Monday, March 12, 2012

More on creativity

A little Monday morning inspiration: The Wall Street Journal has a long article by Jonah Lehrer about creativity this week. A few snippets:
  • Flashes of insight are real flashes: "Research led by Mark Beeman and John Kounios has identified where that flash probably came from. In the seconds before the insight appears, a brain area called the superior anterior temporal gyrus (aSTG) exhibits a sharp spike in activity. This region, located on the surface of the right hemisphere, excels at drawing together distantly related information, which is precisely what's needed when working on a hard creative problem."
  • What helps? Surprisingly, comedy and alcohol: "And this is why relaxation helps: It isn't until we're soothed in the shower or distracted by the stand-up comic that we're able to turn the spotlight of attention inward, eavesdropping on all those random associations unfolding in the far reaches of the brain's right hemisphere. When we need an insight, those associations are often the source of the answer."
  • Unfortunately, you need to do the slogging kind of work before that kind of creativity can descend: "There is nothing fun about this kind of creativity, which consists mostly of sweat and failure. It's the red pen on the page and the discarded sketch, the trashed prototype and the failed first draft. Nietzsche referred to this as the 'rejecting process,' noting that while creators like to brag about their big epiphanies, their everyday reality was much less romantic. 'All great artists and thinkers are great workers,' he wrote."
  • When should we work and when should we take a shower or go for a walk? "The good news is that the human mind has a surprising natural ability to assess the kind of creativity we need. Researchers call these intuitions "feelings of knowing," and they occur when we suspect that we can find the answer, if only we keep on thinking. Numerous studies have demonstrated that, when it comes to problems that don't require insights, the mind is remarkably adept at assessing the likelihood that a problem can be solved—knowing whether we're getting "warmer" or not, without knowing the solution."
  • Get more information. "Another kind of creative problem, though, is when you don't have the right kind of raw material kicking around in your head. If you're trying to be more creative, one of the most important things you can do is increase the volume and diversity of the information to which you are exposed."
Update: This letter ("Persist"), via Notorious PhD, exactly describes the two kinds of creativity.
Update: If you haven't checked Dame Eleanor's writing inspiration posts yet, you should!


Historiann said...

I'm glad you linked to Notorious's post--I was thinking the same thing as I read yours today!

Hope you are being creative and having lots of flashes of insight these days.

Z said...

What a great post!

Cf. also Dame Eleanor, has some very insightful stuff in this vein lately.

Anthea said...

Wow and how fascinating. Thank you. I'm glad that I read this.

undine said...

Thanks, Historiann! I'm working on the "surround yourself with new material" part of it right now.

Thanks, Z! I've been following Dame Eleanor's writing inspiration posts, which are great.

Anthea, thanks! Sometimes it helps just to see what others (writers, researchers) have to say about this process.

Ink said...

"we suspect that we can find the answer, if only we keep on thinking" = exactly the place where I start to doubt my abilities, even though I am intrigued!

Such an interesting post!