Someone has switched on the rain in car-wash mode. I’m stuck waiting for the lashing at my windows to abate so that I can take the dogs out, and where I can indulge in my daily ritual of walking as a ‘space for my mind to move into‘ (Virginia Wolf). So whilst I’m house-bound, I’m going to jot down some notes about the nature of creativity and the new visual philosophy outlined by the Horizon programme last Thursday, while it’s still fresh in my memory and for anyone who might have missed it. It explains so much about how the creative brain might innovate……
Horizon BBC 2, 14.03.13, The Creative Brain outlines a new theory of creativity: Left brain is the analytical one, right brain is the creative one – we knew that – but its been proven with some very pretty digital imaging of internal brain wiring. Divergent thinking, so named after it was clear war-time pilots were using something other than mere intelligence to outwit their opponents in the sky, has become the area in the brain where scientists have discovered insight takes place. This is the area where flashes of inspiration occurs. Where seemingly random thoughts are brought to the surface and hover just before being ‘grabbed’ by the conscious mind. It involves a temporary ‘mind-blink’ where – just before you come up with that light bulb moment – your ‘visible’ brain is momentarily cut off. You don’t need to close your eyes for this but it’s like when you look away from someone when they have asked you a question and you are considering the answer. It happens in the back portion of your brain, and occurs just before all the connections go mad in your right cortex. It is this functioning of the brain that scientists think is what makes us intrinsically human.
OK, now try the brick test. Think of all the crazy things you could do with a brick. The more things you come up with the more creative you are.
Whilst I leave you working out how creative you are, the next bit is about improvisation. Jazz improvisation, for instance, is considered the ultimate creative activity. Here the frontal lobes (also known as the gate-keepers) are put into lock-down mode and where you are able to lose your inhibitions. (Is this what happens when you take mind-bending substances, I wonder?). It’s like releasing mental hand-cuffs, allowing ideas to flow and opening your mind to creativity. It may even be transformative and life-changing.
Of course, we are all capable of creative thinking. After all, our great innovators cannot innovate without it. From my perspective, I recognise all these modes when I am in the act of painting or creating, ‘in the flow’. I think all these brain functions – the divergent thinking, the improvisation, including the left-brain reasoning mind – all come into play at different moments in the process. I’ve always described it as like being in a very aware state of meditation. It allows you to take risks – like children do in play mode – to discover new things you might not have thought of.
So how can we be more creative? Kick-start our creativity and break old cognitive habits? The answer seems to lie in changing our routines to overcome functional ‘fixedness’. Look at your daily activity. Most of it is unscripted, improvised anyway. Apparently the key lies in looking for unexpected opportunities to experience new things and indulge in some ‘mind-wandering’ activities like walking or any action that is repetitive and doesn’t require too much mental effort. No surprise that Beethoven apparently enjoyed walking.
It’s still pelting down………and the dogs are crossing their legs….have to just go and get soggy whilst I’m thinking about all the things I can get up to with a brick……a suitable case to boggle the mind!
P.S. One of my ‘followers’ kindly recommended a book written by one of the contributors to the Horizon programme, The Master and His Emissary. The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, by Iain McGilchrist. I have started reading it and it is fascinating.