The Power of Visualization

Processing Math MentalityIn today’s spotlight I wish to discuss visualization. This is a tool that we all possess but few give it the rightfully due respect it deserves. Indeed, one might argue that visualizing things is but an exercise in imagination, and in some ways it can be—but does that make it less worthy of our interest? I think not. Still, we are often encouraged to give up the use of practices like daydreaming, visualizing fantasies, and the like because the emphasis is all too often today on what we think of as left brain dominant thinking—logic and reason.

Visualizing Mathematics

In light of that emphasis, allow me to remind you how visualization often trumps the so-called left-brain linear method of solving problems. Take for example the Pythagorean theorem—all of us had to learn this one. The axiom for a right triangle spelled out by Euclid states the observation by Pythagoras as: A squared + B squared = C squared, where C is the hypotenuse. Pythagoras visualized this as the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. Now, notice that with Pythagoras there is a picture of a right triangle and he proved this theorem by using other right triangles, or images instead of axioms or symbols.

Let’s also remember Descartes who theorized that algebra could be visually portrayed and as a result we have the Cartesian coordinate system, which is still in use today. In other words, the picture of algebra, the visualized form, is geometry.

Visualizing Music

For years one of my hobbies has been the geometry of sound, something referred to as Cymatics. My studio is equipped with gear designed to visualize sound live time, so when I wrote about the fact that Handel’s Messiah always displays a perfect five-pointed star during the hallelujah chorus, it was something I could observe and confirm in my studio. I have shown this to many people and it still astounds me how some music can display such perfectly harmonious and joyful geometry while other music delivers totally discordant information.

As humans we are particularly good at pattern recognition. Computers can do many things faster than the human brain, but pattern recognition is not one of those things. We excel at recognizing such things as the faces of people we know, even if they have aged many years since we last saw them. This ability is something that gives rise to recognizing the importance of our visual system in our evolution.

Visualizing Motor Skills

Years ago I remember reading a study that tested the power of imagining basketball free throws. Three groups were recruited by the researchers. Each group shot free throws and their scores were recorded. One group was sent home to do nothing for thirty days. One group was asked to practice free throws everyday for thirty days. The third group was instructed to visualize free throws for thirty days. When the thirty days had passed, the groups were brought back and again tested on the accuracy of their free throws. There was no change in the group sent home to do nothing, but both the group who visualized and the group who practiced improved—and get this, their improvement was basically the same.

Now my purpose today is not to teach you to visualize as you can already do that. No—I wish rather to emphasize the importance of using visualization, for it can not only solve problems, including those difficult mathematical expressions, but it can also empower us in many ways. Visualization can train our bodies to perform better, build expectations that lead to success, and shape everything from our posture to our creative abilities. The fact is, everything can be pictured—visualized, and given sufficient creativity this even includes the world of quantum physics. And clearly—a picture can be worth much more than endless words.  Einstein put it this way, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

As always, thanks for the read and I appreciate your feedback.

Eldon Taylor

Eldon Taylor

Eldon Taylor
Provocative Enlightenment
NY Time Bestselling Author of Choices and Illusions