It still and always will amaze me that when you ask a question the answer turns up, seemingly out of the blue.
BBC TV’s Horizon contained the answer this time in a program called The Creative Brain: How insights come about. Written and directed by Kate Dart (thank you Kate).
Just what is going on in the brain during a Eureka, light bulb moment? The point when an assumption is dispelled and suddenly we see the world differently giving a new way forward.
Given that creative innovation is essential for the advancement of humanity it would be helpful to understand the brain activity of creativity. We can then encourage more of this type of brain activity and enjoy more creativity and more humanity. (Or use it to make another atom bomb type thing if we are really smart right?).
As the state of inspiration is fleeting and elusive it is hard to study. But now neuroscientists and psychologists have the technology to capture and explain this magic and what goes on in the brain at the moment of creativity and transformation.
By studying human beings whilst performing a series of puzzles and brain teasers that require insight to solve they have discovered that at the moment of insight, the creative spark, there is a blast of gamma rays in the right temporal lobe, just by your ear.
While the moment feels instantaneous it is anything but. Before the gamma rays there is a burst of alpha rays in the back of the brain, the area responsible for visual processing. This shuts down part of the visual processing and it is this brain blink which gives a faint idea the window of opportunity to bubble up from the unconscious to conscious awareness.
The brain blink demonstrates that you are more likely to have insights by cutting out distraction from the outside world and going within. (Don’t you just love how science goes to all that effort to confirm what you already know by common sense).
Creative v Intellectual Brain
They have discovered a clear difference in the brain workings of intellectual and creative people. The intellectual brain takes the shortest, quickest neural pathway. The creative brain is not about speed and efficiency. It is about slow meanderings taking the less travelled neural pathways to make new connections. We are varying degrees of both of these.
Sometimes I fall prey to that demand to be instantly creative, pull creative innovation out of my ‘pocket’ right there and then. Sometimes you can and most often it comes later. This awareness gives me even more permission to meander, slow down when creativity is the order of the day.
New experiences boost your creativity
Wow. Radical. Really? Doing the same thing differently or throwing yourself in to new experiences disrupts functional fixedness in the brain. Disrupting routine, changing the way you do something changes the brain as it makes new associations. And this can increase your creativity by up to 15 per cent.
Getting new ideas when we least expect them
They have found that taking a break from a challenge and doing an easy task is far more effective than taking a break and doing nothing and taking a break and doing something very taxing. Letting the mind wander sees the frontal lobe above the eyes go in to sleep mode. And here ideas can move more freely in to consciousness. Which is why going for a walk, a long-run, meditation and taking a bath are great for creativity.
So shhhh now, my frontal lobes are sleeping.