Searching for the Holy Grail

Myths and Mysticism
(article from online source)

If creativity is so accessible, what’s holding back the flood? When you say to a group of a hundred people, “Please raise your hand if you consider yourself to be creative,” why do only 10 hands go up? Why are corporate leaders, government officials, politicians, crime fighters, teachers, and parents all lacking new ideas? Why are art, music, and literature in the hands of a tiny fraction of the population–while the rest of us are mere spectators?

Two answers suggest themselves, and each is disturbing. First, our creative potential is virtually shut down by early schooling. Teachers are the first to admit this. A kindergarten teacher told me recently, “I can’t believe I get paid to have so much fun every day–before the kids get mined.” Ruined? “Well,” he said, “in the first grade the kids have to work all the time. There’s no more time for fun, because there’s so much they’ve got to learn. They’re not even allowed to daydream any more. It’s a wonder that any of them ever grow up to be artists or inventors. In kindergarten, on the other hand, all the kids are artists and inventors.”

There’s another reason why creativity seems to be in short supply: Myths about creativity are deeply entrenched in our culture. Myths have enormous power to shape everyday behavior, often to people’s detriment. When people believe the world is flat, for example, they’re unlikely to venture out to sea very far, and “lands away” remain undiscovered.

When it comes to creativity, myths keep most people firmly shorebound. Only artists have creativity and creativity is rare, we’re told. Creativity is mysterious and magical and divine, people say It’s in your right brain, the headlines swear.

None of these beliefs is true, not even slightly The brain hemisphere distinction is based largely on clinical studies of about 40 “split-brain” patients–people whose brains were severed surgically in order to treat seizures or other neurological problems. The initial studies of such patients, conducted in the 1960s, seemed to show significant functional differences between the left and right cerebral hemispheres. In the 1980s, however, scientists began to reinterpret the data. The problem is split-brain patients all have abnormal brains to begin with.

As a practical matter, the right-hemisphere myth is nonsense because virtually no one has a split brain. The two halves of our brain are connected by an immense structure called the corpus callosum, and the hemispheres also communicate through the sense organs. Creativity has no precise location in the human brain, and people who promise to reactivate your “neural creativity zones” are just yanking your chain.

Enough about myths. What about science? In the 1970s, in animal studies I began at Harvard with behaviorist B. F. Skinner, I became intrigued,–obsessed is more ac-curate–with the fact that much of the interesting behavior we observed in our subjects had never been trained. We would provide certain training, and then new, often very complex, behavior would emerge. Perhaps more important, I eventually realized that the new behavior wasn’t random but that it was related in orderly ways to the behavior that had been trained.

Over the years, students, colleagues became increasingly adept at providing certain minimal training that would inexorably lead to the generation of a specific, complex, new performance–one that could be called “creative.” What ultimately was concluded is that previously established behavior manifests itself in new situations in new yet orderly ways. Novel behavior is truly new, but the particular novel behavior that emerges in a new situation depends on the particular behaviors that were established previously–that is, on prior knowledge. Creativity, in short, is not something mystical; it’s an extension of what you already know. To be more specific, new behaviors (or “ideas”) emerge as old behaviors interact, and the process by which behaviors interact is orderly.

Say you start to turn a door knob that has always turned easily It won’t budge. At first, you start to turn the knob harder; then perhaps you pull up on the knob or push it down. Then maybe you wiggle it. Eventually, you shove the door with your shoulder or kick it with your foot. What you do will depend on your history with doors. Eventually, you’ll shout for help–maybe even call out for “mommy,” even if your mother is no longer among the living.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s