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November 01, 2016 Tuesday 06:32:33 PM IST

Map Your Mind Like Da Vinci Did

Creative Living

The fastest super computer in the world today, the Sunway TaihuLight of China, is capable of 93 Peta (1015) FLoatingpoint Operations per Second (PFLOPS) at an energy input of 6,051.30 MFLOPS/W, which adds up to 15.4 MegaWatt power to operate it. Human brain in comparison is 42 times less powerful, managing only about 2.2PFLOPS. But it operates with amazing energy efficiency, the power requirement being about 20W, which is less than what is required by a dim light bulb. A more remarkable difference between a super computer and a human brain, however, lies in its mode of operation.


Computers operate logically or linearly, based on the inputs from their logical gates, whereas human brain thinks associatively, often leading to non-linear or lateral or radiative or creative thinking.


According to psychology, associative thinking is a mental process of making associations between a given subject and all pertinent present factors without drawing on past experience. This free association or freewheeling is counted as one of the most important and unique gifts of human brain that safeguards and enhances human freedom. It is at the same time the cornerstone of creative thinking. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an attempt to attach associative thinking skills to the supercomputers, which has proven to be a Herculean task and an ethical dilemma.




Mind mapping is a powerful graphical technique to unleash extraordinary power of human brain in associative thinking. It helps harness the full range of so-called cortical skills, namely, words, images, numbers, logic, rhythm, color and spatial awareness effectively. Freeing your mind for uninterrupted roaming, infinite expanses of our brain are mapped, which nudges disclosure of the hidden wellsprings of creative spurs within.


The British popular psychology author and television personality Tony Buzan propagated a particular thinking style, which he named as mind mapping, the so called graphical representation of the thinking process. However, graphical representation of information using branching and radial maps traces its history back to cave age, much before the development of natural languages. In written history we meet Porphyry of Tyros, a Neo-platonic philosopher who developed the famous Porphyrian tree, graphical records developed to visualize Aristotelian categories of thought. Ramon Llull, the 13th century Majorcan philosopher, developed Ars Magna, a ‘logical machine’ with rotating disks with which one could explore logical syllogisms. Similar mind mapping techniques were used by geniuses from different walks of life, including Sir Isaac Newton, the stalwart of classical physics, John Bunyan, the spiritual author of The Pilgrim’s Progress and Charles Darwin, the author of evolution biology, Walt Disney, the pioneer of animation film industry and Mark Twain, the famous American author.




Leonardo da Vinci is considered as one of the most brilliant minds of human history, a multifaceted talent, a scientist, a mathematician, an engineer, an inventor, an anatomist, a painter, a sculptor, an architect, a botanist, a musician and a writer all welded into a single person. The bestseller book, How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day (Michael J. Gelb, 2000, Bantam Dell, New York), describes the seven attitudes that da Vinci wore:


1. Curiosità: An insatiably curious approach to life and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning.


2. Dimostrazione: A commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence, and a willingness to learn from mistakes.


3. Sensazione: The continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, as the means to enliven experience.


4. Sfumato: A willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty.


5. Arte/Scienza: The development of the balance between science and art, logic and imagination. “whole-brain” thinking.


6. Corporalitá: The cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness, and poise.


7. Connessione: A recognition and appreciation of the interconnectedness of all things and phenomena.

Systems thinking.


The ‘whole-brain thinking’ of da Vinci is expressed through his prolific visual mapping he attached to his famous notebooks, be it the innovative sketch of flying machine that used a revolving platform to gain flight (400 years before the actual invention of helicopter) or the handsome images of the human body (The Vitruvian Man--International icon of human potential). He annotated his drawings with words, in a free flowing treelike branch structure, making his own mind maps. Transcribing on paper the fluent flow of spontaneous and simultaneous ideas, thoughts, impressions, feelings from his mind he developed numerous mind maps to wonder at. (In November, 1994 Bill Gates purchased 18 sheets of Leonardo’s original notebooks for 30.8 million dollars). Da Vinci thus replaced the classic outlining styles with its mechanical roman numerals, topics and subtopics, the residues of linear or logical thinking.




Research studies suggest that our mind processes and recalls visual images more strongly than written ones. The brain has a natural affinity towards depicted images over written words. A combination of words and images would better trigger the creative zones of the human brain. A visual mapping of thoughts would spark insight in our minds. A typical mind map consists of a central theme in the middle of the page connected to subsidiary ideas with branches extending from it. Each idea is conceived here as open-ended, with large number of connecting nodes attached to it in anticipation of suitable associations. The four steps involved in mind mapping are:


1. Depiction of the central theme at the centre


Take a paper and put a symbol or a picture depicting the central theme of discussion at the center of the page. Also print the topic alongside with it. Pictures and symbols are meant to captivate memory better than words. Starting at the center opens your mind to a full 360 degrees of association, giving your brain freedom to spread out in all directions. Keep the central image interesting to facilitate your focus throughout the procedure and to trigger creative thinking.


2. Connection of associating branches to the centre


Connect lines radiating from central image showing how different ideas link to the central one. Because human brain works based on association, it likes to consider related things together. Make the branches curved rather than straight-lined, to make them more interesting to your brain.


3. Attachment of keywords to the branches


Information-rich keywords boost better recall and creative association. Print (not handwrite) your keywords to render easy reading and recall. Print one key word per line to free yourself to discover the maximum number of creative associations for each key word. Print key words on the lines and make the length of the word the same as the line it is on in the interest of economy of space.


4. Suitable highlighting of the branches


Highlight different branches of the idea tree with suitable pictures, images, colors, styles and codes. This is to stimulate creative association and enhance visual memory better. Take care to include more images in the mind maps, since an image is worth a thousand words.


The ability for associative thinking is essential for creative thinking. Mind mapping is a useful tool that engenders clear, critical and creative thinking and is a sine qua non for enhanced performance and creativeness of human brains. So map your mind like Leonardo da Vinci!

Dr. Varghese Panthalookaran

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