Chapter 1.3 Neuro-creativity

Master in Its own House

A recurring theme in this essay will be that the brain regularly demonstrates that is not a static machine for processing information, and regularly takes control of the information it is presented with. The conscious mind is excellent at ignoring information it regards as distracting or unnecessary to its focus and this can result in inhibited creative processes. The consciousness does appear to be master of its realm (Collingwood 1938). One of the reasons creative theories regularly find problems in their unifying theories is that the same people seem to be completely unpredictable or that similar people engage with creativity in completely different ways. One reason for this is that social interaction can have a debilitating effect on the brain’s creative systems. An area that is responsible for inhibiting creative actions is the left fronto-temporal lobe. It has been shown by Snyder (2009) to inhibit ‘savant skills’ in normal people – the ability to perceive our environments as the ‘raw information’ they actually are. This part of the brain seems to control the inflow of information as well as allow the individual to relate to it conceptually. The problem is not so much extrinsic motivation then, as controlling the systems that have evolved to keep a person’s mind in check for that all-important function of communal animals: socializing (Earls, 2009).

The problem creative motivation suffers from is social interaction, or rather social thinking. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a circuit near to where personality and goal-direction are primarily attributed, works to hold a person’s behaviour and consistency in check by screening out unnecessary information or desires (Lehrer 2012, p.91). It is also where “acting consciously” happens – decisions and goals are formed here. Not surprising then that so much is written about losing one’s self-consciousness in order to experience ‘flow’ (Lehrer 2012), (Csikszentmihalyi 1997). External rewards are more likely to induce self-conscious focus on a task as well as create conscious goal determination in the subject, which does not change the creativity in the brain; it simply sees it screened out as other uses of the brain are emphasised.

Reality and Sense Making

Schachtel (1959) writes that creative motivation is stimulated by our need to relate to the world. The brain’s ability to understand and manipulate its environment is dependent on the brain’s use of virtual reality and idea projection (Deutsch, 1997). The brain’s understanding of its environment is a self-projected, ‘virtual’ reality. The brain takes informational inputs from its many sensors, both internal and external, and builds a representation of its environment. The representation is then compared to previous formations as recorded in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that forms memory networks. It can then attach ‘raw information’ to concepts such as words or people and decide what is important to focus on. This means we can shift our reality as new information comes to hand but it also means that to be a successful species we must be pro-active in developing the best version of reality we can. These systems for making sense of our environment are crucial because without them we would not be able to readjust our perceptions and associations to fit with a new reality (Deutsch, 1997).

The relationship between these systems and creativity is apparent when we see that a person’s skill in ignoring external stimulus is actually bad for their creativity (Carson, et al. 2003). Though this implies that the modern culture of hyper-information means a more creative one, it also means people are better at switching off their senses to informational stimulus. We will also see that deeper engagement with information is required for creativity, and modern culture does not develop this – we are actively educated to interpret information objectively and logically.

Evolutionary theory in the development of creativity suggests that it is an advantageous trait because it allows us to respond to complex and incomplete information in the quickest and most efficient way to arrive at a decision for action. This means the conscious mind cannot logically understand the information – we depend on our unconscious to process it faster than our conscious thought, picking up on tiny facets of information and aiding our decision-making through random associations and ‘illogical’ methods (Jacoby et al. 1992). Creativity largely depends on these systems because they allow us to simultaneously work consciously in our environment, while unconsciously adding layers of meaning and experience to our understanding that increases our ability to make unlikely and useful connections from them (Lewicki et al. 1992).