subject a push button too, and always find myself immersed into the subject with many thoughts :-) Have a great Saturday!

Geoff Hudson-Searle

4 years ago #9

Thank you Jerry Fletcher always great to have your prospective and in my house wisdom, counts for everything. Your memes data>>Information>>knowledge>> imagination>> wisdom reminds me of a quote by George Bernard Shaw 'We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future. These questions may provide some more thought to the memes: Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in the information?

Geoff Hudson-Searle

4 years ago #8

Thanks Lisa Vanderburg for sending the music for people to hear! ;-)

Ali Anani

4 years ago #7

"Using clues from brain-damaged patients and advanced brain imaging techniques, neuroscientists have now found that the brain uses virtually identical pathways for seeing objects and for imagining them – only it uses these pathways in reverse". A great buzz on imagination

Randall Burns

4 years ago #6

Great article Geoff Hudson-Searle may appreciate this.

Sara Jacobovici

4 years ago #5

A great piece Geoff Hudson-Searle and a topic very close to my heart. I also appreciated each comment and response. Now I have my work cur out for me because this is one comment that I need to write "out of the comment box". Thanks for the opportunity.

Jerry Fletcher

4 years ago #4

Geoff, Wonderful! I especially liked the TEDx video. You have forced me to rethink one of the common memes: data>>Information>>knowledge>> wisdom wherin data is the raw input items, information is correlating and organizing that data and Knowledge is applying experience to the information and wisdom continued proof of the knowledge. Now I have to add imagination to the equation thusly: data>>Information>>knowledge>> imagination>> wisdom .

Lisa Vanderburg

4 years ago #3

Ali \ud83d\udc1d Anani, Brand Ambassador @beBee; come hear the music play!

Geoff Hudson-Searle

4 years ago #2

Lisa Vanderburg Love that quote Life fights for LIFE, reminds me of a quote by Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam when he said 'Never stop fighting until you arrive at your destined place - that is, the unique you. Have an aim in life, continuously acquire knowledge, work hard, and have perseverance to realise the great life.' I am a HUGE fan of Helen Keller. So sorry to hear about your eldest sister, God bless her. As I have alluded to in the blog there is no way we are going to argue with Einstein. But we just hope that by saying Imagination is more important than knowledge, does not mean imagination can survive without our senses and knowledge. I doubt it. The way I see it, is that they are two key parts in a process needed to achieve something greater. And that is ‘transformation and change’. Building your knowledge keeps the brain and mind curious. Then your senses and imagination will give rise to creativity that can make transformation and change happen. Otherwise, without imagination we are unable to see and conceive new things. Without senses and imagination, we will just always return to the same old ideas. Then the world would not be that creative, or would it?

Lisa Vanderburg

4 years ago #1

Life fights for LIFE; an analogy that is breath-taking Geoff Hudson-Searle. To you question, 'Is imagination more important than knowledge?' I think it's a resounding Yes! Look at Helen Keller: Listening to the Ted Talk, it's the same as Parkinson's: STILL undetectable until it's too late. Damn right about Psychiatry not looking (at least then) at the very organ they treat. My eldest sister committed suicide after she 'took up counselling', just after she was named godmother to own newborn. There is so much I'd like to say, but I will wait.... Good man, Geoff!

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