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THE RIGHT-BRAIN THINKING

Deciphering the Creative Process

photo by author

My sudden disappearance into the ‘forest of solitude’, as I’d like to call it, would perplex many. Not that I wasn’t paying attention. Perhaps, I was paying more attention — something that used to magnify each word/number/experience laid out there in front of me. Dad would try hard to help me memorise the multiplication table of ‘Fourteen (14)’. ‘Pahada’(पहाड़ा) is the Hindi equivalent of ‘multiplication table’. How do you explain to your poor parent that there’s more to ‘fourteen ninezzzzzaaa 126’ that’s playing in your head? How do you explain to him that you want to know what kind of a word ‘ninezzzzzaaa’ is? And also that you are more interested in climbing ‘pahad’ (पहाड़) i.e. the mountain of numbers, quite literally than engaging in that monotonous repetition of mundane numbers?

Well, as it turned out, I was quite amazed to find out a couple of years later that there’s no word like ‘ninezzzzzaaa’ as such, and ‘fourteen nines are 126’!

The inside of your mind can sometimes be more beautiful than the drab surroundings you are trying to merge with. The whirlpool of thoughts can turn out to be more productive once the churning is complete. However, it’s an enigmatic journey, hard to put into words and difficult to articulate in front of a world that professes scientific temperament and distrusts any findings that are not made with double-blind experiments.

The studies on the so called ‘Creative Process’ have been extensive. In a bid to simplify the depth, meticulousness and an all-encompassing view of the ‘creative minds’, several theories have been put forth.

  • Structure of Intellect (SI) theory, 1955 — Proposed by J.P. Guilford, SI theory comprises upto 5*6*6 = 180 different intellectual abilities organised along three dimensions: operations, content, and product. It was applied by Mary N. Meeker in 1977 for educational purposes.
  • Marland Report of 1971 — Giftedness was categorised as superior cognitive ability, specific academic ability, creative thinking, visual and performing arts ability, and psychomotor ability.
  • The Piirto Pyramid of Talent Development, 1994 — It is a model which takes into account genetics, personality, IQ, talent, and environmental influences that are essential in developing talent. It is a contextual framework that considers the 4 P’s of creativity — person, process, and product, and press, or environmental factors.

While the concept of two sides of human brain — one for creativity and one for plodding intellect — continues to dominate, we have come to the realisation that the whole brain is needed for creative production.

Historically, the creative process has been tied with the desire for spiritual unity, and for personal expression. The whole process can be viewed in the context of a person’s life and the historical milieu.

Despite all the attempts to scientifically get hold of the things that drive the creative process, some questions continue to linger on. Many people have more than one talent and wonder what to do with their talents. What is the impetus, what is the reason, for one talent taking over and capturing the passion and commitment of the person who has the talent?

The image of the thorn as a metaphor has been used for the motivation to develop one’s inborn talent. The creative person recognizes that the thorn is pricking and the call must be answered. The creative process is something that is, at base, more a transformational journey than a cognitive one.

Through most of the creative people, if not all, runs a large part of the following themes –

  • Certain core attitudes toward creativity.
  • The experience of Seven I’s (Inspiration, Insight, Intuition, Incubation, Improvisation, Imagery, Imagination).
  • They have a need for solitude and for rituals, have formally studied their domains, like meditative practices, are part of a community of people working in the same domain, and their creativity is part of a lifestyle, a lifelong process.

Five Core Attitudes

  • Core Attitude of Naiveté — Naiveté means “openness.” It refers to the fact that creative people pay attention to the small things and are able to view their fields and domains by seeing the old as if it were new. Naiveté is an attitude of acceptance and curiosity about the odd and strange. Composer Igor Stravinsky (1990) called it “the gift of observation.”
  • Core Attitude of Self-Discipline — All artists — indeed all great careerists — submit themselves, as well as their friends, to lifelong, relentless discipline, largely self-imposed and never for any reason relinquished. Expertise research says that one cannot contribute anything new to a domain unless one has been working in the domain for at least ten years.
  • Core Attitude of Risk-Taking — Professional risk-taking in creators may be manifested in trying new forms, styles, or subjects. It’s called ‘creative courage’, which is finding the new, providing the vanguard’s warning of what is about to happen in the culture and showing in image and symbol, through their imaginations, what is possible. The creative artists and scientists threaten what is. That is why, in repressive societies, courage is required in the presence of censure and rejection.

In the case of Nikola Tesla, the inventor of alternating current — he fought and won, fought and lost, trusted and was betrayed, and still remained steadfast to his principle that alternating current would eventually be preferred over direct current.

  • Core Attitude of Tolerance for Ambiguity — Creators use a Janusian process in creating, which refers to the two-faced god Janus, who was able to face in opposite directions. Tolerance for ambiguity is necessary to not focus on one solution too soon.

Albert Einstein was described by biographer Isaacson thus: “He retained the ability to hold two thoughts in his mind simultaneously, to be puzzled when they conflicted, and to marvel when he could smell an underlying unity”.

  • Core Attitude of Group Trust — In collaborative creativity, which is usually encouraged in business and manufacturing, theater, dance, athletics, and music, the members of the group who is creating have to trust each other. Leaders make sure that the people in the group feel comfortable taking risks, are open and naïve, have acceptance for differing views and for incomplete answers, and do the work with regularity and discipline.

The Seven I’s

  • Inspiration — Literally, inspiration is a taking in of breath. Inspiration is a breathing or infusion into the mind or soul of an exaltation.

Muse originally meant “reminder.” Being inspired by regard for another — by the gaze of desire — has been called the visitation of the muse. The desire inspires longing and the longing leads to the creative work. Creators have often spoken about what they wrote was sent from something within yet afar. Inspirations “come” — thus, “visitation” of the Muse.

Amidst the industrial revolution, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelly, Byron, Emerson, Dickinson, and Thoreau sought to return to simpler times when nature was preeminent, and not the conquering of nature. This is an example of ‘The inspiration of nature’.

The altered mental state brought about by substances has been thought to enhance creativity — to a certain extent. The partaker must have enough wits about self to descend into the abyss to reap what is learned there, but to also be able to return and put it aside. The influence of opium on Samuel Taylor Coleridge; amphetamines on Jack Kerouac; absinthe on Edgar Allen Poe were duly noted through their own writings. Although a difficult and often illegal way to illustrate inspiration, the presence of substances in the creative process cannot be overlooked.

In physics, the Manhattan Project put scientists Neils Bohr, Joseph Carter, Enrico Fermi, Richard Feynman, Hans Bethe, and J. Robert Oppenheimer, among others, together in a remote location in New Mexico, where they inspired each other to perfect the atomic bomb that was later dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is a perfect illustration of ‘Inspiration by Others’ Creativity’.

The mathematical genius Ramanujan had said that his genius came in dreams from a goddess named Namagiri. Einstein is said to have received an image for field theory from his dreams. Freud believed that dreams are wish fulfilment and Jung asserted that dreams capture the collective unconscious. Thus, Freudian psychology attempts to explain ‘Inspiration from dreams’.

  • Imagery — The term ‘imagery’ is the ability to mentally represent imagined or previously perceived objects accurately and vividly. Imagery can be visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and gustatory.
  • Imagination — In the creative process, it refers to a mental faculty whereby one can create concepts or representations of objects not immediately present or seen. Composers imagine works in their “mind’s ear,” and mechanics imagine problems in their physical, spatial, array.

Tesla wrote in a 1919 essay about his inventions,

“When I get an idea I start at once building it up in my imagination. I change the construction, make improvements and operate the device in my mind. It is absolutely immaterial to me whether I run my turbine in my thought or test it in my shop. I even note if it is out of balance…”

  • Intuition — Intuition is ambiguous, nebulous. Creative people trust and prefer to use their intuition. The ‘Introverted intuition’ makes mystical dreamers, creative artists, or cranks: “If he is an artist, he reveals strange, far-off things in his art, shimmering in all colours, at once portentous and banal, beautiful and grotesque, sublime and whimsical. If not an artist, he is frequently a misunderstood genius . . .
  • Insight — Insight involves restructuring the problem so that it can be seen in a different way. The most famous image of insight is that of Archimedes rising from the bathtub, saying “Aha!” and running down the street, after he discovered the principle of the displacement of water. The “Aha!” comes after knowing the field really well, and after incubation.
  • Incubation — Incubation as a part of the creative process occurs when the mind is at rest. The problem is percolating silently through the mind and body. The dormant problem is arising and a solution is sifting. In Psychology there is an “incubation effect,” which may be caused by conscious work on the problem, and afterward, overwhelming fatigue occurs, whereby what does not work has been forgotten. People often incubate while driving, sleeping, exercising, even showering. Kary Mullis, a Nobel Prize winner, formulated polymerase chain reaction while driving.
  • Improvisation — Improvisation is a key part of the creative process. Visual artist Edward Hopper had remarked as he painted, “More of me comes out when I improvise.”

General Aspects of the Creative Process

  • The Need for Solitude — Solitude is not loneliness but rather a fertile state where the creator can think and work freely. Creative people may be solitary but that does not make them neurotic or unhappy. There is something transcendental about such experiences. Solitude induces ‘reverie’ — the state between sleeping and waking is relaxed, allowing images and ideas to come so that attention can be paid. The most important idea is to achieve a state of passivity and receptivity. And not being able to achieve such a state frustrates many creative people.
  • Creativity Rituals — Ritual is an individually prescribed and performed, repetitive practice meant to remove the creator from the outer and propel her to the inner. The approach to the work is ritualistic. The work is regarded as the ceremony.
  • Meditation — The vehicles for discovering oneself are breathing, sitting still, and waiting. Meditation is a preparatory ritual for the creative work. Often the creative work follows the meditation.
  • Creativity as Defined by Community and Culture — Each domain has its rules that are enforced by the domain’s gatekeepers. Space does not permit an explication of the rules for proceeding in the various domains, but prospective creators must know these rules, which are almost always tacit.
  • Creativity as the Process of a Life — Since creativity draws on a variety of neural networks within the brain, it is considered protective of health. Research has found that only creativity — not intelligence — decreases mortality risk. A creative way of life helps one to see things differently and better deal with uncertainty.

And most of the creative people seem to approach life as a paintbrush in action and a masterpiece under construction with an ever-changing background score that befits every living moment.

References:

Why It’s Important to Be Creative – Be More with Less

Piirto, J. (2010). The Five Core Attitudes and Seven I’s for Enhancing Creativity in the Classroom. In J. Kaufman and R. Beghetto (Eds.). Creativity in the classroom (pp. 142–171). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.


THE RIGHT-BRAIN THINKING was originally published in ILLUMINATION on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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