Studying involuntary imagination

At first, pareidolia (seeing shapes in clouds and in other inanimate objects) was seen negatively rather than a sign of creativity. It was even considered to be a symptom of psychosis or dementia.

In 1895, French psychologist Alfred Binet - known for his work on IQ tests - suggested that inkblots could be used in psychological research to study differences in involuntary imagination. This idea was further developed, resulting in inkblots to investigate people's personality and assess their psychological state.

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"Pareidolia"

A team of neuroscientists believes there might be a meaningful link between creativity and seeing faces in clouds.

The scientific term for seeing familiar objects in random images, abstract things, or patterns is 'pareidolia.' Pareidolia has been reported in sounds too.

The creative aspect of pareidolia became known in the 19th century with the practice of 'klecksography' - the art of making images from inkblots.

Writer Victor Hugo experimented with folded papers and stains by holding his quill upside down to use the feather-end as a brush. Another practitioner of klecksography, German poet Justinus Andreas Christian Kerner, published Kleksographien (1890), a collection of inkblot art with accompanying short poems about the objects that can be noticed in the images.

In 2000, British psychologist Richard Gregory renewed the association between pareidolia and creativity. He suggested that a reversed version of the Rorschach test - the psychological test where subjects' perceptions of inkblots are recorded and analyzed - might reveal creativity principles.

Recent studies found an association between a greater fluency and originality of performance in standard creativity tests and greater fluency and originality of pareidolias. Participants with a stronger interest in arts and music produced more original pareidolic drawings. This suggests that creative processes are involved in producing pareidolias.

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RELATED IDEAS

Polymaths are individuals with deep interests and expertise in a variety of creative fields. Many historic creative geniuses were polymaths, including Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.

Creative people are also persistent in their beliefs and can be resilient when confronted with rejection or scepticism.

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IDEAS

Defining fractal patterns

A fractal pattern is a basic pattern that repeats at different scales.

  • Exact fractals repeat exactly at every scale, for example, the growth spiral of a plant.
  • Statistical fractals repeat in similar but not identical fashion across scales and are not spatially symmetrical, for example, clouds, mountains, rivers, and trees.

Walking organizes our world around us. Writing organizes our thoughts.

In a forest, our brain must survey the surrounding environment, make a mental map of the world, choose a way forward and create that plan into a series of footsteps. In writing the brain has to review its own landscape, find a way through that mental terrain, and write down the resulting trail of thoughts.

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