Thursday, March 1, 2012

Neurology of Creative Brain

You have probably heard and read a lot about different techniques that are supposed to improve your creative thinking and inspire your imagination in the moments when you are facing a creative block. But has anyone ever explained to you what is happening inside your brain in those precious moments when a new idea emerges in your creative mind? Can idea creation be explained by science? Are ideas created by certain chemical reactions in our brain or are they result of a divine inspiration that the universe is sending us? If creativity is a result of a physiological process in our brain, are there ways in which we can deliberately induce creation of ideas whenever we need them?
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Lately I came cross a book that I had read a few years ago, ’The Brain and Emotional Intelligence’ by Daniel Goleman and I remembered having read there an interesting passage about the processes that are taking place in our brain whenever we are trying to think of new ideas. The medical science has advanced so much that the neuroscientists can closely monitor reactions of human brain to different stimuli coming from the outside world and the processes that are taking place on the cellular level inside the brain which influence our emotions, thoughts and behaviour.

As you already know, our brain consists of left and right hemisphere. Generally speaking, left hemisphere is more rational, analytical, down to earth, and right hemisphere is more abstract, irrational, emotional and creative. There are also differences on the cell level. Left hemisphere is made of neatly stacked vertical columns which allow clear differentiation of separate mental functions but less integration of these functions. Right hemisphere is more structurally mixed. Unlike left hemisphere which has fewer connections within itself and to the rest of the brain, right brain hemisphere contains numerous interconnections and strong connections to emotional centres and to other parts of the brain.

Researches of the neuroscientists have shown that new ideas are born in the temporal area, an area on the side of the right neocortex. It is the same area of the right brain hemisphere where abstract thinking, understanding of art, religious thoughts and metaphors are formed. It is also the part of the brain that is closely connected to our unconscience. But it would be wrong to say that this area alone is responsible for our creativity. Although it is the most active during creative thinking, it also recieves impulses from other parts of the brain drawing from them different information, emotions and images that will help our brain think of new combinations of elements.

The magic moment of idea creation happens when our brain reaches strong gama activity of 300 miliseconds. Gama activity indicates the binding together of neurons as brain cells connect in a new neural network. Immediately after, a new association emerges in our mind and a new idea enters our conscienceness. During this process the right hemisphere cells use longer branches to connect to other parts of the brain and collect more information which colide together in a flashing moment to create new and novel organization of elements – new idea. After the lightning and thunder comes a period of calm when we experience intense feeling of pleasure, joy and relaxation.

Is there a way to somehow activate this strong gama activity on purpose and generate ideas whenever we need them? The answer is: NO, BUT...! You see, gama spikes come at random and cannot be forced, but the mental stage that precedes this gama burst can be created on purpose. Gama spikes occur while our mind is in the alpha stage. This is the stage of relaxation, daydreaming and drifting. During the alpha period gama spikes are most likely to happen.

From a neuroscientist’s point of view, the best way to reach a new idea is simply to let go! As Daniel Goleman states, the best thing would be to:
1-    clearly define the problem or the subject of your thinking;
2-    try to gather as many information as possible about the subject and think them over;
3-    let go!
If you are constantly thinking about the problem, you will get more tensed and it will be impossible for your brain to reach the alpha stage which will prepare it for the burst of gama vawes and creation of new ideas!

But what if I don’t have the time to relax and let go? My deadline is due and I still haven’t got any idea for my project!

If you are in this situation you must by no means panic! Nervous mind cannot create constructive ideas. Instead, try to reach the stage of ’relaxed thinking’ about the problem. Go online and browse some interesting websites or grab a magazine and go through it while keeping somewhere in the back of your mind the subject of your thinking. Take a walk in the park, go window shopping, have a coffee in a nearby café, but keep your notebook at hand – you never know when a gama lightning will strike you!

And there is another thing. Have faith in your creativity!  You are a creative person and ideas will come to you sooner or later. How do I know this? I bet you already recognized from your own experience these ’a-ha’ moments caused by strong gama activity in your brain. I am absolutely sure that the best of your ideas came to you while you were taking shower, watching movies, jogging or playing with your kids – in the moments of deep mental relaxation.

So calm down, let go and be prepared for that moment when an idea hits you again!



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Key words for this blog post:
blog about creativity, creative thinking, creativity, neurology of brain, neuroscience and creativity, how to be creative, The Brain and Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman, left brain, right brain, brain hemisphere…

2 comments:

Slim said...

Hi Pedja,

I think there's an attitude that makes this activity more likely.

You might like this video, which argues that creativity is simply a side effect of our ability to empathize:

https://vimeo.com/36629796

Pedja G. said...

Dear Slim,

It is all in the attitude, just like in any other situation in life.

It’s just another one of the Nature’s mysteries that is there to be explored.

I think that empathy can help us gain deep insight into the problem and thus inspire us to come up with new ideas, but I doubt that we can attribute it the major role in creativity/innovation process.

If that was true psychology would be considered the most creative profession of all because it relies entirely on the empathy with the patient.
Stay creative!

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