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The Source of Genius? Revealed at Last!


It's amazing what you can learn from the popular science media. Taking an article in PNAS ("Network structure and dynamics of the mental workspace") as its news peg, Science World Report reveals the source of human imagination -- the seat and origin of genius.

Do you remember playing pretend when you were a child? A stick became a sword while a playground became a castle. This ability to use your imagination doesn't disappear after childhood, though; it persists when people create art, invent tools and think scientifically. Now, scientists have discovered the source of human imagination.

In the past, researchers have theorized that the human imagination requires a widespread neural network in the brain. Evidence for such a "mental workspace," though, has been difficult to produce with techniques that mainly study brain activity in isolation. In order to overcome that issue, the researchers decided to focus on how the brain allows us to manipulate mental imagery. An example would be imagining a stick to be a sword, or imagining a honeybee with butterfly wings.

In their study, the researchers asked 15 participants to imagine specific abstract visual shapes and to mentally combine them into more complex figures or to mentally dismantle them into their separate parts. The scientists then measured the participants' brain activity with functional MRI.

So what did they find? It turns out that a cortical and subcortical network over a large part of the brain was responsible for the imagery manipulations.

Ah, the "cortical and subcortical network over a large part of the brain" -- that explains it. The physical location where ideas or images are manipulated is their source. But if that's the concept, there was no need to wait for the advent of fancy medical imaging technology for this revelation.

For the "source" of every great thinker's genius, you shouldn't need to look further than the writing room or painter's studio where he does his work. The source of Darwin's theories? Why, the study at Down House. Of, oh let's say, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre? Miss Bronte's writing room. Jane Austen's novels? Check out her cute writing desk. Virginia Woolf? A charming writing room off the garden.

Here, in fact, is a really interesting series from the Guardian about the rooms where a long list of great geniuses of literature have spawned their ideas. Human imagination -- no mystery at all! Behold, the lunacy of materialism.

Image: Darwin's study at Down House/Wikipedia.