We do not know how the human brain mediates complex and creative behaviors such as artistic, scientific, and mathematical thought. Scholars theorize that these abilities require conscious experience as realized in a widespread neural network, or “mental workspace,” that represents and manipulates images, symbols, and other mental constructs across a variety of domains. Evidence for such a complex, interconnected network has been difficult to produce with current techniques that mainly study brain activity in isolation and are insensitive to distributed informational processes. The present work takes advantage of emerging techniques in network and information analysis to provide empirical support for such a widespread and interconnected information processing network in the brain that supports the manipulation of visual imagery.
The conscious manipulation of mental representations is central to many creative and uniquely human abilities. How does the human brain mediate such flexible mental operations? Here, multivariate pattern analysis of functional MRI data reveals a widespread neural network that performs specific mental manipulations on the contents of visual imagery. Evolving patterns of neural activity within this mental workspace track the sequence of informational transformations carried out by these manipulations. The network switches between distinct connectivity profiles as representations are maintained or manipulated.