Chapter 1.5 Working Memory and Creativity

Working Memory as a Theatre for Ideas

Dennett (1992) suggests that language and the ability to talk to oneself was actually required to develop in order to invent tools. This seems to be an example of amorphous cognition becoming conscious thought, through the use of ‘feedback loops’; the brains ability to re-live and imagine past and future actions in order to perfect them (Donald, 1991).  That we can access memories regardless of our environmental stimulus is a foundational aspect of creativity, as it allows us to combine situations and ideas that are completely distinct in the physical world. By having a conversation with ourselves, we are effectively adding another level of feedback to the system. This seems to show that ideas need to become part of the external world before we can manipulate them, as we would a real object. This turns possibly meaningless endocepts into ‘real’ images that can then be fed back into our stimulus experience, creating not only ideas, but possibilities. This suggests, conceptually at least, that the conscious is in fact more a part of our external world. It is supported by the need of the conscious mind to work in the medium of its senses; we think in terms of images, sounds as we were editing our own recorded footage (Arieti 1976).  The prefrontal cortex, equivalent to the RAM in a computer, is described as the theater of the mind, where our sense and experiences come together to create our world (Lehrer 2012). It is a memory system that is able to ‘keep in mind’ other information, which of course is useful for problem solving (Miller and Cohen, 2001).  This is where ‘endocepts’ seem to become accessible, and will also therefore be the place where the need to express them is established. What is obvious at this stage is that endocepts are not in the consciousness, and so can be thought of as ideas that lie between the primary and secondary processes – between the primal and conceptual levels of thinking.

It is hardly surprising that all of the brain’s functions seem to be involved in the creative process. It is the rate of flow of information, not the number or power of the nodes that make the difference between being less creative or more creative (Lehrer 2012, Baer 2010). The brain has a huge capacity to aggregate information from many inputs and combine it in new ways. One of the important information pathways in the brain is between memory and the areas in charge of translating senses. This is collectively called the Limbic system. In fact, research points to the dynamic between long-term and short-term or working memory as a key to creativity. The sense stimulation can be associated with working memory, as this is where they are processed and add to previous experience in long-term memory (Burgess and Hitch 2005). This is where we start to see a pattern of ‘recursive loops’ referred to in reference to creativity, such as the basal ganglia loop that allows the brain to evolve ideas as context shifts (Bond 2006).

As we have seen, the brain’s processes are not aimed at creativity, but creativity is a useful effect of their interaction and sense-making abilities. These allow random and unlikely connections to be made and held temporarily, in order to better understand the immediate context of experience. If useful, they are repeated and become part of long-term memory to be combined with future experience, ensuring a constantly updated and effective decision-making process.  Of course, most of these processes are not conscious, and as amorphous cognition is not conscious or able to be expressed, it is attributed to the unconscious mind.