Close your eyes and tell me what you see

Why closing your eyes can be so creative

Closed eyes imaginationOften when I am working with people on building their Big Dreams, I ask them to close their eyes while they are imagining the future they want to create for themselves. Most of the time they comply without thought, but every once in a while I am asked ‘why?’ which is a very sensible question to ask. In essence, what I am asking them to do is to create the bandwidth to allow them to focus on their Big Dreams, and not be distracted by anything else. Creating this bandwidth is greatly helped by turning off the visual processing of external images, which take up enormous amounts of our brain processing power.

The brain is an information processing and messaging centre, and the nervous system is a channel for the processing of information. Researchers exploring the brain expected to find that it would show a tremendous capability for processing large quantities of information. But when they studied the brain during ‘intelligent’ activities such as playing music or reading, they found a capability of around 50 bits per second. For example, a typical reading rate of 300 words per minute equates to about 5 words per second. An average of 5 characters per word, with roughly 2 bits per character gives us the rate of 50 bits per second. The actual rate will vary depending on the complexity of the language, but contrast 50 bits with the fact that our senses gather some 11 million bits per second from our environment.

reading bookWhen I talk about our brains processing some 11 million bits per second, I often encounter somewhat sceptical reactions. People cannot (consciously) take in such vastness, it seems. Our senses process the following volumes of data (in bits per second):-

Sight    10,000,000

Touch   1,000,000

Sound       100,000

Smell         100,000

Taste             1,000

It is evident that visual images represent the majority of the information traffic. Everyday vision involves an astonishing range of abilities. We see colours, identify movements and shapes, judge distance and speed, and estimate the size of distant objects. Even though images fall on the retina in two dimensions, we manage to see images in 3-D. We fill in blind spots, automatically correct distorted information, and automatically delete extraneous images that cloud our view (such as our noses, the blood vessels in our eyes).

The equipment that achieves these tasks is by far the most powerful and complex of the sensory systems. The retina, which contains 150 million light-sensitive rod and cone cells, is actually an outgrowth of the brain. In the brain itself, there are hundreds of millions of neurons devoted to visual processing, taking up about 30% of the cortex, as compared to 8% for touch and just 3% for hearing. Each of the two optic nerves, which carry signals from the retina to the brain, consists of a million fibres. In contrast, each auditory nerve carries a mere 30,000.

retina_brain2So a lot of our brain is devoted to visual processing. There is a parallel that helps to make sense of this pre-eminence of visual images. When you think about the explosion of data that is associated with storing or transmitting visual images (on hard disk drives or over the internet) think about how much your data storage needs have grown and how much of the growth is caused by images.

Closing eyes and cutting off external visual images frees a tremendous percentage of the brain and the associated processing power for other things. It creates the possibility of applying the brain to the creation of future possibilities, of dreaming with child-like wonder, and of banishing the limitations we impose on ourselves within the confines of our other-than-conscious minds.

Yes you can toddler