Modern science is telling us what the mystics have been saying throughout the ages: if you want to tap more of your own creativity, slow down.
by Loren A. Roberts (guru of multi-hyphenate media)
In spite of all of the totally downer things about our specific time here on earth (wars, poverty, hatred, injustice, The Bachelor), I believe this is one of the most incredible times to be alive in all of human history. Why? Because scientific understanding is finally catching up with our bodies. I remember, back in the 60s and 70s, how different our simplistic discussions of things like genetics and cosmology and gravity and memory were from those same discussions today. In college, I took a bunch of cognitive science courses, because it fascinated me what was going on inside our own brains.
But we still don’t know that much. Sorry.
Now, scientists are getting much better at observing our brains, and the discoveries are both rather amazing and completely common sense.
Here are the scientific headlines from this past week that got me thinking about the creative process:
In this Inc. Magazine article, Margaret Heffernan describes the processes that we subject our bodies to when we skip a night of sleep in order to keep working. We think that the extra time put into work will pay off, but studies show that adding hours of extra work to a day ends up being counterproductive:
When we are tired, our performance doesn't degrade equally. Instead, when you lose a night's sleep, the parietal and occipital lobes in your brain become less active. The parietal lobe integrates information from the senses and is involved in our knowledge of numbers and manipulation of objects. The occipital lobe is involved in visual processing. So the parts of our mind responsible for understanding the world and the data around us start to slow down (emphasis mine).
She goes on to say that we make extremely bad choices when we are sleep-deprived. So that horrible coda to your last song? Ask yourself: did you write it after an all-night marathon to finish the song?
Crazytowner Matthew Murphy made a quip on Facebook this past week about procrastination — he felt he should be editing, and instead he was making a music playlist for an upcoming photoshoot. Guess what, Matthew? Your brain wanted you to take a break from editing.
This article in Wired looks at a new study from Radboud University in the Netherlands that distracted a group of college students from the task that they were given. What happened? They were more creative with solving the task after returning from the distraction. The takeaway? Giving your brain time to sort through things actually enhances creativity. The time away from the dilemma gives the brain an opportunity to a) look at it objectively, b) separate the good from the bad, and c) understand the relative importance of various creative options. This quote from Nietzsche is a great example of how resting the brain works for creative types:
Artists have a vested interest in our believing in the flash of revelation, the so-called inspiration … shining down from heavens as a ray of grace. In reality, the imagination of the good artist or thinker produces continuously good, mediocre or bad things, but his judgment, trained and sharpened to a fine point, rejects, selects, connects…. All great artists and thinkers are great workers, indefatigable not only in inventing, but also in rejecting, sifting, transforming, ordering.
The article concludes by citing an article that showed the difference between distracting yourself with something happy versus distracting yourself with something painful; obviously, the happy people were better able to sort through things in their brain and resume the former task productively. So, Matthew, if the music makes you happy, take that break!
This study from UC San Diego looks at the amazing propensity in babies from 2 to 3 months old towards synesthesia, a neurological condition in which two or more bodily senses are merged. The same condition is seven times more likely to be found in artists than in the normal population:
People with synesthesia, on the other hand, "experience the world in extraordinary ways," writes the neuroscientist Dr. V.S. Ramachandran in his book, The Tell-Tale Brain. These so-called synesthetes "inhabit a strange no-man's-land between reality and fantasy. They taste colors, see sounds, hear shapes, or touch emotions in myriad combinations." It is not surprising then, that this condition is such an appealing one to artists who have sought to defamiliarize their perceptions of reality, or, to put it another way, to rediscover a primal, childlike perception of reality.
Our ability as artists to compose and interpret metaphor is based partially on this multi-sensory approach to seeing the world around us.
So...what do we do?
See the connections.
You’ll be a better artist for it. Have fun storming the castle...
LOREN A. ROBERTS produces films, videos and music, designs magazines and logos, plays and sings in a rock-and-roll tribute band, and is a student of what happens when science, the arts, technology, and culture collide. www.hearkencreative.com
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