Mental Images

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Gunnar Zarncke

Jan 18, 2016, 4:59:42 PM1/18/16
to Less Wrong Parents

Part of Philosophy with Children Sequence

This evening my oldest asked me to test his imagination. I don't know why. Apparently he had played around with it and wanted some outside input to learn more about what he could do. We had talked about mental images before and I knew that he could picture moving scenes composed of known images.

So I suggested

  • - a five with green white stripes - diagonally. That took some time - apparently the green was difficult for some reason, he had to converge there from black via dark-green.
  • - three mice,
  • - three mice, one yellow, one red, and one green,
  • - the three colored mice running behind each other in circles (all no problem).
  • - he himself,
  • - he himself in a mirror looking from behind (no problem).
  • - two almost parallel mirrors with him in between (he claimed to see his image infinitely repeated; I think he just recalled such an experiment we did another time).
  • - a street corner with him on the one side and a bike leaning an the other wall with the handlebar facing the corner and with a bicycle bell on the left side such that he cannot see the bike.
  • dito with him looking into a mirror held before him so he can see the bike behind the corner.

The latter took quite some time, partly because he had to assign colors and such so that he could fully picture this and then the image in the mirror. I checked by asking where the handlebar is and the bell. I also had significant difficulties to imagine this (in black-white sketch form as I can't really do more) and correctly place the bell. I noticed that it is easier to just see the bell once the image in the mirror has gained enough detail (the walls before and behind me, the corner, the bike leaning on the corner, the handlebar).

I also asked for a square circle which got the immediate reply that it is logically impossible.

If you have difficulties doing these (are judge them trivial): This is one area where human experience varies a lot. So this is not intended to provide a reference point in ability but an approach to teach human difference, reflection and yes also practice imagination - a useful tool if you have it. If not you might be interested in

what universal human experiences are you missing without realizing it.

More discussion about this can be found in the LessWrong Slack #parenting channel.

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