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March 06, 2018 Tuesday 03:49:41 PM IST

Sight, one of the five  windows of information for the human brain, plays a crucial role in our creative thinking process. The images captured by our retina, when processed by the brain, assume their own meanings and significance. Interestingly, our sight is often peripheral and we do not ordinarily look into things we perceive. Many things we see do not even register in our minds.


Our eyes can be compared to a movie camera that sees everything in its vicinity without discretion or discrimination. Everything our eyes see technically creates a sense of seeing; but if our brain does not consciously register what our eyes

see, its meaning remains largely decoded.


The visual information our eyes process corresponds to what we intentionally look at and not everything we merely see. Once we look at things, our brain takes note of it and triggers an internal process of churning, interpreting its meaning and significance. For this purpose, the brain makes use of different sensory files stored in archival memory and makes some sense out of it.


It is inevitable that a lot of visual information generated by our eyes go waste for want of mindfulness on the part of the perceiver. Such information falls into ‘junk’ boxes or simply vanishes into oblivion. In computing parlance, it ends up as unintended ‘big data’ generated by all our sense organs; in other words, it could be called ‘individual bigdata’ or “private big-data”, which psychologists may characterise as the subconscious or unconscious mind. Mining this pool of big data could produce useful insights for creative living. It may be compared with the churning of the “ocean of milk” (Palazhi in Malayalam), which threw up the elixir of life (Amritha in Sanskrit)!


In order to gain insight from eyesight, one must constantly convert the “act of seeing” into an “act of looking”. Take photographers for instance. Photographers are like seers, who look into the core of reality, proceeding from the peripherals of seeing to churning out plausible meanings of what they perceive. They invite “those who have an eye to see” to look into the heart of the matter as they perceive it. They act as mentors. They invite us to perceive newer meanings and horizons of reality. They handhold and lead the viewers of their masterpieces into the “Noumenon” of things, far from their shallow “Phenomenon”. (In the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, the thing-in-itself, the so-called noumenon, is different from the thing as it appears to an observer, the so-called the “phenomenon”.) Brilliant photographers thus help us connect to the Core of our

Being! They lead us from perceptions to insights!




The sharp distinction between Noumenon and Phenomenon was strongly contested by the immediate successors of Kant. They claimed that such distinctions are untenable and artificial. Both Phenomenon and Noumenon are inseparable as they belong to the one and the same reality. Noumenon resides within Phenomenon. In other words, insights lie within perceptions. Those who have an eye to see perceive Noumenonin-Phenomenon and identify insight-in-perception. There exists no duality between them. They constitute the one reality, the “advaita”.


Insight resides at the heart of every perception. So, one must be watchful about what one sees or looks at. A conscious look at anything, however silly it might appear, has the power of triggering creative insight! Those who have an eye to see perceive it.


Talented photographers have often caught the attention of the global community with pictures that have immortalised essentially human situations for posterity. The “Napalm Girl” of the photojournalist Nick Ut; “Death of Alan Kurdi” by Nilüfer Demir, depicting Aylan Kurdi, the drowned three-year-old Kurdish-Syrian boy who washed up on a Turkish beach; the “Migrant Mother” of Dorothea Lange, portraying the face of Florence Owens Thompson as the face of the Great Depression; “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima” by Joe Rosenthal, depicting the end of the Second World War, the photograph of five US Marines and a naval sailor raising an American flag atop Mount Suribachi on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima; all of them shook the global conscience.  The perceptual tremors shocked the very consciousness of the global community and harvested deeper insights into the global political reality.


In fact, creative minds are often gifted with the art of “picturisation” of the problem at hand. They present the problem through images or imagery, which include exceptional impressions (photographs), vivid allegories (poetry) or crisp parables (lessons). They help others perceive the deeper meaning of things!




This fact leads to the design of a new technique of creative thinking called, “Picture Association”. If you are stuck with a problem that seeks a creative solution, just associate the problem with an image. It will instantaneously help generate creative insights. The image will churn your creative reserves and will bring forth creative solutions.


Let us define a hypothetical problem: How to develop a new idea for the design for a GenNext classroom table. We could build on the picture association idea systematically to generate creative options as solutions of the problem as follows:


Visualise a random Image: Here we start by thinking about the challenges, the obstacles, and the available resources to solve the problem. So, we choose a random image without attaching any purpose to its choice. The image needs to be chosen randomly. To ensure that perfect randomness of choice, we could simply open a magazine and choose the first image that falls on our eyes. Let us assume the ‘random image’ thus chosen is an elephant.


Identify characteristics of the chosen image: Let us then suitably describe the chosen image. What are its characteristics? What are the unique features and properties of the image? Let us write down five special things we observe in the image. For example, ‘bigness’ could be easily associated with an elephant. We may as well identify the other characteristics of an elephant, such as its long trunk, white tusks, thick skin, impeccable memory, supreme social consciousness, and so on.


Pick one characteristic and elaborate on it further: Out of the list generated above, let us choose any one characteristic. We could choose something that does not directly correlate with the problem under consideration (which would act as a springboard to leapfrog). In our example, let us choose the “impeccable memory” of an elephant as our unique vantage point. It provides us with an utterly weird vantage point to the search for a solution.


Force-connect the chosen property to the problem: So, let us then correlate with brute force the chosen property of an elephant to the table under  consideration to trigger a set of totally new concepts for a classroom table. Can we think about a classroom table, which has an innate ability to memorise what is learned by the students and remind

them of it, when they need it for some application? Or can the table listen to the class and record it and reproduce it to the students in the absence of a teacher? Or can the table be a smart board, which enables the students to further engage with what they learn in the class?


Repeat the process (with other characteristics of the chosen image): At the end of day we might manage to collate a large number of properties for the newly designed classroom table. Further, we could then investigate novel connections and combinations between these attributes, leading to an altogether new concept for a table for a GenNext classroom.


Thus, the picture association technique of creative thinking could prove to be a powerful tool to generate novel insights into problems.

Dr. Varghese Panthalookaran

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