The Creating Brain, the Learning Brain

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The Creating Brain, the Learning Brain

Andreasen’s The Creating Brain is a book about an extraordinary creativity commonly observed in a genius.  Sharing the episodes of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky, Henri Poincaré, Friedrich Kekulé, and Stephen Spender, the author presents examples of extraordinary creativity in the human history.  Many points that the author are making throughout the book correspond to what we learned in class this semester such as the learning process of the brain, a self-organizing nature of the nervous system and its complexity, the unconscious mind, and creativity. 

In the beginning, the author describes creative people as those who “slip into a state that is apart from reality.” (p.37)  In psychiatric terms, this state of intense concentration and focus is described as a “dissociative state.”  (p.37) According to the author, creativity is not a product of logical process, suggesting the lack of I-function for having creativity.  Along the same vein, in class, we talked about optical circumstances for learning: first, I-function needs to be off, and second, there must be new experience based on output.  It was discussed that the only way of changing the brain or learning is by doing something new, and learning is independent of I-function.  As presented here, there are overlapping conditions for learning and creativity.   After reading the book, I was convinced that the creating brain is indeed the learning brain because they both require I-functions to be off and involve life experiences or change in the brain.  “We literally become what we have seen, heard, smelled, touched, done, read, and remembered.” (p.146)

 

Then, the author claims that the human brain is a self-organizing system.  The definition of a self-organizing system is “a system that is created from components that are in existence and that spontaneously reorganize themselves to create something new, without the influence of any external force or executive plan.”  (p. 62) This is further supported by what we talked about in class.  That is, there is no master box in our nervous system.  It is interaction of the players, in this case—neurons.  For example, when a jazz combo and orchestra are compared, our nervous system is more like a jazz combo where there is no director but spontaneously adjusting the harmony, and it is far from an orchestra where there is a director conducting the whole.  It is observed that a lot of human behavior takes no director such as clapping in a crowd after a concert. 

In the book, she emphasizes how complex our nervous system is.  In class, it was taught that of the 1012 neurons, 99.9999% is interneurons, and the activity of the interneurons is independent of input.  We learned that our senses are indeed in our brain.  For example, social tense can be recognized by the brain as a constructed sense, and what we hear is not just function of ear.  Also, it is observed that  vision is more than light sensitivity because when the eyes closed, there is no perception, indicating that seeing is the experience of object.  Our complex nature of the nervous system makes 2D pictures in the retina to three dimensions.  The complexity of our brain is also further evidenced by blind spot in which our brain fills up with preexisting pattern.  In summary, some part of what we see is a construction of cognitive unconscious. 

                The author differentiates ordinary creativity and extraordinary creativity by claiming that the latter involves unconscious mind.  Andreasen gives an example of our ability to produce language that is novel.  She insists that although our production of such language is novel, this is an example of original creativity because it is a conscious activity. (p.63)  However, the works of Mozart and many other creative people is produced by something else, namely, unconscious processes such as the process of `free association.'  She introduces her experimental result of neuroimaging technology that was used to find out which regions of the brain are active during the process.  The result indicated that it was the association cortex that was active when subjects were going through a free association process. (p.73) Her summary of observation from that result is that this organization’s role of creating new connections produce “the unconscious mind,” or “a disorganized mental state.” (p.73)  From this result, she suggests the connection between creativity and mental illness.  Examples of mental illness of abnormal conditions sometimes involving high level of creativity discussed in class are autism and synthesia.

She suggests the kind of environment that nurtures creativity.  Namely, they are freedom, novelty, and a sense of being at the edge.  This corresponds to the idea presented in lecture this semester:  Learning can be attained through experience.  For example, merely listening to a lecture is not learning.  Indeed, participating can be the real learning because there created a change in the brain by interacting with other classmates and a professor.  It can be deduced that organization of the brain is different at different times of his/her life because our brain is ready to learn all the time. 

To attain extraordinary creativity, the author hints at readers to choose a new and unfamiliar area of knowledge and explore it in depth.  This can be confirmed by my third webpaper that I wrote about two modalities: auditory and visuospatial.  According to a study investigated by a research team led by psychologist Maria Kozhevnikov of George Mason University, experienced practitioners of Deity mediation can augment their visuospatial abilities through meditation that involves focusing on the particular image in detail.  This is an example of learning which creates a change in the brain. 

Because our brain keeps evolving through our personal experiences and change in the brain, it is a learning brain.  The nature of this brain is discussed both in the book and in the lecture such as the unique learning process of the brain, a self-organizing nature of the nervous system and its complexity, the space for the unconscious mind, and creativity.  This book confirms that because of its tendency to evolve, our learning brain can attain extraordinary creativity.

Neuroscience adds a new dimension: it makes us aware that experiences throughout life change the brain throughout life. We are literally remaking our brains – who we are and how we think, with all our actions, reactions, perceptions, postures, and positions – every minute of the day and every day of the week and every month and year of our entire lives” (p. 146).

 

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References:

Andreasen, N. C. (2005). The creating brain: The neuroscience of genius. New York, NY/Washington, DC: Dana Press.

 

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