Visualization: part 2 “Who’s zoomin’ who (and how)?”

We ended the first post in our visualization series with a dramatic demonstration of its power. In an intervention to cure a patient’s phantom limb pain; the great neurologist, researcher, and author, Dr. V.S. Ramachandran, guided him to actually move a phantom limb. And the man used nothing more than his eyes, brain, and a mirror.

Well, now it’s time to discuss the brain physiology behind visualization. Just how, and why, does it work?

As we consider the use of visualization in our quest for relief from depression, anxiety, and stress, we have to keep an amazing factoid primary in our minds. The human brain is incapable of differentiating between merely thinking about an action and the action itself. Interesting, don’t you think? I mean, the very instrument of genius doesn’t appear to be so smart itself.

Can you see how crucial it is that we understand and never forget that last paragraph?

So that means when, say, an actor is rehearsing an incredibly powerful scene, the electrical and chemical activity in his/her brain is precisely the same as  it would be during the actual performance.

Here’s another physiological fact that’s always good to keep in our back pockets. We typically assign credit for “seeing” to our eyes. And though they definitely deserve kudos, “seeing” is a function of assorted processing centers in the brain that mold the light absorbed by the eyes, telling us what it is we’re seeing.

Now, one of these processing centers, which is believed to play a huge role in visualization, is the posterior parietal cortex. You can see its location in the image above.  The posterior parietal cortex orchestrates the signals it receives from the sensory and motor cortices of the brain. Simply put, it manipulates mental images.

Of course, it would have to, because if you think about it, you and I may be looking at the exact same image, but we’ll have different take-aways.

In a nutshell, the work of the posterior parietal cortex seems to be about writing an action screenplay. It takes into account the messages it receives from our sensory organs and writes the script for the action to come.

In the next post of the series we’ll talk about how we can make visualization work for us. But it was vitally important to first establish visualization’s physiological credentials, so we can confidently believe in its power.

How is the concept of visualization sitting with you? What thoughts are you having as to how you’ll make visualization work for you? Your comments help us all.

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