Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Creativity: where does it reside in the brain?

Creativity: Uses your whole brain.
In the past the right brain was established as "conceptual, holistic, intuitive, imaginative and non-verbal" according to the Scientific American article "Is it true that creativity resides in the right hemisphere of the brain?"  It was later replaced by the whole-brain theory which is covered by Ned Herrmann who wrote the article. Basically, according to Herrmann, our brain is balanced.  It must use all parts to create, analyze and implement an idea.  So creativity is a holistic condition, not really a specific site in the brain.  

How can this relate to creativity pursued by writers?  I see it as recognizing the need to both explore through writing (write without reserve or even intention) and followup by demanding that we put our writing through a rigorous testing phase.  I follow my unreserved outflow of words with a more analytical, testing mind to review the work. And then off goes the non-restricted creative process again with new parameters. 

Every time I stop and reread my last thousand words, I am examining them for quality, usefulness, relatability, and connectivity. I adjust, develop, contrast and redesign my writing as I consider how it all makes a whole.  Essentially, I move back and forth between what reaches for anything and what reaches for the specific, and I parley between these two brain activities until I am content with the result.
Better storage

Back on creativity and where it resides in the brain. I suppose it resides everywhere or perhaps where it is most needed in order to solve the problem it is facing.  While researching where in the brain one finds the part marked "reserved for creative thought," I came across an article  questioning whether creativity is a bi-product of intelligence or a quality in and of itself essential to the evolutionary progress.

Certainly, I have heard in a long ago history class that society does not have time for culture until it has dealt with the needs of survival and is able to store enough food stuffs and necessary items to carry it through seasons of low availability.  I suppose one could use that point to argue that creativity is just bi-product and creativity is not a separate necessary aspect of survival. For only after all needs are met can the people of a village find time to decorate the necessities of life with engravings, fabrics and color.  However, it seems to me and others that those abilities don't just suddenly arrive unfostered out of the air.

Just coming up with the idea that increases production of necessary foodstuffs counters that theory.  For the idea of how to store product long enough to gain excess time to give over to less essential activities is proof of creativity.  Painting, carving, decorative weaving and embroidery are extensions of already necessary skills which means that creativity and its various supporting brain characteristics come part and parcel with all other thinking demands. 

creativity: lovely and necessary
The point of all this questioning over the location of creativity in the brain is to focus on the fact that we need all that our minds encompass to be strengthened.  Read, argue, examine, consider, connect, research, reach, etc.; do all brainy things that challenge and develop our thinking.  Creativity doesn't recline among the brain cells eating chocolates; it searches, gathers and prances about.

Another study deals with the location and quantity of dopamine which apparently is the key chemical ingredient of creativity according to a variety of scientists.  But there are so many approaches to examining this key chemical and its interaction with the brain.  A study in Sweden linked dopamine D2 filtering in the thalamus to creativity based on the degree of filtering. Two groups have this feature (a greater number of unusual/unfiltered ideas could slide through): "highly creative healthy adults" and adults suffering from schizophrenia.  (The actual paper on this study is located at this site.)  I love the statement that this lower filtering could be described as "Thinking outside a less intact box."  I had this image of my ideas looking out of a mesh at the active real world beyond (slightly ironic as we are talking about writing in the creative form, not reality), waiting in line to slip through and become part of a story, poem, etc. The assumption is that "highly creative healthy adults" know the difference between reality and a created world.

More studies: Yet a second study linked high concentrations of dopamine as a sign of high creativity.  They were tracking what parts of the brain have high concentrations.  Presumably creative people tended to have more areas of greater concentration.  Also a theory presented in Alice Flaherty's study supports the idea that creativity occurred along these "dopamine pathways." I suppose when combined with the previous study, one could say high concentrations encourage more "divergent" ideas which then were lightly filtered, providing more creativity to the individual.

Creativity does not have to worry about being a wall flower in the scientific study party.  I found numerous papers discussing all sorts of research on how it works, where it is and how to get it to be more active.  So I am stopping here on the various articles I read.  But if you wish, Google "dopamine and increasing creativity" or check out this link on a study of the writing mind.

So what are you doing to channel your creativity? How do you incorporate your whole brain?

Extra credit value: Herrmann also said that male and female brains go about idea generating differently, so it is necessary that research groups have both sexes present.  Hmm, so writers, here is yet another argument you can use to encourage your spouse to participate in your writing as both muse and criticizer.  


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