How thinking in patterns can help you to become a more creative individual
By Joanna Syiek (Director/Producer/Blogger)
Neuroscientist Daniel Bor gives us a whole new idea of brainfood with his book The Ravenous Brain: How the New Science of Consciousness Explains Our Insatiable Search for Meaning. Just like Steve Jobs' famous postulation that "creativity is just connecting things," Bor explores the human need for pattern-making and how it is essential to creativity.
One of the more fascinating stories he tells focuses on "chunking," that is, grouping items together to make more room in your memory. One man, an undergraduate of average IQ, learned to use this mental trick to unlock the boundaries of his working memory. He participated in an experiment where researches read him a list of random digits and asked him to repeat them back in the order he'd heard them. If he got the sequence right, the next list would be one number longer. If incorrect, one digit shorter. And he did this one hour a day, four days a week, for two years.
At first he was able to remember 7 digits - better than the average person's 4 digit sequence and not unusual that it was the length of most phone numbers. But Mr. Test Subject soon got so bored by the experiments that he tried to challenge himself to improve his limit tenfold. Which he did. By the end of the test period, he was able to repeat back 80 digits with ease. That's 11 new friends phone numbers back to back (10 from the city, one out-of-towner with a different area code). Which is astounding. But also a stark reminder that the brain really is a muscle, and it benefits from a good workout just like the rest of your body.
But how you ask?
Bor argues that this process of "chunking" can easily be applied to creative pursuits as well:
"The arts, too, generate their richness and some of their aesthetic appeal from patterns. Music is the most obvious sphere where structures are appealing..but certainly patterns are just as important in the visual arts as in music. Generating interesting connections between disparate subjects is what makes art so fascinating to create and to view, precisely because we are forced to contemplate a new, higher pattern that binds lower ones together."
He states that our desire to find meaning in things and connect them to one another is what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom, and the key to what makes us strive to be creative. We have the capacity to seek out "chunks" and to build them on top of each other until we create something new, impressive, or just plain mind-boggling. So continue to feed your brain - who knows what you may be able to build.
JOANNA SYIEK is a Los Angeles-based music junkie with a penchant for long road trips, original theatre work, clean graphic design, and really good Indian food. She directs around the City of Angels and writes about nourishing creativity, Broadway favorites, and talent obsessions over on her blogging home. www.thoughtsontheatre.wordpress.com
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