Creativity- at a deeper level
Think of our lives and the number of different networks we're a part of. There is our immediate family, who are different from work family. We have different groups of friends - from school, from our hobbies, from some shared experience. These networks can expand or contract - you might have a new child or welcome a new member to your group of friends, or you might lose some members who drift away.
All these networks influence us as a person in different ways; the networks closest to us, and/or the ones we spend the most time with tend to influence us the most.
It is also true vice versa. We influence the networks we are a part of (just as everyone else in that network does). We can bring ideas from one network you are a part of to another. We might also bring bad habits or bad practices from one group to another. This is a critical point for creativity, as you will see in a bit.
As it turns out, our neural networks function in a similar way to our people networks. As we learnt - we have a lot of neurons each connected to thousands of other neurons (we should be familiar with the name by now - synapses).
Here we have a simple hypothetical network. We see that:
- Neuron A is connected to neurons 1, 2, and 3.
- Neuron B is connected to neurons 2, 3, and 4.
- Neuron C is connected to neurons 3, 4, and 5.
In other words, Neuron 3 is affected by information from Neurons A, B, and C. In contrast, Neuron 1 here simply contains information from Neuron A.
This becomes easier when we look at an example. Say you've just visited Japan on holiday. (I highly recommend visiting Japan on holiday btw, it is such an attractive country in so many ways). Ok, I digress. Say you've just visited Japan on holiday, and you went to 3 stunning bridges:
The 3 alphabet Neurons in our previous diagram maps onto the 3 bridges visited, and the memories you had of each bridge.
In turn, these 3 bridges are connected to other neural networks - represented by Neurons 1 to 5. For example:
Neuron 1 contains information of all the walking bridges you know of in Japan (the other two bridges are non-walking, and hence are not associated with Neuron 1).
All 3 bridges contribute to Neuron 3 - beautiful bridges in Japan.
From there, Neuron 1 and Neuron 3 go on to activate other neural networks, shown in the 2 diagrams below.
Neuron 1 might activate a neural network of other walking bridges. It might then lead you to think of:
Materials used to construct other walking bridges. Kintaikyo is a wooden bridge built on stone foundations. It might lead you to recall stone bridges, for example, Mostar Bridge in Herzegovina.
Shape of other walking bridges. The funky arches of Kintaikyo came about because it was repeatedly damaged from previous incidents of flooding. Are there other weird-shape walking bridges? What were the reasons for their design?
Neuron 3 captures memories and information on beautiful bridges. You might then think of:
Other beautiful bridges around the world, e.g. the Golden Gate Bridge, the London Bridge etc, which lead to other associations
Beautiful structures in Japan, bridges, but also shrines and temples and Tori gates. And you might then realise many structures in Japan are red in colour. This could then lead on to further associations of the colour red in Japanese culture, and the colour red in other cultures.
That one neural network can subsequently activate others is what helps us to develop associations between subjects, to understand symbols, metaphors, and analogy. We are able to understand:
Why someone who kills another person is sometimes hero, while other times a villain
Why a cup of coffee brings to mind the idea of a break
When a piece of cloth is simply a piece of cloth and other times it is a flag that represents a nation
"Hit me", says the masochist.
"No", replied the sadist.
Ok after much bridging, after arching across bridges and pagodas and culture and what not, let's come back to creativity.
Creativity is about the associations we make. Specifically, creativity is the ability to make wider, more liberal associations. Remember our analogy of the different networks we belong to, and how we are able to take ideas from different networks of people and bring it to another? This works in the same way in our heads, where neurons in one network are able to form novel, unique, and broader associations with neurons in another network.
Instead of seeing a bridge as just a structure for people to get across obstacles, check out creative interpretations of bridges:
Can you exercise your creativity now? Imagine if you were
- government official looking to encourage exercise and activity
- urban planner looking to create common spaces for people in the neighbourhood to bond over.
- in the tourism business
- In the hospitality business
Can you think of how bridges can be used in all these different situations?
The neurological understanding of creativity is important for us. Creativity is not some abstract concept. It is not a mysterious gift that some possess and others don't. It is simply neurons forming wider, broader associations in more neural networks. And it is something we can work on.
How can we do this? Find out more in the second part of this series - How can we be more creative.