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The Neuroscience Of Imagination: This Is What Happens In The Brain When People Imagine

First Posted: Dec 20, 2016 03:00 AM EST
Neuroscience Of Imagination
New TED-Ed video explains what happens to the brain when people imagine.
(Photo : TED-Ed/YouTube Screenshot)

Ever wonder how easy it is for people to get lost in their imagination?

Just like in the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, some people would find it hard to maintain their focus in a long conversation. In the middle of talking to someone, they often find their thoughts drifting away to another time, place or situation that does not even exist.

That is when they jiggle their heads as if their thoughts could be shaken off. But is that how the brain works? What does it do to make people think of such things? How does the brain produce an image of something people have never seen?

That is the question answered by a neuroscientist, Dr. Andrey Vyshedskiy, in TED-ED's new clip, The Neuroscience of ImaginationMedical Daily reported. According to the video, the brain has an infinite collection of individual images taken from the things people see, and it is through a complex coordination of these various brain images that people could put together different things in one picture.

When a person looks at an object, thousands of neurons are fired into his posterior cortex -- the part of the brain responsible for visual processing. As stated in the Hebbian principle, each neuron encodes a specific characteristic of the object. Together, they create a neuronal ensemble to form a single image. "Neurons that fire together, wire together," the video stated.

According to the Mental Synthesis Theory, these neuronal ensembles are being fired by the prefrontal cortex through the neural fibers. When neuronal ensembles are fired at the same time, they form another picture that put different images from varying ensembles together.

"Neural fibers are wrapped in a fatty substance called Myelin," the video explained. It "speeds up the electrical signals zipping down the nerve fiber. Some neural fibers have as many as 100 layers of myelin. Others have a few. And fiber with thicker layers of myelin can conduct signals 100 times faster or more than those with thinner ones."

Scientists believe that the myelination is responsible for the coordination of neural ensembles in the brain, thus how imagination in people's brains occur.

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