Imagination and reality flow in opposite directions in your brain

Dec 1, 2014

Image: Nick Berard via University of Wisconsin-Madison

By Fiona MacDonald

No matter how real your daydreams might seem, to your brain they’re distinctly different to reality, new research has shown.

In fact, the electrical signals that send messages through your brain travel in the opposite direction when you’re imagining a scene rather than watching it, the study by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers in the US suggests.

To map this activity, the research team measured the flow of this neural information by hooking participants up to electroencephalography (EEG) machines – non-invasive sensors on the scalp that monitor the electrical activity of the brain below. They then asked one group to watch a short video clip before replaying it in their heads using their imaginations.

A second group was asked to first imagine travelling on a magic bicycle and focus in on all the textural details before they were shown a short video of silent nature scenes.


 

Read the full article by clicking the name of the source located below.

11 comments on “Imagination and reality flow in opposite directions in your brain

  • A second group was asked to first imagine travelling on a magic bicycle and focus in on all the textural details before they were shown a short video of silent nature scenes.

    . .

    In fact, the electrical signals that send messages through your brain travel in the opposite direction when you’re imagining a scene rather than watching it,

    I would imagine that the video projector had the light going in the opposite direction to the camera which shot the video in the first place.



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  • I always imagined this is how dreams and hallucinations worked. Since I was young I thought I would build a machine that would attach to the eye (somehow) and we would be able to see peoples dreams on a screen. I can see how REM phase would work by firing the reverse images to the retina to make dreams seem real. Not necessarily light but electrical impulses.



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  • At first, looking at the thumbnail image on the front page, I thought the guy was wearing some sort of religious head covering. No specific religion, of course… 😉

    Steve



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  • The problem with your idea is that isn’t the way dreams work. You make it sound as if when you dream your subconscious is projecting images back to your optic nerves. But that’s not the case. The things you are “seeing” have virtually no analog with the visual stimuli from your eyes, it’s all going on in your brain but the data coming from the optic nerves is mostly ignored and similarly there is no backward propagation from the brain back to the eyes.



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  • There is a nice little general discussion about this kind of data in the excellent book The Myth of Mirror Neurons. He talks about how how easy it is to be misled by this kind of data because these kinds of measures are very imprecise. We aren’t measuring anywhere even close to the level of individual neurons firing. It’s sort of like trying to reverse engineer a computer by looking at how the electricity flows through the various chips and peripheral devices. You could learn a little that way but not much and the same is probably true here, it’s a mistake to read too much into data about the way voltage potentials change as humans think; it’s not really clear exactly what we are measuring or more importantly it’s not clear how the changes in electric potential correlate to the cognitive processes we are really interested in.



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  • Shame on you niki; we should all, all of us, be glad we were born.

    As for the article, I’ve always been able to distinguish the difference between reality and fantasy; except, naturally, when I was too young to do so.

    Today I saw an ad’ for a t-shirt which read: “The great thing about science is, it’s true whether or not you believe it.”.

    Sales prospects would probably not be too hot if it had gone on to point out that religious belief is not true, whether or not you believe it is.

    Anyway, that’s going to be my next sartorial purchase.

    And niki, I get your drift, but please!



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  • Well, I was talking about when I was a youngster mainly but who knows what they might discover about the dream process. In order to make the dreams more real it might be that the retina is somehow excited in a circular sort of way. But again, just a child like imagination at work. Not to be taken seriously. (Until discovered) Ahem!



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  • They then asked one group to watch a short video clip before replaying it in their heads using their imaginations.

    A second group was asked to first imagine travelling on a magic bicycle and focus in on all the textural details before they were shown a short video of silent nature scenes.

    The first experiment may be measuring memory, not necessarily imagination, since they just watched the video. Not enough details about the second experiment, but it might be a better, direct comparison if the description of “natural scenes” from atop a bicycle were given the subjects and subsequently shown.



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  • What if they used a visually impaired person for the test. Obviously the subjects “reality” would be different from the test subjects used for this particular initiative, but, would their reality not be a somewhat imagined one and therefore perhaps have the same flow of thought? I suppose senses play a large part in the observation of reality.



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