What influences ultimately led to the evolution of creativity?
How do functions of imagination, visualization, and invention operate at the neurological level of the brain?
What causes an established pattern of human behavior to be altered?
Is free association ‘hard-wired’ in the brain?
How does the brain transfer an idea from one domain to another?
What is human perspective?
How does the brain shift from a general to a specific concept or idea?
Is an idea or concept creative if it already exists, even though it may be unknown to the creator?
How do we generalize information?
Can one learn to be imaginative?
Creativity requires the use of imagination. In order to become creative, one must activate the imagination.
The act of creation occurs when an idea or image is transferred from one context to another, resulting in a new meaning, idea, thing, or category of things.
Imagination is the process of forming new images in the brain. The brain is able to both combine and deconstruct familiar images in unfamiliar ways. Simply put, the brain reorganizes existing images as new images.
Imagination requires the ability to visualize something which is not part of our ordinary experience.
Visualization is the act of retrieving a familiar image in the brain which is stored in the form of a visual memory.
A person who has an active imagination will possess the ability to leap from the visible to the invisible, from the corporeal to the abstract, and back again, extending their vision in different directions. Perhaps this leap is due to chemical changes in the synapses of the brain. Or possibly, there are dendritic connections which are created for each new image or concept stored in the brain.
Persons with little imagination tend to visualize things concretely, in the literal here and now. When experiences are repeated or re-experienced in nearly the same way, it can create limited patterns of thinking, and can result in a narrowly defined approach to problem solving.
In contrast, frequent exercising of the imagination and visualization lead to various forms of creativity and invention.
(1st time: read only non-italicized statements; then repeat Part 2, reading only italicized statements)
Theorizing, prediction, and anticipation employ the imagination to reorganize unpredictable patterns and events. Theorizing, prediction, and anticipation are functions which help to organize patterns and events in the brain.
Thoughts and experiences tend to be represented as visual images. This seems to be true for all sensory experience, including sound, smell, taste and touch. Thoughts and experiences tend to be stored and processed as visual images, or in association with visual images.
Creative brains with active imaginations are able to form wide and deep connections, as well as various analogies and metaphors. By representing information through the use of analogy and metaphor, the brain is able to compress and simplify a complex situation or circumstance. Creative brains are able to form wide and deep connections. Representing information through analogy and metaphor is the brain’s way of simplifying events.
Creativity is a form of production which is stimulated by the necessity for change.
Invention and discovery are subsets of creativity which have evolved as a means of solving discrete problems. Invention tends to advance the development of a specific goal or task, such as the creation of a new tool, method, or device. While discovery suggests a broader exploration in which larger ideas, concepts, or categories are originated or defined.
Our ability to shift information in our minds, rearranging data in different ways, requires the brain to maneuver through different imaginary landscapes. And this is supported by the combined functions of reasoning, imagination, and perhaps elements of instinct and empathy.
Instinct is the brain’s ability to react to hopes and fears without the full cooperation of the conscious mind. Instinct is strictly involuntary, which permits the brain to engage in rapid and free association of ideas and images. Instinct differs from a reflex. A reflex originates at a muscle sight, while an instinct is processed strictly within the brain.
Empathy is the brain imagining personal thoughts and feelings which are outside of one’s immediate experience. Empathy requires an intellectual or emotional understanding or awareness of someone else’s experience. Sympathy is a form of empathy, which produces an emotional resonance with, or response to, someone’s grief. Empathy and sympathy evolved as higher functions of social interaction and bonding. As a consequence, they contribute to the brain’s ability to transfer an idea or image from one context to another.
Although instinct and empathy probably aid in the process of creativity, the creative impulse is triggered primarily by an immediate need for change or invention.
Humans are largely audio-visual. While some animals employ the sense of smell or touch almost exclusively for their survival, the human brain relies primarily on information gathered from its senses of vision and hearing.
The creative impulse evolved from the necessity to adapt to changing conditions. The ability to solve a particular problem, pursue an idea, or invent a useful tool carried with it certain survival advantages.
As the brain evolved, the use of analogy and metaphor was employed as a quick and simple means of storing and processing complex information.
Instinct and empathy allowed for rapid associations at the higher orders of thinking, and for the extension of ideas across different boundaries.
There are discrete processes in the brain which reactivate stored patterns of information, then transfer the information, nearly simultaneously, to associated areas of the brain for more detailed mapping. When we
re-experience a familiar image, sound, or smell, while in thought, or in a dream state, the brain triggers a sequence of actions along a previously traveled neural pathway within the region or regions of the brain associated with that experience. The sound of some one’s voice may ring in your mind’s ear for days, months, or even years after the event. The brain is easily able to recreate meaningful events, after the fact.
When the brain creates or edits an internal experience, it does so by combining basic elements of an image, sound, or smell which has been stored as a previous experience. The elements of vision, sound, smell, taste, and other sensory data are stored in discrete units in the brain. Given the amount of sensory information which the brain must have stored since birth, the possibility for constructive editing and creative analysis is enormous.
Humans are capable of altering established patterns of behavior when the brain experiences a strong enough motive to do so, such as giving up tobacco or liquor. Or more typically, when a different model of behavior is perceived as more advantageous than the current model, for example, when certain actions are rewarded or punished, while others are not.
But how do we define motivation, and how exactly does the process of altered behavior occur in the brain. Basic human motivation is driven by desire and fear, and often acts as a catalyst for change. Neurotransmitters are released in the brain in response to an extreme emotion or situation. In time, a whole new set of ideas is substituted for the current one. Ideas which are associated with or connected to old patterns of behavior are arranged in a new order, thus allowing the brain to more easily convert to the new behavior without having to construct a new model from scratch. As a footnote, while motivation or intent only applies to organisms, these complex and elusive brain processes may one day be understood well enough to be simulated by a machine.
Free association is related to instinct, and is therefore free of intention. Since instinct is a quick response function, it requires a set of conditions to which the brain is immediately able to react. When sensory information enters the brain, such as light or sound, the brain looks for a threshold, or cutoff range, in which to act on the stimuli. Instead of comparing the input against stored samples of related data, as it does in higher-level decisions, the brain simply checks if the threshold has been broken or the range exceeded, then immediately sends a message to other parts of the brain or body to respond to that situation. The brain receives the input, and if the threshold level is exceeded, activates a response.
Since it appears that free association depends on, or is related to the functions of instinct for its quick, involuntary response, it is probably genetically predetermined or ‘hard-wired’ in the brain from birth.
In order to transfer an idea from one context to another, the brain searches the data base of stored experience for similarities and differences. The brain attempts to match the specific elements of an idea against the elements in the data base. When there are enough elements which are the same, probably a critical number, the brain is able to successfully shift the old information to the new idea or context. Of course different brains under different conditions will require different amounts of information to complete the shift.
Normally, the human brain is able to transfer an idea or image from one context to another with comparative ease. For example, most people can visualize an overturned cardboard box as a basic structure for a playhouse, or a bicycle wheel turned on its side as a small mechanical gear inside a watch. In both cases, the house and the watch share enough things in common with the box and the wheel for the brain to make an easy comparison.
In a more complex example, consider a conversation between an artist and a biologist. As the artist is describing a problem associated with painting a picture, the biologist is thinking about a completely different problem involving the molecular structure of cells. Certain visual information about depth and perspective is discussed which relates in a significant way to interactions in the structure of the cell, which ultimately leads the biologist to a solution of the molecular biology problem.And it could just as easily happen the other way around. The artist might resolve a conceptual dilemma while listening to the biologist describe a problem relating to the structure of cells.
The brain’s ability to use the information about art to solve a problem about cell structure suggests that the brain is able to search and match different data bases associated with different parts of the brain. It also means that there are enough connecting threads of information representing painting and molecular biology which are shared outside of the brain. The fact that there are enough shared characteristics between different events outside the brain, as well as neural connections which can represent these events, allows us to match information quickly and efficiently. Together, this suggests how the whole problem solving process, and even learning, could have evolved.
Human perspective describes a pattern of observation which requires the brain to perceive different events in relation to one another, and in relation to associated events. This means that a person is able to generalize about a particular subject, as well as analyze its details. The brain must be able to form a large conceptual map, providing the key points of interest, while filling in just enough of the details to provide a deep understanding of the subject. Because it is sometimes in our best interest to apprehend a larger perspective at a moment’s notice, this probably means accessing only a few key informational elements, while being able to arrange them in as many different varieties and forms as possible.
It also means that different parts of the brain are able to share and exchange information rapidly.
Consider that when taking a walk outdoors, we are capable of observing our surroundings both as a whole, and as a plurality of connected details. As we walk along a path, we experience our surroundings in a panoramic view, while alternately observing our near surroundings.
The fact that we can easily shift back and forth from a general to a detailed set of conditions suggests that the brain may contain a central data base of
information which is also replicated in specialized, local data bases associated with primary information centers, such as the visual, auditory, linguistic, logical, spatial, or kinesthetic regions of the brain.
Much like a library system containing a main library with local branches, a central data base could be accessed at any time, at a limited retrieval speed, while specialized information branches would serve local needs within certain regions or related regions, when faster speeds and more specialization were necessary.
The fact that the brain can shift back and forth between general and special characteristics with ease and flexibility suggests that it has access to an internetwork of both central and regional information. And when applied to a variety of concepts and ideas, this neural internet would allow the brain to make greater connections, and enhance creativity.
Although most brains appear to perform the shift from general to detailed information adequately, it seems that some brains have an easier time processing the details of an experience, while others seem more comfortable generalizing their experiences.
When an individual expresses a new idea, it is an act of creativity. Even if the same idea or invention may already exist within the culture, in a library, museum, or patent office, it is nevertheless an expression of the creative process at the individual level.
When a person modifies an existing idea, changing and furthering its development, the brain relies more on what it already knows. The brain organizes familiar patterns of information into different forms or structures.
Imitating or copying an idea takes advantage of borrowed patterns of information which the brain can then replicate at any time, in similar or different ways. From birth, imitation or copying is one of the initial ways that humans learn from one another, and from their surroundings.
Whatever the task, whether it is learning to form social bonds, ride a bicycle, or make art, in a healthy learning environment early stages of imitation and borrowing will ultimately lead to individual learning patterns and styles.
Generalizing is the brain’s ability to apply fundamental patterns of information to different situations. For example, the principle rule for multiplying a number by two gives the product of the original two numbers. And this is the same not only for the number you are multiplying, but for any number multiplied by two. When the brain recognizes that the pattern or rule can be applied to any two numbers, it has generalized the principle, and stores the rule. This has tremendous survival advantages because the brain can acquire a variety of useful information that applies to different situations without having to learn the rule each time.
It is easily observed that different brains generalize in different ways and in different degrees of complexity, depending on the brain, and the circumstance.
Since creativity and imagination depend on transferring information from one context to another, it follows that practice in observing similarities and differences among apparently unrelated categories of information can increase levels of imagination and creativity. And that continuous accumulation of these skills will only support and strengthen the creative process.