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HUMAN IMAGINATION: Scientists find its physical place in brain

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 17th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Human imagination, one of the things that separate us from other species on this planet called Earth, enables human beings to create beautiful art and find creative solutions to vexing problems. It's hard to believe that this most ephemeral of human qualities has a physical space, but researchers at Dartmouth College say they have pinpointed where it resides in the human brain.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) -  The recent study has answered longstanding questions. Researchers believe that imagination comes from a sweeping neural network, known as the brain's "mental workspace." This cascade shapes images, symbols, idea and theories. This function provides the human mind with the mental focus required to determine intricate problems and produce novel ideas.

"Our findings move us closer to understanding how the organization of our brains sets us apart from other species and provides such a rich internal playground for us to think freely and creatively," lead author Alex Schlegel, a graduate student in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College said in a statement.

"Understanding these differences will give us insight into where human creativity comes from and possibly allow us to recreate those same creative processes in machines."

Physical proof for this "mental workspace" has been hard to generate. Current methods now primarily look at brain activity in isolation. Rising to the challenge, researchers tried to determine how the brain lets humans mold mental imagery.

As an example example, imagining a man with the head of a horse is easy enough -- but it requires the brain to form a completely novel image and have it materialize in our mind's eye.

Scientists asked 15 test subjects to think about precise abstract visual figures and then to mentally blend them into novel, more intricate forms or to mentally disassemble them into their separate parts.

They determined the 15 participants' brain activity with functional MRI and discovered a cortical and subcortical network over a significant section of the brain was answerable for their imagery moldings. The network looks a lot like the "mental workspace" that researchers have suspected might be responsible for a lot of human conscious experience, as well as the malleable cerebral capacities that humans have developed.

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