The Neuroscience of Approaching Your Creativity

IMG_0069I’ve been reading an interesting book titled Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps of Maximize Imagination, Productivity and Innovation in Your Life by Shelley Carson, a teacher and researcher in psychology and creativity at Harvard University. Drawing on the latest findings in neuroscience she weaves an understanding of how the brain works when it is engaged in the creative process. I was particularly interested in her explanation of the two pathways to creativity: deliberate and spontaneous.

In the deliberate pathway, you deliberately and consciously move step by step towards a creative solution. Your conscious mind controls the process. She used the example of Bach, who in the creation of his Brandenburg Concertos used “mathematical constructs, purposeful inversions of basic themes and counterpoint that were carefully thought out and arranged”. She compared him to Mozart who used the spontaneous pathway where the conscious mind gives up control allowing ideas and insights that would normally be blocked from awareness to come to the surface. She quotes Mozart as saying about the flow of the ideas “when and how they come, I know not; nor can I force them.”

Essentially it appears that different parts of the brain are engaged for each pathway. With the deliberate pathway as you approach a creative insight there is an awareness of getting closer and closer to the solution though there is still a sense of engaging the mystery. With the spontaneous pathway creative solutions are derived from information being processed below the level of conscious awareness and eventually pop into our minds as a flash of insight or an aha moment, the idea or solution arises fully formed.

This all made me ponder my own creative style. As a writer I definitely favor the spontaneous pathway for the first draft where I allow whatever is stewing in the subconscious to burst on to the page often having little conscious awareness of exactly what I have written. But as I read the description of the deliberate pathway I realized that fits with the process of revision, where I am piecing together an essay or growing a poem with more conscious awareness feeling that sense of getting closer or warmer that Carson uses to describe the deliberate pathway. Although even with revision I find that spontaneous revelation of how best to do something often pops in along the way.

The book also describes other ways our brains work with creativity and Carson suggests that while most of us are stronger in certain ways we can actively strengthen our capacities in all the aspects thus expanding our creative potential. I love that science is affirming what I have long sensed intuitively that creativity is a process and it can be learned.

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