The Neuroscience of Creativity

I still believe that sitting down and reading a book is the best way to really learn something. – Eric Schmidt

Recently, I wrote about the role of noise in creativity and how to use the sense of smell to encourage creative problem solving.  I even wrote a small post on conflict spurring creativity.  Yes, there is a trend. I’ve been pondering creativity for a long while.

Baroness Susan Greenfield gave a speech at an event called Mind and Its Potential where she discussed the brain and its role in creativity.  It isn’t as simple as you might think.

The talk is complex, delving into several scientific studies and the results as well as touching on a bit of Aesthetics, though she doesn’t call it that.  Really there is a moment in her talk where she compares a picture of a sheep that is considered art hanging in a museum and a drawing of a sheep done by a young girl that is probably best suited for the refrigerator gallery in the family’s home and asks why one is art and the other isn’t.

The following are some key bits of information from this talk that perked my imagination a bit.  Some of it is just nifty affirmation and some of it is really a smack upside the head in terms of thinking about creativity.

1. Creativity may have a genetic component but environment plays a bigger role in how the brain develops.  We all want good genes but can’t get them, but we all can create stimulating enriched environments for ourselves.

2. The brain is plastic. Not plastic as in fake, hard, with a weird industrial scent, but able to be molded. It is our brain’s ability to form new connections, to reshape itself, that has allowed humans to exist in nearly every biological ecosphere on the planet (we haven’t yet adapted to the damnable water breathing).

3. Young minds, craving stimulation to build connections with all five senses in a 3-D world might be suffering a bit when they are set in front a 2D images relying mainly on sight and sound. Screen culture could be having a significant impact on the development of their brains and undercutting ‘understanding meaning’.  This might also have the effect of reducing empathy, as well.

4. Develop creativity by developing a sense of individuality. Individuality and creativity are interdependent. Modern technology may be causing loss of individuality and should be used not to join the masses but to help further create differentiation for the self in developing the concept of individuality. To this point, it is often suggested that writers first start off trying to emulate other writers to learn form but eventually will only truly find writing success when they learn to write in their own voice.

Our minds are amazing biological machines and we take them for granted. We fail to feed them, nurture them, and let them do what they do best – find connections between things.  Isn’t it time we took our minds for a walk and let them find some new connections which will make us more creative?

I’d love to hear about the ways you cultivate your mind in order to spur more creativity in your life.


Published by Sean D. Francis

Sean D. Francis is a technologist, writer, and geek. He podcasts, makes video, and dabbles in all the geeky genres including horror, sci-fi, and fantasy.