Numerous profound aesthetic experiences, and moments of creative illumination, insight, or revelation have occurred in circumstances in which sensory input has been reduced in some way. We know stories of artists or scientists whose sudden creative intuitions or revelations have come to them in the confines of the “artist’s garret” or while staring into the fireplace or walking on the beach with attention turned inward. In fact, one the essential elements of all creative thought is concentration gained through some sort of restriction of sensory stimulation.
Theta Brain Waves and Creativity
The Greens and other researchers have remarked that many great discoveries have resulted from hypnagogic imagery experienced in theta state. The chemist Friedrich Kekule, for example, vividly described his state of “reverie” in which he suddenly saw a mental image of atoms forming a chain, and of snakes biting their tales; subsequent discovery that organic compounds occur in occur in closed rings has been describes as ” the most brilliant piece of prediction to be found the whole range of organic chemistry.” There are countless stories of such moments of inspiration and creativity occurring when the thinker is nodding off to sleep, or gazing into the sky, or wandering lonely as a cloud. Virtually all of them speak of the drowsiness, the physical relaxation, the vivid imagery appearing unexpectedly, that mark them as examples of the theta state. The tank cannot make geniuses of us all, but its ability to put us into a theta state suggests that it can be a valuable aid in promoting creativity.
Visualization and Creativity
Researchers in the field of mental imagery now believe that about 15 percent of all people ” visualizers” who experience virtually constant, vivid mental imagery; another 15 percent of the population are “verbalizers,” operating mostly (but not entirely) in a world of words and verbal thoughts, ideas, and structures. The remaining 70 percent lie on a spectrum between these two types. Tests made from the earliest days of infancy through adulthood show that males are consistently superior to females show a similar distribution of verbalizers and visualizers. Studies show that high visualizers breathe more regularly than they normally do when doing spatial tasks that require visualization. Write Gordon Rattray Taylor cites studies showing that “high imagers are more relaxed, more creative, more mature, more flexible than lower imagers…We have a clue in the fact that absence of imagery is correlated with stronger defenses against impulse.”
As for the value of imagery, aside from the life-enhancing qualities of visualization and the relaxed physical state that seems to accompany it, there are definite practical advantages. Many studies have shown clearly that visual imagery is associated with the ability remember to remember: The stronger your mental imagery, the less effort you will need to take in and commit to memory an idea or event. People with “super memories” are able to perform their feats through mental images. With words, linked end to end like box cars, we can understand only in linear fashion, one bit at a time, while with imagery we can assimilate and entire scene, event, or complex relationship. Visualization is also a crucial element of creativity; by “seeing” things which have never been, or visualizing events before they have taken place, we can truly invent the future, just as we can invent a work of art or a new machine. History is studded with stories of creative geniuses who first encountered their reality-changing ideas in the form of visions, or mental images.
Professor Thomas Taylor of Texas A & M recently conducted a fascinating test of the effects of floating on learning and thinking. Taylor had tested subject groups to see which were visualizers and which were verbalizers, and concluded; ” when the same learning records are analyzed on the basis of persons who are basically ‘ visualizers’ verses those who are primarily’ conceptualizers’ ( non-visual thinkers), a greater degree of learning occurred in the visual then in the non-visual group. ” Taylor also noted that the float group appeared to visualize better than the non-float group, and produced significantly higher amounts of theta waves, which are known to be associated with strong mental imagery.
The floatation tank is the optimal environment for visualization because the relaxation it ensures is so profound that the brain soon begins to generate an unprecedented amount of very slow, strong, rhythmical theta waves, which are associated with vivid, lifelike hynagogic images. All the methods of visualization used throughout history – the yogi’s and monk’s relaxed motionless lotus posture, the shaman’s drug-induced catatonia – have emphasized that a state of deep relaxation is essential to successful visualization. In the tank, deep relaxation and strong mental imagery come spontaneously and effortlessly.