Thursday, June 12, 2014

Finding the sources of creative potential permit us to nurture it in ourselves

The breathtaking progress of humanity into the internet age has occurred within a blink of an eye by evolutionary standards. The mental journey was fueled by creativity, and made possible by trust provided by the three great cultural institutions, religion, the arts, and sciences. Religion is an incredible fuel of belief and hope. In ancient times religion was the only spiritual food available (and often obligatory) for everyone. However, an innate human drive toward beauty and the search for meaning led to a quick maturing of all kinds of art forms. By nurturing a feeling of beauty, awe, and love, the arts elevate their audience above and beyond the questions of basic existence. Science is the youngest discipline of the three, but its influence has grown immensely. Like religion, science is also just a belief system that guides decision making and everyday practice. In fact today the sciences often fill a role reserved for religion, thus we can choose to 'believe' in evolution or the Higgs boson.

Practicing the arts or sciences requires creativity. Although anybody can be creative, this gift is rare among the most affluent and the destitute. (The most affluent has no need for it, and the destitute cannot rise above the basic struggles for food and everyday needs.) For this reason, in the hierarchical societies of the past creativity was a rare, celebrated gift of the fortunate few. In contrast, in our modern world creativity is becoming an expected asset in almost any position. This is why it is important to learn about it and nurture it in ourselves.

Csikszentmihalyi introduced the expression, 'flow' to describe the creative mental state. Creative work is in stark contrast to the tiring analytic and focused effort. The careless abandon of creative endeavor perhaps was best expressed by Picasso: “When I work, I rest, when I rest, I get tired.” The explanation of the difference can be found in the contrasting mental involvement. In analytical thinking brain frequencies increase with concentration. The energy need of higher frequencies makes analytic thinking such a tiring effort. But brain oscillations actually decrease during creative endeavor. The unnecessary details are eliminated; the mental focus gets wider, allowing natural, creative solutions to arise, in an almost childish joy of creative flow, described so well by Picasso. Creativity results in positive emotions, and inversely, only a positive mindset can be creative. Positive attitude deflects negativity, conflict and leads to creativity, success and even longevity. Creativity cannot be planned for. It occurs unexpectedly, often when people are engaged in some totally unrelated activity. Creativity is inherent in the joyful play of children and in the aha moments of inventors, artists, and scientists. According to the old saying, "necessity is the mother of invention," creativity is often the culmination of emotional discomfort or even stress. Necessity can arise into a goal-directed effort, and which is a potent learning mechanism even in animals. Thus in experiments with rats, the process of memorization sped up due to goal-directed activity (Dupret) and artificial intelligence (Wissner gross). Focused and goal-directed effort mitigates stress (even pain sensitivity is reduced during goal-directed activities) and facilitates progress. There are many ways to arrive at creativity, being bound by your circumstances is not one of them.

Picture credit: By CERN for the ATLAS and CMS Collaborations 

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