Monday, May 10, 2010

About Creativity

I think this is a good article. It's interesting the difference about heightened use of visual cortices and the shutting down of visual cortices to allow other ideas to flow. And that “openness to experience,” is associated with creativity and corresponds with slower nerve traffic. And of course - there is the letting go of the conventional.

Charting Creativity: Signposts of a Hazy Territory From the New York Times...

Dr. Kounios, who studies the neural basis of insight, defines creativity as the ability to restructure one’s understanding of a situation in a nonobvious way.

...As for Dr. Jung, his research has produced some surprising results. One study of 65 subjects suggests that creativity prefers to take a slower, more meandering path than intelligence.

“The brain appears to be an efficient superhighway that gets you from Point A to Point B” when it comes to intelligence, Dr. Jung explained. “But in the regions of the brain related to creativity, there appears to be lots of little side roads with interesting detours, and meandering little byways.”

Although intelligence and skill are generally associated with the fast and efficient firing of neurons, subjects who tested high in creativity had thinner white matter and connecting axons that have the effect of slowing nerve traffic in the brain. This slowdown in the left frontal cortex, a region where emotional and cognitive abilities are integrated, Dr. Jung suggested, “might allow for the linkage of more disparate ideas, more novelty and more creativity.” ...

“Creativity is a collection of different processes that work in different areas of the brain,” Dr. Kounios said, so the creative act must be broken down into tiny pieces. He also rejects utility as part of the definition, arguing that there can be brilliant and creative failures — what he calls near misses.

...A lot of different areas of the brain are involved in devising a solution, no matter which process is used, but during the Aha! moment, there is a burst of high-frequency activity in the right temporal lobe, Dr. Kounios said. What’s more, he said, he and Dr. Beeman could predict in advance which process a subject would use. They watched the brains of systematic problem solvers prepare by paying closer attention to the screen before the words appeared. Their visual cortices were on high alert.

The brains of those who got a flash of creative insight, by contrast, prepared by automatically shutting down activity in the visual cortex for an instant — the equivalent of closing your eyes to block out distractions so that you can concentrate better. In this case, Dr. Kounios said that the brain was “cutting out other sensory input and boosting the signal-to-noise ratio” to retrieve the answer from the subconscious.

According to Kenneth Heilman, a neurologist at the University of Florida and the author of “Creativity and the Brain” (2005), creativity not only involves coming up with something new, but also with shutting down the brain’s habitual response, or letting go of conventional solutions.

Risk taking and addictive behavior should also be measured, since both traits play a role in creativity, he said.

There may be, for example, a dampening of norepinephrine, the neurotransmitter that sets off the fight-or-flight alarm. That’s why creative connections often occur when people are most peaceful — relaxing under a tree, like Isaac Newton, or in a dream state, like Coleridge when he thought up “Kubla Khan.”

John Gabrieli, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, cautions that there is always a gap between what happens in the lab and the real world: “It seems that to be creative is to be something we don’t have a test for.”