In the April issue of Scientific American Mind, Ulrich Kraft’s Unleashing Creativity ($*) investigates the physical and behavioral evidence for our creativity, still of course a mostly mysterious thing. One fascinating finding is how the left brain’s convergent thinking can inhibit the right brain’s divergent thinking.
The neurologist Bruce Miller studied patients with dementia that resulted from damage to their left brain. The common immediate symptoms were loss of speech and learned social behavior, typical left brain functions. Some of these patients also exhibited a simultaneous burst in creativity in activities from art to music to invention, activities new to them. Kraft makes the argument that we are born with this creativity — young children are invention machines — but 20 years of convergent-thinking education strengthens the left brain’s domination over the right brain.
So how do we become more creative? There’s no easy fix. To be creative, new neural pathways need to be constructed by, well, being creative. Kraft suggests four steps for doing that:
- Wonderment: Try to retain a spirit of discovery, a childlike curiousity about the world. And question understandings that others consider obvious
- Motivation: As soon as a spark of interest arises in something, follow it
- Intellectual courage: Strive to think outside accepted principles and habitual perspectives such as “We’ve always done it that way.”
- Relaxation: Take the time to day dream and ponder, because that is often when the best ideas arise. Look for ways to relax and consciously put the ideas into practice.
I can now justify all that childhood time spent lying in the grass staring up at the clouds.
* Thanks to James for the article heads up. If you’re considering buying it, the online version is cheaper than the dead tree version.