Posts Tagged ‘concentration’

Learning How to Think and Process is Deeply

October 16, 2019

This post is the second in a series of posts on a book by Cal Newport. The title of this book is “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracting World.” “Let your mind become a lens, thanks to the converging rays of attention; let your soul be all intent on whatever it is that is established in your mind as a dominant, wholly absorbing idea,: is advice from Antonin-Dalmace Sertillanges, a Dominican friar and professor of moral philosophy. He argues that to advance your understanding of your field you must tackle the relevant topics systematically, allowing your “converging rays of attention” to uncover the truth latent in each. In other words, “To learn requires intense concentration.”

In the early 1990s, a psychologist K. Anders Ericsson conducted research on the difference between expert performers and normal adults. He denied that the difference in the two groups was immutable. He argued, with data to support him, that the differences between expert performance and normal adults was the result of a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.

So what does deliberate practice actually require. Its core components follow:
your attention is focused tightly on a specific skill you’re trying to master;
you receive feedback so you can correct your approach, to keep your attention exactly where it’s most productive.
So deliberate attention cannot exist alongside distraction; instead it requires uninterrupted concentration.

Ericsson emphasizes, “Diffused attention is almost antithetical to the focused attention required by deliberate practice.”

Since Ericsson’s first major papers on this topic, neuroscientists have been researching the physical mechanisms. These researchers believe that part of the answer includes myelin—a layer of fatty tissue that grows around neurons. The myelin acts like an insulator that allows the cells to fire faster and cleaner. Keep, in mind that skills, be they intellectual or physical, eventually reduce down to brain circuits.

Of course, more than myelin is involved, especially for cognitive tasks. In additional to strengthening brain circuits, learning involves establishing new brain circuits. Learning new information and cogitating about this information establishes an increasingly new number of brain circuits.

Concentration is focused. Say you are trying to learn a new skill such as SQL database management. In a state of low concentration or while you are doing any additional tasks, you’re firing too many circuits simultaneously and haphazardly to isolate the group of neurons you actually want to strengthen. To learn things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction.

The following formula law of productivity has been offered:
High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)

HM again stresses that this formula is not restricted to work. It is good for any type of physical or cognitive enhancement. It applies also to hobbies and recreational activities. Perhaps it is unfortunate that it is defined in terms of work, as work itself can become more palatable or enjoyable if is not regarded as work, but rather as furthering a worthwhile goal, hobby, or intellectual achievement.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Creative Brain

February 26, 2019

The title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights.” The chapter begins,
“‘Right brain good, left brain bad.’ That belief about creativity and the right and left hemispheres of the brain dates back to the Seventies, and reflects a very outdated bit of neuromythology. The new understanding about left and right hemispheres is more specific to the topography of the brain: when it comes to left versus right, do you mean left front, left middle, left rear?”

The right hemisphere has more neural connections both within itself and through the brain. It has strong connections to emotional centers like the amygdala and to subcortical regions throughout the lower parts of the brain. The left side has far fewer connections with itself and beyond to the rest of the brain. The left hemisphere is made of neatly stacked vertical columns, which allow the clear differentiation of separate mental functions, but less integration of those functions. The right hemisphere is more of a mix structurally.

Brain studies on creativity reveal what goes on that “Aha!” moment, when we get a sudden insight. When EEG brain waves are measured during a creative moment, it turns out there is a very high gamma activity that spikes 300 milliseconds before the answer comes to us. This gamma activity indicates the acting together of neurons, as far-found brain cells connect in a new neural network as when a new association emerges. Immediately after that gamma spike, the new idea enters consciousness.

This heightened activity focuses on the temporal area, a center on the side of the right neocortex. This is the same brain area that interprets metaphor and gets jokes. This high gamma spike signals that the brain has a new insight. At that moment, right hemisphere cells are using these longer branches and connections to other parts of the brain. They’ve collected more information and put it together in a novel organization.

In spite of what you might have read or heard, there are two primary modes of creative thinking. The first is to concentrate intently on the goal or problem. The next stage is to let go. During this stage you are relaxing and letting your non conscious brain do its creative thing. This stage is characterized by a high alpha rhythm, which signals mental relaxation, a state of openness, or daydreaming and drifting, where we’re more receptive to new ideas. This sets the stage for novel connections that occur during the gamma spike. Of course, after that “aha moment” you need to return to concentration to evaluate the creative idea and asses how adequately it addresses the problem.

In all but rare cases, this is an iterative process. And this iterative process can occur over the course of years. There are documented cases of mathematicians trying to solve a problem. The problem appears to be intractable, because the “aha” moment never seems to come. But, sometimes it eventually appears seemingly from nowhere.
The name of this process is incubation, because you are not consciously trying to solve the problem. However, your non conscious mind has been working on this problem, perhaps even when you thought you were sleeping.

Goleman concludes the chapter with a final state, implementation. Here’s where a good idea will sink or swim. He remembers talking to the director of a huge research lab. He had about 4,000 scientists and engineers working for him. He told Goleman,”We have a rule about a creative insight: if somebody offers a novel idea, instead of the next person who speaks shooting it down—which happens all to often in organizational life—the next person who speaks must be an angel’s advocate someone who says, ‘that’s a good idea and here’s why.” Goleman writes, “Creative ideas are like a fragile bud—they’ve got to be nurtured so that they can blossom.”

Different creative people use different processes, so there is no optimal way of being creative. Each creative person creates her own creative process, which might even vary from problem to problem.