the brain science behind creativity

As animals we are curious beings!

We are curious about everything around us, inside us and above us. We keep looking for the next new thing. We are restless creatures. We constantly create something that is exciting.

It could be a remix of an old idea or an old story or a old tool used in crazy ways. We love it when novelty hits us. We get very excited.

When novelty combines with utility, we call it as creativity.

So I was curious to know what makes us creative beings from our brain perspective?

I found a fascinating answer.

A worm has about 860 neurons max but we have about 86 billion neurons inside us. If you observe a worm, it keeps exploring its environment. It senses and reacts.

In a typical animal brain there is a sense side and a react side connected by a wire and hence the relentless sensing and reacting continues. In a human brain it is much more than just sensing and reacting. We have surplus neurons (86B) and the number of connections as a result is way higher than any animal out there. This is our evolutionary gift.

To understand this further we need to dig into a few systems of our brain

  1. Default Mode Network (DMN): It is system that is at work when we just laze around and do nothing. Specifically, medial frontal cortex, medial parietal cortex and medial temporal lobes are connected in this system. No thoughts are directly associated with immediate external environment. In other words stimulus independent thought happens. Your introspection, day dreaming, planning future etc. Ideally this is our baseline. This is why most of the day we are unconsciousness.

  2. Executive Control Network (ECN): It is a system that is work when we are focused and deep at work. The pre frontal cortex is in full action.

In a creative thought process, the random and spontaneous thoughts in our Default Mode Network (related to brainstorming and day dreaming) and carefully connected by our Executive Control Network (related to center of focus and governance) generates creative thoughts.

These random free flowing thoughts when connected by executive control formulates a thought into an idea worth exploring further. The large scale brain networks and synapses creates these creative ideas. The salience network (related to detecting environmental stimuli and switching between default and executive networks) gives the cognitive flexibility and synchronicity needed.

Under fMRI, it was clear that when a goal was given to plan an artwork or a compose music, the neuronal activity fired up as shown below.

When we are asked to think (typically out of the box), our brains push all the boundaries, bend what we see, break the expectations and remix different ideas to create a whole new output. This is why when you ask a question, your brain fires up and it hijacks our thoughts and gets to work quickly to find an answer or triggers more questions with a quest to find an answer. A unanswered question bugs your brain and keeps you curious. Look at children.

The neuronal activity in our brain clearly suggests that creativity is born from abundance. From quantity of ideas comes quality of ideas. These neuronal pathways are formed over a period of time so the light bulb moment or eureka is a myth. It is a long term process for our brain thought it sounds like the ideas happened in a flash. It keeps connecting dots and when a particular connections are formed it makes sense to us. This is what happens when you collaborate with more brains.

The creative right brain is another myth because you do need both hemispheres to be creative. Our brains keeps changing throughout our lifespan and there is enough evidence to believe that we never stop learning. With ageing the process is slow but nevertheless it happens.

Creative activity is a type of learning process where the teacher and the pupil are located in the same individual - Arthur Koestler

To our brain creativity is mixing and remixing various mental representations to create novel ideas and thinking patterns. This means there is no one creative center in the brain.

A few strategies to enhance creativity in you

  • Focused and diffused mode of operation is important for your brain. So change the definition of productivity. To be creatively productive you must focus AND day dream. All work, all day will make you uncreative. So chill, allow your brain to wander a little everyday.

  • Give many dots to your brain aka exposure. Only with dots, connecting dots is possible. Without dots where will the connections come from? So go ahead and expose yourself to different types of information. The more diverse your pool is, the better your creativity gets.

  • Your mindset plays an important role in your cognitive flexibility. Saying I don’t know and keeping an open mind to even known things will help your flexibility. This is what is referred to as a beginner’s mind.

  • Allow your brain to work. Don’t try and control its functions. Sleeping well, eating well and moving more in a day will help your brain work wonders.

  • Work with people. Work with diversity. Keep yourself curious. Ask questions. Stay with unanswered questions. Stay stupid and stay curious. That is how your creativity enhances.

🥂to creativity!

Yo! Thanks for reading. Means a lot to me as attention is the hardest currency 🙏

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