Saturday, May 5, 2012

a walk, a warm shower, and alpha waves

“Creativity is the residue of time wasted.”--Albert Einstein

What an interesting program today on Book TV with author Jonah Lehrer discussing his new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works. He takes a look at the science behind creative thinking and shows how it can be applied to solve problems.

Lehrer explains that the first stage of the insight experience is the stage of impasse--the frustration of hitting the wall. It turns out that flashes of brilliance all share a few essential features that scientists use to define what is called the “insight experience.” 

According to Lehrer, “When we tell one another the stories about creativity, we tend to leave out this phase of the creative process.” This feeling of impasse or boredom is an essential part of the creative process. When we reach the point of giving up, or let go of our preoccupation with the problem and allow our minds to wander or be bored, solutions are more likely to show up. The creative spark that we search for so diligently, often doesn’t show up until we let go. 

The second stage, the part where the idea hits, is too often recognized as the important moment. However, without the impasse or boredom moment, the flash of brilliance will remain in hiding. Like the proverbial watched pot, our brains hit the boiling point when we don’t try to force it. 

What actually happens in the brain just before the moment of insight? Scientists report that, right before a great idea hits, the brain is washed by alpha waves emanating from its right hemisphere. The exact function of the alpha waves is unknown, but we do know how to bring them on. 

Distractions to one’s focus, or relaxing activities like a walk, a warm shower, even a simple board game, will get the alpha waves pumping. It seems that when our minds are at ease — when the alpha waves are saturating our brain — we are more likely to direct our attention inward toward the stream of connections we retain in the right hemisphere. When we are diligently focused, our attention is outward toward the details of the problem we are trying to solve.

"It’s not until we’re being massaged by warm water, unable to check our email, that we’re finally able to hear the quiet voices in the backs of our heads telling us about the insight. The answers have been there all along — we just weren’t listening,” Lehrer says. 

As parents and teachers, we can help our children ignite these moments of insight for themselves by giving them space to be children and not rush them into adulthood; by not scheduling every moment of their lives; by giving them time for free play; and, perhaps most importantly, by allowing ourselves some time for flashes of brilliance. As Einstein said, “Creativity is the residue of time wasted.” We have to get a little bit better at wasting time. 

Lehrer suggests the Compound Remote Associate Problem activity to test one's ability to see relationships between seemingly mutually remote ideas, which is an important part of the creative thinking process, involving fluency, flexibility, and originality.

How about you? Want to test your creative thinking? 

Try this Compound Remote Associate Problem activity...

Think of a common word that is associated with all three words of the triad by formation of a compound word or phrase  (e.g., age / mile / sand form the compounds stoneage, milestone, and sandstone with the solution word stone).

For each set below, find the common word that is associated with all three words given:

1. Broken, Clear, Eye

2. Playing, Credit, Report

3. Barrel, Root, Belly

4. Rock, Times, Steel

5. Sore, Shoulder, Sweat

6. Pine, Crab, Sauce

The solution words are below...

Solution words: 1. Glass 2. Card 3. Beer 4. Hard 5. Cold 6. Apple

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