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Learn the key ideas of the book by Elkhonon Goldberg


The creative process through the perspective of neuroscience

Creativity is a subject that has fascinated people for centuries, and we are still not entirely sure how it works. However, much progress has been made, such as the fact that we no longer believe that the creative process only takes place in the right hemisphere of our brain. In Creativity: The Human Brain in the Age of Innovation, Elkhonon Goldberg explains what creativity is, and helps us understand that it is not an inflexible, well-defined phenomenon but that it is actually the product of complex interactions between neurobiology, culture and society.

Read in 15 min.
Listen in 19 min.

Creativity is a complex trait whose components are cognitive, metacognitive and social

Innovation and creativity are not necessarily easy to define because they are multifaceted concepts made up of cognitive, biological, cultural, and social elements, all intertwined. When it comes to the creative process, there are several parts that work together; some of them we already know about, and others are not so clearly identified. Each of these parts involves its own neural networks, and some can even clash with each other, like crossed wires.

A fascination with innovation (a sort of internal setting for continuous improvement) is a fundamental prerequisite when it comes to creativity, because if a person is already satisfied with something, or with their level of acquired knowledge, they will not seek to discover something else.

Salience is the ability to identify the key issues in any context and to ask the pertinent questions. Creativity requires more than intelligence; it also implies relevance. If Albert Einstein had concentrated his keen imagination exclusively on seeking perfection in the creation of, say, gardens, he would certainly have been remembered by all the landscapers of the world, but he would not have become one of the brightest minds in human history.

Our ability to connect already acquired knowledge to new problems allows us to recognise familiar patterns in topics that at first seem completely new. As Isaac Newton said, "if I have seen far it is because I stood on the shoulders of giants". Many scientific and artistic innovations are nothing more than evolved and modified forms of known concepts. Many people may be surprised to know that Pablo Picasso, the founder of Cubism, started his career as an accomplished realism artist.

Generativity is the ability to put old elements into new configurations, and, along with mental flexibility, it is a fundamental prerequisite for the creative process in both scientific and artistic fields. Generally, it is very unlikely that the first approach to solving a problem is the right one, so the ability of any scientist also lies in trying different approaches. In the same way, if an artist practises several forms of art – such as painting, sculpture, ceramics, and so on - the intermingling of these different forms of art will greatly enrich their work.

Impulse and determination are the two elements which allow you to call on every necessary resource to deal with a given problem or dedicate yourself to a particular task for a long time. Many scientific discoveries or artistic creations are the product of years of hard work. Without dedication and resilience, this would not be possible.

The mind's ability to wander is at the root of that mysterious process by which it is possible for the solution to a problem or an artistic insight to suddenly appear as if it came out of nowhere. This describes Archimedes' famous "Eureka" moment.

Mental focus, on the other hand, is the ability to stay focused and follow a logical flow of thought.

An iconoclastic frame of mind allows you to go beyond the status quo and remain true to your intent even when faced with opposition and disapproval from others. This mindset was successfully demonstrated by Vincent van Gogh, whose works were panned by the critics of his time.

Affinity is interest in the central themes of the society and culture in which a person lives. It is the opposite of iconoclasm, and is important to ensure that the work of the creative individual can be accepted, and remembered by other people. For example, if differential equations had been invented by someone during the Palaeolithic period, they would have been lost over the course of time, because everyone would have ignored them as not being relevant at the time.

A certain amount of social grace, which is the ability to interact with a certain degree of politeness and adaptability, allows an individual to access the resources necessary for his creative process. This concept also includes the ability to read other people’s minds in order to forge more intimate bonds.

Finally, a favourable cultural environment also plays a fundamental role in the creative process.


The key ideas of "Creativity"

Creativity is a complex trait whose components are cognitive, metacognitive and social
Creativity does not reside in one specific part of the brain
The crux of our creative expression depends on how we process the body of our life’s experiences
Novelty routinisation theory is the new starting point in helping us understand creativity
The concept of bistability is key to understanding how the brain approaches novelty and comes up with creative solutions
Understanding how the human brain relates to novelty is of the utmost importance
The digital revolution will alter the way in which the human brain works
Take-home message
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