Imagination Quotient

Source: TED.com, Aug 2014

“At the most basic level, imagination is the mental representation of things that are not immediately present to your senses,” says Scott Barry Kaufman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

That is, imagination is whatever you’re thinking about when whatever you’re thinking about isn’t actually there in front of you.

By attempting to quantify a person’s imagination, Kaufman and the Imagination Institute hope to bring forward an alternative to traditional, IQ-oriented standardized testing.

They call it “The Imagination Quotient.”

Kaufman says there is growing evidence that the capacity for imagination is tied to something called the “default mode network,” a set of brain functions neuroscientists are only just beginning to understand. What they do know about the default mode network is that it springs to life as an anatomically distinct system when nothing else seems to be going on — whenever you’re thinking about nothing in particular.

In a 2008 paper about the default mode network, Harvard researchers Randy Buckner, Jessica Andrew-Hanna, and Daniel Schacter write that our apparently mindless moments are actually humming with cognitive activity. Instead of letting moments of free time slip away, they say, our brains “capitalize on them to consolidate past experience in ways that are adaptive for our future needs.”

…  think of intelligence — when defined as problem-solving ability — not as a singular quality but as a spectrum. On one end is deductive, rules-based reasoning and on the other is imaginative, possibilities-based improvisation.

Rex Jung, a neuropsychologist at the University of New Mexico, studies this second type of intelligence, and points to what appears to be significant overlap between activity in the default mode network and creative problem solving.

Jung says we use the first type of intelligence, which resides in the “executive attention framework,” to deduce solutions to problems when the rules governing them are known to us. Think of those test questions that have you figure out where on the map Train A and Train B, moving toward each other at different speeds, will pass.

On the other hand, he says, we use creativity to improvise solutions to problems we’ve never encountered before — the ones where the rules are unknown to us. For instance: What do you do when you’re actually on Train B and you get locked in the bathroom of an empty car?

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