The neuroscience of imagination - Andrey Vyshedskiy
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You can read the complete Mental Synthesis theory at the publisher’s website. The Mental Synthesis theory makes a number of testable predictions in the realm of linguistics, primatology, and paleoanthropology. The theory also attempts to explain the process of language acquisition in children as well as the critical period for language acquisition. The active use of syntactic language during childhood leads to the development of synchronous neural connections between the prefrontal cortex and the posterior cortex. These synchronous connections seem to be essential for mental synthesis. Children not involved in syntactic communication during the sensitive period of language development often find it challenging to intentionally create and test new scenarios in their mind. They would have great difficulty doing any tasks that require an active imagination. In a sense, these children develop a “mental synthesis disability” that stays with them for the remainder of their lives. This is typical of families with deaf children, which are isolated from a sign language community; instead of learning a formal sign language, they normally spontaneously develop a homesign system. These individuals often fail in the most basic of mental synthesis tests such as being able to follow the directions of “placing the bowl behind/in front of/in/on/under the cup.”
To correctly place a bowl behind or in front of a cup, one first needs to mentally synthesize the novel image of a bowl behind or in front of a cup. Someone who cannot simulate the process mentally would have no mental image of a bowl behind or in front of a cup and would therefore just use trial and error and probably place the cup and bowl into an incorrect arrangement. Research shows that after the end of the critical period, these linguistically deprived individuals are able to learn the meanings of new words, but they are unable to purposefully generate novel mental scenarios or understand complex syntax.
Language delay is a common affliction that affects 70% of children with autism, a majority of children with Down syndrome and thousands of other children. These children are not able to benefit from the training provided naturally by a syntactic communication system at the time when their brains are most receptive to the development of mental synthesis. As a result, many children with language delay end up with life-long mental synthesis disability.
To facilitate acquisition of mental synthesis, my team has developed an early-intervention therapy application - Mental Imagery Therapy for Autism or MITA. MITA consists of interactive puzzles designed to help children learn how to mentally integrate multiple features of an object. The exercises are disguised as fun games for kids. The enrollment is currently open and it is already the biggest autism clinical trial in history.
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