“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” ~ Albert Einstein
When I was little, say five to eight years old, I believed in magic. I believed I could do things that my parents said I couldn’t do (like travel through time), make things come true that were simply scientifically impossible, or discover things like becoming the first person who could find a language to talk to animals. I stubbornly held onto these beliefs until teenage reality kicked in, and I began to give them up. They were probably just a manifestation of a desire for control over my life.
But in my research stemming from a lifelong desire to know more about human creativity, I stumbled on something that brought more meaning to my childhood meanderings. It was a YouTube video about a school in England called ICU, or Inspiring Children Universally, that gave me insight into why I thought and felt these things.
ICU’s founder, Nicola Farmer, noticed that children under the age of twelve or so relied mostly on their right (or creative) part of the brain to figure out their world. The left hemisphere, or rational, side of the brain doesn’t kick in and take control until the child is around twelve years old, and at that point, some of the perceptive capabilities of young children end.
She decided to see if she could bring the right brain more into the children’s conscious, everyday activities, and she did so with astounding results. In this video, American journalist Frank Elaridi took a team to see what was going on at ICU, and found children who could play ball, put together puzzles, and read a book, all while blindfolded. Of course, they themselves tried out the blindfolds, sort of high tech goggles, and confirmed that not even light could penetrate them. And yet, when Elaridi began to draw something, the sightless children were able to say exactly what it was being drawn.
At birth, the average baby's brain is about a quarter of the size of the average adult brain. Incredibly, it doubles in size in the first year. It keeps growing to about 80% of adult size by age three and 90% – nearly full grown – by age five. (This is probably the reason a toddler's head is disproportionately big for their bodies, when compared to a full grown human.)
Between one and three years of age, a child’s blood flow shows a right hemispheric predominance, mainly due to the activity in the posterior associative area, which tells us where our bodies are in space and also governs our intention to move. This, of course, is key to an infant’s development, as they learn what parts of their bodies are used for which motor function. This part of the brain also affects touch, so that we can identify whatever it is we’re touching. The right hemisphere continues to grow throughout early childhood and is involved in tasks that require spatial skills such as recognizing shapes and patterns.
Development shifts to the left hemisphere after 3 years. Between ages 3 and 6, the left hemisphere of the brain grows dramatically. This side of the brain or hemisphere is typically involved in language skills. The left hemisphere controls speech, comprehension, arithmetic, and writing. The right hemisphere, on the other hand, controls creativity, empathy, intuition, spatial ability, artistic, and musical skills. It is where we wonder and dream, and make connections.
So why are these children at ICU able to “see” without using their eyes?
I don’t know that anyone can explain it concretely, at least at this point in time, but it does seem that if the left hemisphere’s “busyness” is muted, shut down even, that it would give the right hemisphere a chance to shine. (This, after all, is where our REM dreams come from, when the left side of the brain takes a break from its usual bossiness during sleep.) The children, especially at an age where their right brain is still their go-to way to think about the world, would be able to pick up other cues from objects and people around them, and therefore intuit what they can’t see.
When I was in Oxford, England a few weeks ago, I had prearranged to meet with a woman named Mirela, one of ICU’s teachers and a bright light of joy, and she was able to confirm everything I had seen in the video. She had witnessed children doing miraculous things, and even had both her children in the program. One of them didn’t like it (the blindfold bothered him), so she found another source of schooling for him.
Mirela explained that one of the biggest benefits of ICU is that children who come into the program not thinking they can accomplish certain things in their lives, leave knowing that there is almost no limit to what they can do. But the other benefit that Nicola Farmer herself says she notices is that the children become much more compassionate, which is a function of the right hemisphere. Apparently, their awareness of the emotional states of those around them is heightened to the point that they understand what others are going through.
Of course, there is currently no way to measure such statements, and they become anecdotal in nature until there is. I’m looking forward to a more detailed study of that wonderful and complex human organ, the brain. There is clearly a lot we don’t understand about its function and effect on our body and psyche, and perhaps that understanding itself will lead to all kinds of revelations about the human creative spirit.