Real Worlds, Possible Worlds and Fantasy Worlds

10 January 2018

From The New York Times:

The act of reading alters your brain. It does so, first, because your thoughts are brain processes. When you read, neural patterns come and go as the words pass before you. Some of those patterns also give rise to memories, subtle molecular changes in cells and the signaling mechanisms that link them. And third, your brain is physically transformed by learning to read. The networks that underlie vision and language are changed. Even people who become literate in adulthood, as a team led by the French neurobiologist Stanislas Dehaene has shown, acquire differences that are visible in a brain scan. With and without literacy, the brain is the same basic organ, with the same shape and chemistry, but a reading brain is different in ways that count. As Cecilia Heyes says in her forthcoming book, “Cognitive Gadgets,” if one didn’t know that reading is a recent human invention (literate culture is perhaps 5,000 or 6,000 years old), a skill passed on through learning in each generation, it would be easy to mistake the brain patterns seen in reading as evidence for a genetically encoded reading instinct or “innate module.”

. . . .

E. O. Wilson’s new book, “The Origins of Creativity,” is about the role of the humanities in an intellectual culture increasingly dominated by science. Wilson values the humanities, but he wants them to have closer ties to some of the sciences, an argument that draws on his view of the relationships between human biology, thought and culture. “It is becoming increasingly clear,” he says at one point, “that natural selection has programmed every bit of human biology — every toe, hair and nipple, every molecular configuration in every cell, every neuron circuit in the brain, and within all that, every trait that makes us human.” But reading itself, the reading of books like his own, shows that this isn’t true. The circuits of the brain are changed by literacy, and the molecular configurations in countless cells are being altered as you pick up new ideas from the page, as they make their way into your memory. If what Wilson says were true, there would be no point in reading, in trying to learn songs or engage in many other activities. We’d have little resemblance to humans at all.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Driven to Draw: Creativity Erupts from Brain Insult

9 January 2018

From The Mission:

After eating one banana at 10’oclock precisely, she begins furiously drawing on the nearest blank sheet of paper. Her hand moves as if possessed, compulsively and rapidly sketching the same inane subjects from the day before. The irrepressible urge to create results in a complete neglect of her personal hygiene. Later, she gathers her pictures in a neat pile and binge eats an entire box of cookies. This isn’t a starving artist preparing for an opening show. This is Mrs. YCFZ, an 83 yr old patient never notably interested in art, diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia.

Mrs. YCFZ isn’t the first documented case where an urge to create erupted out of brain damage . . . ; yet the explanation for this sudden obsession for producing art baffles scientists. Creativity, from a neuroscientific perspective, is defined as the ability to produce a work that is both original and valuable. The brain part used in this endeavor is the prefrontal cortex (PFC).

. . . .

The PFC has a big job. It is connected with sensory systems involved in perception and receives information about past events and connects them to long-term memory circuits. As part of the limbic system it modulates emotions and motivations programs and performs plans of actions. In other words, “seeing” that art piece in your mind, planning what materials to use and then executing is all due to this little piece of grey matter. It is understandable then, that impairment of the PFC would result in a creative drought. Yet, clinical evidence says it is not so.

. . . .

The artists were not informed of the mental status of Mrs. YCFZ — they were only told to grade the drawings in front of them. Even though her cognitive ability deteriorated over the course of those three years, her creative capacity had not.

. . . .

She scored higher from her first to her last drawings; especially in measures of novelty and abstraction.

Link to the rest at The Mission

Creativity grows by blending, breaking, bending

12 November 2017
Comments Off on Creativity grows by blending, breaking, bending

From The Houston Chronicle:

David Eagleman is a neuroscientist and an adjunct professor at Stanford University, best known for his work on brain plasticity, which has led to television appearances and programs, and, of course, best-selling books.

. . . .

Anthony Brandt is a composer and music professor at Rice University, the recipient of a Koussevitzky Commission from the Library of Congress and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. He’s also the founder of Musiqa, Houston’s contemporary music ensemble.

They combine their interests and talents in the book “The Runaway Species,” a fascinating look at creativity across diverse disciplines.

. . . .

Q: You use a framework for creativity in your book, and you discuss the concepts of “bending,” “breaking” and “blending.” Can you discuss these?

Anthony Brandt: “Bending” is taking a source and messing with it in some way, as when a jazz band plays the same song they played every other night, but they do it in some other way. It’s a variation on a theme. “Breaking” is when you take a whole, break it apart and assemble something new out of the fragments. In the book, we use the example of Picasso’s “Guernica,” in which the artist used bits and pieces of animals, soldiers and civilians to illustrate the brutality of war. And “blending” is any time you are marrying two or more ideas. In the book, we have an example of “Ruppy the Puppy,” the world’s first transgenic dog. He has a gene from a sea anemone, and he turns a fluorescent red under ultraviolet light.

. . . .

Q: The book also describes tension in the human brain between being drawn to the familiar and the lure of exploration. Can you elaborate on that?

Brandt: People aren’t the same in the way they balance novelty and familiarity, but everybody has creative software running in their brain, and they are all capable of aligning themselves on that creative spectrum and being participants in it. But the diversity in this tension, between exploration and familiarity, is healthy. We want a range of people, some of whom are pushing the envelopes, others who are holding back. We don’t want to rush headlong into every wild idea, but we also don’t want to stay rooted in one spot, never improving our lot.

Link to the rest at The Houston Chronicle

Oliver Sacks on the Three Essential Elements of Creativity

12 November 2017

From Brain Pickings:

Imitation, besides being the seedbed of empathy and our experience of time, is also, paradoxically enough, the seedbed of creativity — not only a poetic truth but a cognitive fact, as the late, great neurologist and poet of science Oliver Sacks (July 9, 1933–August 30, 2015) argues in a spectacular essay titled “The Creative Self,” published in the posthumous treasure The River of Consciousness.

. . . .

He writes:

If imitation plays a central role in the performing arts, where incessant practice, repetition, and rehearsal are essential, it is equally important in painting or composing or writing, for example. All young artists seek models in their apprentice years, models whose style, technical mastery, and innovations can teach them. Young painters may haunt the galleries of the Met or the Louvre; young composers may go to concerts or study scores. All art, in this sense, starts out as “derivative,” highly influenced by, if not a direct imitation or paraphrase of, the admired and emulated models.

When Alexander Pope was thirteen years old, he asked William Walsh, an older poet whom he admired, for advice. Walsh’s advice was that Pope should be “correct.” Pope took this to mean that he should first gain a mastery of poetic forms and techniques. To this end, in his “Imitations of English Poets,” Pope began by imitating Walsh, then Cowley, the Earl of Rochester, and more major figures like Chaucer and Spenser, as well as writing “Paraphrases,” as he called them, of Latin poets. By seventeen, he had mastered the heroic couplet and began to write his “Pastorals” and other poems, where he developed and honed his own style but contented himself with the most insipid or clichéd themes. It was only once he had established full mastery of his style and form that he started to charge it with the exquisite and sometimes terrifying products of his own imagination. For most artists, perhaps, these stages or processes overlap a good deal, but imitation and mastery of form or skills must come before major creativity.

. . . .

More than a century after Mark Twain declared that “substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources,” Sacks — who had previously written at length about our unconscious borrowings — adds:

All of us, to some extent, borrow from others, from the culture around us. Ideas are in the air, and we may appropriate, often without realizing, the phrases and language of the times. We borrow language itself; we did not invent it. We found it, we grew up into it, though we may use it, interpret it, in very individual ways. What is at issue is not the fact of “borrowing” or “imitating,” of being “derivative,” being “influenced,” but what one does with what is borrowed or imitated or derived; how deeply one assimilates it, takes it into oneself, compounds it with one’s own experiences and thoughts and feelings, places it in relation to oneself, and expresses it in a new way, one’s own.

Link to the rest at Brain Pickings and thanks to Anne for the tip.

Confessions of a Content Creator

31 July 2017

From Medium:

Gut: Hey Brain, want to write something that’ll almost certainly expose us to massive criticism?

Brain: Uhhh, no?


As a content creator, I don’t really care about data.

There. I said it.

Don’t misunderstand: I know I’m supposed to care about data. I’m supposed to end that opening sentence by saying, “but I’m working hard to improve my analytical chops.”

But the truth is, I’m really not.

Instead, I’m working hard to improve my creative chops. It’s what I love. It’s what I was put on this earth to do. I aspire to create things that make you feel stuff and think stuff and want to spend more time with more of that stuff.

Now, I’m no fool. I know I’ll look far better if I claim that I’m data-driven. After all, I’ve worked for online startups and tech companies my entire career. We’re the crowd responsible for the data-first ways currently permeating even the most analytics-agnostic fields.

I know I’m supposed to say I care a ton about data. But, well … I just don’t.

. . . .

Here’s the thing: I’m not alone in feeling this way about data. There are others like me, others who create content for a living — damn good content at that — and we don’t really think about data all that much. We’re walking among you right now, working on your teams, attending your meetings, nodding at our CMOs who shout of MQLs and monthly lead-gen metrics.

We pretend to care. But we don’t really care.

We really care about our craft. We really care about what our intuition is urging us to try. We really care about making things others like — nay, love. And as it just so happens, this is the skill that many businesses are starting to realize they need but can’t often find.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG notes that Content Creator is one of the many jobs that didn’t exist when he was a little squirt.

How Much Internet Data is Generated Every Minute?

27 July 2017

From Domo:

Link to the rest at Domo and here’s a link to a .png file that you can click to enlarge the infographic to a larger size.

PG was impressed by this in that many of the activities shown describe communications that individuals create themselves, at least in part.

On the other hand, 103,447,520 spam emails sent every minute.

Why Coloring and Doodling Make Us Feel Good

20 June 2017

From Mental Floss:

Quit your judging and give in. You know you want a coloring book, and now researchers know why. They published their findings in the journal The Arts in Psychotherapy.

Art therapy experts at Drexel University and The College of New Jersey wondered if there was a neurological basis for the relaxation-inducing powers of coloring, doodling, and drawing.

The best way to find out, they figured, would be to watch people’s brains as they tooled around on the page.

The researchers recruited 26 people, eight of whom self-identified as “artists.” They fitted each person with a special brain-imaging headband and gave them markers and paper. The participants then had three mini art sessions lasting three minutes: one each of doodling, coloring, and drawing whatever they felt like. Between sessions, they left the headbands on and rested their hands. Afterward, the researchers asked participants how they felt about each activity and about themselves.

As human experiments go, this one was pretty sweet for its participants, many of whom said the arts-and-crafts experiment made them feel like they had more good ideas and were better at solving problems afterward. But three minutes was not long enough, some said. They wanted more time.

Their brains seemed similarly into it. All three activities produced an increase in blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, a region that plays a central part in the brain’s reward system. During rest periods, blood flow slowed until it reached normal resting rates.

Link to the rest at Mental Floss and thanks to Valerie for the tip.

PG understands that no one has physical sensations in their brains. However, when he switches from lawyer stuff to either photography or post-processing his photos, he can almost feel one part of his brain winding down and a different part spinning up.

5 types of rest every creative should adopt

28 May 2017

From TNW:

There’s a pervasive idea out there that life and creativity are a zero-sum game. Indulge one, destroy the other. Or, as designer Stefan Sagmeister once wrote in a mural of coins across a plaza in Amsterdam: “Obsessions make my life worse and my work better.” But as anyone who has ever experienced it knows, there comes a point when obsession makes your work worse too. Burnout can be creatively lethal.

. . . .

“I waste a lot of time,” poet John Ashbery wrote. “That’s part of [the creative process]… The problem is you can’t really use this wasted time. You have to have it wasted.” Gertrude Stein agreed: “It takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much, doing nothing, really doing nothing.”

. . . .

Stress is the enemy of creativity. Our best work often comes from a state of nonchalance, when our minds are calm. “Qualities such as focus, calmness, clarity, and insight are as important to your creative process as glamour and stimulation,” wrote Mark McGuinness in a post on the site 99U. But a calm mind doesn’t happen by accident. It’s something you have to practice. How? Meditation. Of all the forms of creative rest, meditation is the most immediately beneficial. And the benefits only increase the more you do it. There are plenty of sites that offer meditation techniques, but the basics are incredibly simple: put yourself in time-out for 10 minutes. Think about your breathing. Let thoughts pass through your mind but don’t acknowledge them. Soon they will stop coming at all, and you will feel your mind clear. Think of it like restarting a computer.

Link to the rest at TNW

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