Understanding Imagination: The Science of Creativity
Although the word „creativity” was first applied only in the 17th century, finding the secret and concept behind the creative process and innovative way of thinking has been boggling the minds of people and scientists for centuries.
No wonder – creativity is such a marvelous thing – it doesn’t just let new things and ideas be born out of nowhere and help our world develop, but also makes life more exciting, playful, and fun. And oh, just think about all those hot musicians – creativity even makes people more attractive.
Neuroscience for Beginners
Let’s delve a bit deeper into the science of creativity and see what exactly happens inside our brains during the creative process.
Most are familiar with the fact that our left brain hemisphere is responsible for logical and analytical thinking, whereas the right brain hemisphere is the artistic and creative side. However, what most people don’t know is that creativity isn’t just the resolution of the performance of one single part of the brain, but involves the interaction of many neural networks, especially three major ones. These are – according to Scott Barry Kaufman, Director of the Imagination Institute at the University of Pennsylvania – explained below.
Executive Attention Network
This network is recruited when you are focused on solving complex problems and your attention needs to be concentrated. The executive attention network integrates large amounts of information in your head at one time, stores them in your memory, and maintains strategies. It also inhibits evident reactions, which to creativity is imperative to access remote associations.
“The imagination network is responsible for daydreaming, thinking about the future, setting goals, and imagining different outlooks to the present”
Default Mode Network or Imagination Network
This neural network isn’t called “imagination network” for nothing – It becomes the most active when we are focusing our attention inward. This brain network is responsible for daydreaming, thinking about the future, setting goals, and imagining different outlooks to the present. This network is also active when we try to understand someone else’s point of view and we are putting ourselves in their position.
In the science of creativity, this brain network is more underrated than the others. The salience network constantly monitors our environment and subconsciously pre-tags things as interesting or not interesting, and either pass them to our executive attention network, or to the imagination network to execute.
Albert Einstein portrayed by AI artist Deep Dream
“Creativity is Intelligence Having Fun” – Albert Einstein
Okay, now that we are done studying the cerebration serious side of the science of creativity, it’s time for some unexpected fun facts that scientists are only just beginning to understand.
Did you know for example, that people who are capable of lucid dreaming also have more adept innovative problem-solving skills? Lucid dreamers are more likely to take control in dream situations and find the best solution to the imagination riddle.
It’s also widely accepted that happy, balanced individuals are more creative than those who are under constant pressure, stressed or nervous. Without deadlines, we would probably never finish our tasks, but strict time limits are simply creativity killers. Those who are nervous and stressed, tend toward the simple and plausible solutions. However, if we are happy, our attention is that much more receptive to unknown areas.
The person writing this article is indeed very relieved by the fact that sarcasm boosts creativity too. Apparently, for the sake of understanding sarcasm, we have to discern thoughts that are contradictory, and this forces our brain to abstract thinking.
Good news for messy people as well: you are also supposed to be more imaginative. According to a study led by Dr. Kathleen Vohs at the University of Minnesota, “Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights”. If this is not enough proof, then here you go – Albert Einstein was famously messy! That’s comforting, right?
Fans of moderate drinking, this is your turn to cheer – one glass of wine or beer will also help you to unleash your creative inner genius. Alcohol releases your brain from a lot of – in the moment – unneeded thoughts and taps into the unconscious mind to find all the hidden alternative thoughts which your conscious mind might never discover.
In case you don’t possess any of the above-mentioned characteristics, you shouldn’t worry either, as creativity can deliberately be improved with a few techniques:
- Write down your ideas the moment they randomly come into your mind
- Challenge your brain with thinking about tasks that seem to be unsolvable
- Go to “escape rooms” with your friends
- Read about stuff you are not familiar with or watch TED Talks videos
- Leave your comfort zone; join interesting themed events you otherwise wouldn’t have gone to and talk to people who you otherwise wouldn’t have met
And one of the best tips I can give you after narrowly studying the science of creativity: let your inner child out, as Ursula K. Le Guin said, “The creative adult is the child who survived”.