Tuesday, 18 May 2010

'Slow thinking may nurture creativity'

From a complexity perspective, it might be expected that large numbers of interactions between multiple components would create the conditions for the emergence of novel forms. As I've discussed in previous posts, Maisel's immersion - the doing, doing, doing of creative working - seems to be aiming to do this. I've been wrestling for some time with the contrast between this idea and the letting go, doing nothing, getting out of the way approach, which in the end seems to be the thing that shifts things, moves them along.

Perhaps I'm being graeco-roman logical here, looking for one or the other of my simplistic little binary to come out on top. It's far more likely to be an intertwining of the two - attention, immersion, working, pushing materials or words together endlessly, and walking away, letting go, catching the things that are released in meditation, when you're looking the other way.

There's a big intellectual trend for 'connectivity' these days. We like network metaphors, ways of thinking that banish boundaries, ideas of blurring, multiplicity. Isn't social networking a cool phenomenon, we say; lets get with it, get tweeting our students, shifting our sorry antiquated asses onto facebook, marvel at what's emerging. Then we start trying to make connectivity happen; setting up social networking sites for a particular purpose, trying to create conditions that we hope will result in the same exciting unfettered happenings we see spontaneously occurring all around us. And then nothing happens. Mmmm.

Even when it is naturally occurring, massive connectivity isn't necessarily always a good thing. An analysis by complexity theorists of the global financial crisis in 2008 (New Scientist, 25.10.08) suggested that over-connectivity could be the cause of the collapse of such large systems. This is partly because there's no longer sufficient diversity within the overall system to allow for differentiated responses, required in different parts of the system so that these parts can respond to varying local conditions. The analysts suggest the need to insert 'firebreaks' to cut back the connectivity, making the system less uniform.

A more recent article entitled 'Slow thinking may nurture creativity' (New Scientist, 27.3.10) also suggests limits to connectivity, this time in the human brain. Apparently a number of studies in the past have suggested that  'high integrity white matter' is associated with higher mental function and intelligence. A recent study, however, suggests that lower white matter integrity, which involves slower communication between some areas, 'might allow for the linkage of more disparate ideas, more novelty, and more creativity'. This is reported as a surprise, as 'speedy information transfer' is normally seen to be a good thing, in terms of mental function. The researchers suggest that writing novels or creating art may not be things that require 'sheer mental speed'.....

One of the problems with this view, however, is that it could be interpreted as suggesting that the potential for creativity is hardwired into the brain (ie. you got low integrity, I got high...you're superior, I'm a creative dunce), as with the traditional view of intelligence and IQ.  All the research results which point to  neuroplasticity (ie. the brain's capacity to change and mould and reshape itself throughout life) would go against this idea. What interested me was the idea that slow connections might be better in terms of creating conditions for the emergence of creativity.

1 comment:

  1. When we're being all speedy and multitasky the excitement alone blinds us to anything subtle or fragile in the air.

    People will watch video that cuts every nineteen frames for hours without requiring coherence but always hoping for it.

    One of the more interesting things I've come across in recent years is the Long Now Foundation. We can reframe our perspectives on realizing that now is as long as we make it, and putting that with a Big Here, where I can relate to my global peers. Long Now, Big Here. Sufis talk of a ten thousand year plan that helps put one's specialness and value into a humbler pie.



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