You are here
Home > ART >

Imagine you are walking

How long does it take to imagine an action?

I have been thinking about motor observation and motor imaging as part of the Experience in Action project with BEAM Lab. How does imagining or observing an action affect how we later perform that action? I know that before I do anything significant I imagine it or visualise it, a mental simulation repeating over and over many times. I will plan to make something in my head, in my own personal imaginary 3-D workspace before making it. However, I have never thought about how long these things take to imagine. In the following visualisation activities – I became aware of how my thoughts cycle in loops at speed, often viewing the situation from 3rd person. I assumed that for most people imagining an action would be far quicker. But from my initial conversations this is not necessarily the case…

Imagine you are cycling:
I often pre-visualise cycle rides (or runs), especially if it’s a challenging route or a race. I sat down, closed my eyes and tried to imagine cycling the three peaks cyclocross, something I was obsessed with (competeing 3 years consecutively). The race took me 4 hours 15 minutes back in 2018 but it took me only six minutes to imagine (not remember) riding the whole thing in what I thought was quite a lot of detail. I was surprised at how short that time was There were also gaps in what I could remember – I even got lost at one point trying to recall which way to turn. My training partner took 15 mins. I was amazed at how long this was – he commented on how he even felt the cramp in his legs and was surprised at how vivid it was. I went back to re-imagine it this time in more detail – since I had had the practice. The second time around took 18 mins. This may seem like a long time to sit imagining – but I often start the day like this in my own head space, working through problems and making plans before work.

Imagine you are making a cup of tea.

I asked a few friends to sit down, start a timer, close their eyes and imagine making a cup of tea, then stop the timer. Times (so far) ranged between 48 seconds to 3 minutes. Contrasting sharply to my 20 seconds.

Imagine you are Walking*

I set a timer and imagined I was walking to the end of my street ( this took 16 seconds). I then walked to the end of my street (which took me 1 minute 20 seconds). In this video I placed two versions of the same video side by side. The video on the left is shortened to 16 seconds (speed increase of 450%) to match the imagined version of the walk. 

Work in progress – Interactive system using Isadora for automating something similar to this walking experiment – button presses set timers and record video – when experiment is complete it will playback two videos side by side.

*This title reminded me of Julien Opies ‘Imagine you are walking’ which depicts a featureless city street. These geometric minimal geometric monotone spaces were inspired by computer games of the early 90s, early virtual environments gave an illusory feeling of immersion in an endless labyrinthine space. “

Artist, educator, and researcher working between the fields of science and art.