Posts Tagged ‘Creativity’

Creative Time

December 27, 2014

Creative Time is another section in the chapter Organizing Our Time in Daniel J. Levitin’s book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. The section begins with a discussion of creativity and insight. We’ll skip this as many posts were written about insight fairly recently. Then he moves on to the topic of flow. Although flow has been discussed previously in this blog, it is an important enough topic and Levitin does provide some new information. Flow refers to the experience of getting wonderfully, blissfully lost in an activity losing all track of time, of ourselves, our problems. Flow is the sixth principle of contemplative computing as formulated by Dr.Alex Soojung-Kim Pang in his book The Distraction Addiction (you can use the search box to find these posts). The phenomena of flow were identified and discussed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced MEE-high, CHEECH-sent-mee-high). It feels like a completely different state of being, a state of heightened awareness coupled with feelings of well-being and contentment. Flow states appear to activate the same regions of the brain, including the left prefrontal cortex and the basal ganglia. Two key regions deactivate during flow: the portion of the prefrontal cortex responsible for self-criticism, and the brain’s fear center, the amygdala.

Flow can occur during either the planning or he execution phase of an activity, but it is most often associated with the execution of a complex task, such as playing a solo on a musical instrument, writing an essay or shooting baskets. A lack of distractability characterizes flow. A second characteristic of flow is that we monitor our performance without the kinds of self-defeating negative judgments that often accompany creative work. When we’re not in flow, a nagging voice inside our head often says, “It’s not good enough.” In flow, a reassuring voice says, “we can fix that.”

Flow is a Goldilocks experience. The task cannot be too easy or too difficult, it has to be at just the right level. It takes less energy to be in flow than to be distracted. This is why flow states are characterized by great productivity and efficiency.

As mentioned earlier, flow is also in a chemically different state, although the particular neurochemical soup has yet to be identified. There needs to be a balance of dopamine and noradrenaline, particularly as they are modulated in a brain region known as the striatum, the locus of the attentional switch, serotonin, for freedom to access stream-of-consciousness associations, and adrenaline, to stay focused and energized. GABA neurons that normally function to inhibit actions and help us exercise self-control need to reduce their activity so that we are not overly critical of ourselves, and so that we can be less inhibited in the generation of ideas.

Flow is not always good. If it becomes an addiction, it can be disruptive. And it can be socially disruptive if flow-ers withdraw from others.

Levitin goes on to describe how creative individuals and groups structure their environments and lives to enhance flow.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2014. 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.


Organizing Our Time

December 14, 2014

Organizing our time is another chapter in Daniel J. Levitin’s book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. This chapter is so rich and has so much information that I want to share with you that it will take multiple draft posts, which still will not fully do justice to this chapter.

The first thing to realize about time is that it is an illusion, a creation of our minds, as is color. There is no color in the physical world, just light of different wavelengths reflecting off objects. Newton said the light waves themselves are colorless. Our sense of color is the result of the visual cortex processing these wavelengths and interpreting them as color. Similarly, time can be thought as an interpretation that our brains impose on our experience of the world. We experience the sun rising and setting. We feel hungry at different times and sleep at other times. The moon goes through a series of phases approximately monthly. Seasons are experienced at even larger intervals, then recycle again.

I have long been puzzled as to why there are 24 hours in a day. As the world makes a complete circle of 360 degrees, I would have thought that there would be 36 hours in a day. Apparently this division of 24 hours is due to the ancient Egyptians who divided daytime into 10 parts, then added an hour for each of the ambiguous periods of twilight to achieve 12 parts. There were also 12 corresponding parts for nighttime yielding a 24 hour day. Then it was the Greeks, following the lead of the mathematician Eratosthenes who divided the circle into sixty parts for an early cartographic system representing latitudes. They then divided the hour into sixty minutes, and the minutes into sixty seconds. Still time was kept at local levels until the advent of the railroad that needed accurate timekeeping to avoid collisions. The U.S. Railroads did this in 1883, but the United States Congress didn’t make it into law until 35 years later.

As for organizing our time it is the function of the prefrontal cortex. We have a more highly developed prefrontal cortex than any other species. The prefrontal cortex is the seat of logic, analysis, problem solving, exercising good judgment, planning for the future, and decision-making. Unfortunately, our prefrontal cortex is not fully mature until we are well into our twenties, so there is time, perhaps even too much time, in which to make poor decisions. Not surprisingly the prefrontal cortex is frequently called the central executive, or CEO of the brain. There are extensive two-way connections between the prefrontal cortex and virtually every other region of the brain, so it is in a unique position to schedule monitor, manage, and manipulate almost every activity we undertake. These cerebral CEOs are highly paid in metabolic currency. Clearly, understanding how they work and how they get paid can help us to use our time more effectively.

It might be surprising to learn that most of prefrontal cortex’s connections to other brain regions are not excitatory, but inhibitory. One of the greatest achievements of the human prefrontal cortex is that it provides impulse control and the ability to delay gratification. Without this impulse control, it is unlikely that civilizations would have developed. And I can’t help speculating how there might be fewer wars, crime, and substance abuse if the prefrontal cortex were more fully engaged.

When the prefrontal cortex becomes damaged, it leads to a medical condition called dysexecutive syndrome. Under this condition there is no control of time. Even the ability to perform the correct sequence of actions in the preparation of a meal is impaired It is also frequently accompanied by an utter lack of inhibition for a range of behaviors, especially in social settings. Sufferers might blurt out inappropriate remarks, or go on binges of gambling drinking, and sexual activity with inappropriate partners. They tend to act on what is in front of them. If they see someone moving, they are likely to imitate them. If they see an object, they tend to pick it up and use it. Obviously this disorder wreaks havoc with organizing time. If your inhibitions are reduced and you have difficulty seeing the future consequences of your actions, you might do things now that you regret later, or make it difficult to complete projects you’re working on. As for organizing your time, engage your prefrontal cortex, and take care of and protect your prefrontal cortex.

The prefrontal cortex is also important for creativity. It is important for making connections and associations between disparate thoughts and concepts. This is the region of the brain that is most active when creative artists are performing at their peak.

Levitin offers the following suggestion for seeing what it’s like to have damage to the prefrontal cortex. This damage is reversible provided it is not done too often. His suggestion is to get drunk. Alcohol interferes with the ability of prefrontal cortex neurons to communicate with one another, by disrupting dopamine receptors and blocking a neuron called an NMDA receptor, mimicking the damage seen in frontal lobe patients. Heavy drinkers experience a double whammy. Although they may lose certain control or motor coordination or the ability to drive safely, but they aren’t aware that they’ve lost them or simply don’t care. So they forge ahead anyway.

Happy Thanksgiving 2014!

November 25, 2014

We, homo sapiens,have much for which to be thankful. I often question whether we are worthy of our name. Nevertheless, we have much cognitive potential for which to be thankful. I believe that the best way of giving thanks is to foster and grow this potential throughout our lifetimes.

Consider our memories, which are de facto time travel machines. We travel into the past and into the future. Actually we travel into the past, to retrieve what we have learned, to cope with the future. We have both experienced and remembered pasts (see the Healthymemory blog post, “Photos, Experiencing Selves and Remembering Selves”). We can go back in time before we were born via our imaginations and transactive memory. Similarly we can go forward into time via both our imaginations and transactive memory (transactive memory are those held by fellow humans and by technological artifacts such as books and computers).

When human minds are put to best use via creativity and critical thinking, tremendous artistic, scientific, engineering, and cultural feats are achieved. And we each have individual potential that we should do our best to foster and grow throughout our lifetimes by continuing to take on cognitive challenges and to interact with transactive memory (our fellow humans and technology). We should not retire from or give up on cognitive growth. And we should assist our fellow humans who are in need to grow their individual potential. This is the best means of giving thanks!

© Douglas Griffith and, 2014. 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 Greatest Genius to Have Walked on Earth

June 29, 2014

In my mind that genius is unquestionably Leonardo da Vinci. I can think of no ne else who was so creative and his genius was manifest in art, science and engineering. So when I ran across a book titled How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci in the National Gallery of Art, I had to purchase it. The book is by a Da Vinci scholar, Michael J. Gelb. Self Help books were unknown in Da Vinci’s time, so Gelb took the task upon himself, and he did a splendid job.

There is no way I can do justice to Da Vinci’s contribution in this post, so what I am offering is only a sample. In the realm of art his Mona Lisa and The Last Supper are recognized as two of the greatest paintings ever produced. Other famous painting include The Virgin of the Rocks, The Madonna and Child with St. Anne, The Adoration of the Magi, and St. John the Baptist. His portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci hangs in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

As an inventor he made plans for a flying machine, a helicopter, a parachute, an extendable ladder (still used today by fire departments), a machine for cutting threads on screws, the bicycle, an adjustable monkey wrench, a snorkel, the three-speed gear shift, . hydraulic jacks, the world’s first revolving stage, locks for a canal system, a horizontal waterwheel, folding furniture, an olive press, a number of automated musical instruments (Leonardo himself was a musician), a water-powered alarm clock, a therapeutic armchair, and a crane for clearing ditches.

Da Vinci pioneered the concept of automation. He designed many machines to save labor and increase productivity. His automated looms were portents for the Industrial Revolution.

Da Vinci was way ahead of his time as a military engineer. He made plans for the armored tank, machine guns, mortars, guided missiles, and submarines. As far as it is known, nothing he designed was ever used to injure anyone during his lifetime. He was a man of peace who found bloodshed “infinitely atrocious.” He wrote that he designed his instruments of war “to preserve the chief gift of nature, which is liberty.”

Next come his accomplishments as a scientist.


  • He pioneered the discipline of modern comparative anatomy.

  • He was the first to draw parts of the body in cross section.

  • He drew the most detailed and comprehensive representations of humans and horses.

  • He conducted unprecedented scientific studies of the child in the womb.

  • He was the first to make casts of the brain and the ventricles of the heart.


  • He pioneered modern botanical science.

  • He described geotropism (the gravitational attraction of the earth on some plants) ane heliotropism (the attraction of plants toward the sun).

  • He noted that the age of a tree corresponds to the number of rings in its cross section

  • He was the first to describe the system of leaf arrangements in plants.

Geology and Physics

  • He made significant discoveries about the nature of fossilization, and he was the first to document the phenomenon of soil erosion

  • His physics studies anticipated the modern disciplines of hydrostatics, optics, and mechanics.

The book is subtitled Seven Steps to Genius Every Day. However, How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci is an enjoyable and highly readable biography of, in my view, the greatest genius to have walked on earth

Some Words from Einstein Worth Pondering

December 24, 2013

I found the following in Mindsight by Daniel J. Siegel (p.255): “In 1959 Albert Einstein received a letter from a rabbi who had lost one of his two daughters to an accidental death. What wisdom could he offered, the rabbi asked to help his remaining daughter as she mourned her sister? Here is what Einstein replied:

A human being is part of a whole. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and foundation for inner security.”

The “Now” is Really the “Then”

March 31, 2013

The “Now” is a key concept in mindfulness with the objective of staying present in the “now.” As will be mentioned later in this post, the objective is good, but it is misnamed. Our information processing limitations are such that we can never be present in the “now.” It takes about 0.1 seconds to read data out of our sensory stores. Further processing is then required before the data becomes information that we can understand. So all we know is history, although an extremely small portion of it is very recent history. We use our memories to predict and cope with the future. One of the most remarkable athletic feats is hitting a ball with a bat. The ball is arriving quickly, sometimes extremely fast. The projection of where that ball will be and how we are going to meet it with a bat requires literally a split second decision based on past information that has just recently arrived. Very few people seem to be aware of these delays that preclude us from being precisely in the “now.” This is of particular concern to me as there does not seem to be an awareness among many of the drivers how long it will take them to react should they need to take action. Even if one is devoting full attention to responding to a signal, that decision cannot be immediate. When one is scanning the highway and thinking the car will have traveled considerable distance before one can react. This time is further increased when one is on a cell phone.

We use this historical information stored in our memories to cope with the external world. We build models of the world to project ourselves into the future and try to predict it. I once knew a physicist who was disturbed that light could be both a wave (having frequencies) and a particle (photons). As a psychologist this never bothered me. There are models in our minds. Different models can be better suited for understanding different phenomena. This is the case with light. I don’t believe that we, as corporal beings, can ever experience the external world directly, but only via the models we develop in our minds,

In mindfulness what is really meant by being in the “now” is being in control of our attention. Our brains remain active 24 hours a day, and I doubt absent any pathology that there is any time that our minds our not filled with something. The exercises one performs to be “mindful” involve controlling one’s attention. There are a wide variety of meditation techniques to do this. At one extreme is the focusing and maintaining attention on a single action, breath, word, or phrase. It is very important to be able to focus attention processing at certain times. At the other extreme, meditation involves letting thoughts flow through our minds unedited. The goal here is to bypass filters or information processing biases that cause us to reject certain thoughts or ideas. Insight and creativity are critically dependent on both these types of attention (See the healthymemory blog post, “Creativity: Turn Your Prefrontal Cortex Down, Then Up”).

Although I am a strong proponent of mindfulness and many of its practices, I am a bit put off by some of the terms that are used.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2013. 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.


February 27, 2013

According to Costa, the author of The Watchman’s Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse, what will save us all is the ability of the human mind to achieve insight. She writes of insight as it it is a new discovery. The notion of insight and an “aha” moment in solving problems goes back to the Gestalt psychologists at least. What is new is the identification cognitive structures involved in achieving insight.

Costa stresses that insight is a biological capability that we all have. She cites an article1 that describes an experiment in which the cognitive structures were identified. Nineteen experimental participants were asked to solve word problems while the activity in their brains was monitored. Three words were presented, such as pine, crab, and sauce, to each participant. The task was to think of another word that could be combined with each of these words to make three new words. For example, a solution to these words would be “apple,” to produce “pineapple,” “crabapple,” and “applesauce.” The participants did many of these problems and brain activity was tracked to identify and differences that signaled an insightful answer. When insight was used the anterior Superior Temporal Gyrus (aSTG) became highly excited producing a sudden burst of gamma oscillatory activity. This occurred 300 milliseconds in advance of solving the problem. They also discovered that the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACG), which is responsible for relaying signals between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, appears to suppress irrelevant thoughts prior to invoking insight. The notion is that insightful thinking is more vulnerable to external interference than is nonsightful processing necessitating greater suppression of external thoughts. When insight is achieved, the problem solver is confident of her insight. Insight is cognitively taxing. Increased electrical activity takes place in the left posterior M/STG, the anterior cingulate, the right posterior M/STG, and the amygdala. Costa argues that insight is the brain’s special weapon against complexity. A simplifying insight eliminates the complexity.

Insight and creativity are closely related. I would suggest that insight is a special type of creativity, one aimed and solving a particular problem. Insight is creative, but creativity also includes literature, fine art, music, and dance to name just a few activities.

1 Kouinios, J.K., Frymiare, J.L., Bowden, e.M., Fleck, J.I., Subramanaiam,K, Parrish, T.B., & Jung-Beeman, M. (2006). The Prepared Mind: Neural Activity Prior to Problem Presentaion Predicts Subsequent Solution by Sudden Insight. Psychological Science, 17:882, DOI:10.111/j.1467-9280.2006.01798.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. 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 Value of Openness

November 7, 2012

The prevailing opinion in personality theory is that there are five majority personality traits: agreeableness, extraversion, neuroticism, openness, and conscientiousness. Openness measures cognitive flexibility and the willingness to entertain novel ideas. According to a brief article1 summarizing recent research in this area, the linchpin for Openness being associated to a longer, healthier life is creativity. Creative thinking reduces stress. Creative people likely see stresses more as challenges that they can overcome rather than as obstacles that they can’t overcome. Another, and perhaps the most central reason, is that creativity draws on a variety of neural networks within the brain. A study conducted at Yale University correlated openness with the robustness of white matter, which supports connections between neurons in different parts of the brain. Nicholas Turiano of the University of Rochester Medical Center says “Individuals high in creativity maintain the integrity of their neural networks even into old age.” He further states, “Keeping the brain healthy may be one of the most important aspects of aging successfully—a fact shown by creative persons living longer…”

I would extrapolate from these results and also conclude that creative individuals are also less likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s and dementia. Some people might still hold to the old theory that personality traits are fixed and cannot be changed. I challenge that view. Current ideas regarding neuroplasticity inform us that we can change our brains and our behaviors. So we can work to be more open and creative. I would refer you to the healthymemory blog post “Creativity: Turn Your Prefrontal Down, Then Up” to learn more about creativity and how you can foster your own creativity.

1Rodriguez, T. (2012). Open Mind, Longer Life, Scientific American Mind, September/October, 18.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. 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.

Using tDCS to Help Children with Developmental Disabilities and to Foster Creativity in Adults

August 19, 2012

An earlier Healthy Memory Blog Post, “Brain Boosts”, described means of boosting the brain’s performance. One of these was transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). The current is very small, from 1 to 2 milliamps. This method is much safer than other types of brain simulation as tDCS does not cause neurons to fire directly. It must make the neurons more excitable. When tDCS is applied over the right parietal lobe of the brain, mathematical ability is boosted. When it is applied to the right anterior temporal lobe, visual perception and memory is boosted.

An experiment examining enhancing mathematical ability was summarized in Scientific American Mind1 . Children with developmental dyscalia, a learning disability that affects math skill, served in the experiment. These children were to associate numbers with arbitrary symbols, such as triangles or cylinders. After practicing this task, they were rapidly presented with pairs of symbols of different visual sizes and they had to choose the physically larger one as quickly as they could. On some trials there was a mismatch between the size of the symbol and the magnitude it represented (for example a huge symbol meaning two was paired with a tiny symbol representing 5. Such mismatches could cause a delay in reaction because the impulse to choose the larger number needed to be overridden. The experimental group received tDCS over the right parietal cortex for 20 minutes at the beginning of each of the six training sessions. The control group did not receive the stimulation. By the fourth session the children in the experimental group became slower for mismatched pairs as compared with the matched pairs. This is the performance that adults show when they respond to real digits. The control group showed no difference between these trials suggesting that they had not internalized the symbols meaning. These superior performance lasted for six months, which suggests that this method might someday benefit those with developmental dyscalia.

In a special box2 inside her article on creativity in Scientific American Mind, Prof. Chrysikou of the University of Kansas reports on how tDCS, transcranial direct simulation can foster creativity. She reports a study published in 2011 by neuroscientist Allan Snyder of the Center for the Mind in Sydney in which Snyder and his colleagues used this technique to affect the ability of individuals to solve arithmetic puzzles involving matchsticks. The initial problems could all be solved with a similar strategy, but the approach would not work with the last two problems. These problems required a novel approach. For half the subjects tDCS was used to depress activity in the left frontal cortex, while exciting the right frontal cortex, whereas for the other half tDCS was used to excite activity in the left frontal cortex and depress activity in the right frontal cortex. The former group solved the last two problems at higher rates than the latter group. So it appears that the right hemisphere enhances creativity, whereas the left hemisphere impedes it.

Prof. Chrysikou also provided data that tDCS could also support the generation of novel ideas. She again used the method of suppressing one groups’ left prefrontal cortex while suppressing a second groups’ right prefrontal cortex. Yet a third group received sham simulation. The task was to think of novel uses of objects presented in pictures. The group receiving left prefrontal suppression thought of significantly more novel uses and did so significantly faster than the other two groups. These results support the notion that blocking the cognitive filter by inhibiting the left prefrontal cortex during idea generation can promote creative thought.

To the best of my knowledge tDCS is a research tool and not yet ready for prime time. If and when tDCS moves to practical applications remains an open question.

1Weaver, J. (2011). A Stimulating Solution for Math Problems. Scientific American Mind, March/April p.12

2Chrysikou, E.G. (2012). Tickling the Brain. Scientific American Mind, July/August, p. 29.

Creativity: Turn Your Prefrontal Cortex Down, Then Up

August 15, 2012

For many years creativity was thought to be something for a gifted few. Research in cognitive psychology has indicated that we all have creative potential. It is simply a matter of fostering it. It appears that your prefrontal cortex plays a key role in creativity. Hypoactivity (low) activity in your prefrontal cortex is characteristic of people coming up with new ideas. Indeed, novelty is a necessary condition for creativity. However, novelty is not enough. The idea must be useful or have some artistic value for it to be creative. Here is where critical thinking is involved, and this involves increased activity (hyperactivity) in your prefrontal cortex. If your prefrontal cortex remains in a state of hypoactivity, no worthwhile goal will be achieved unless you want to end up in a psychotic state. Typically the way this will be described is that creativity involves two states. The first state involves the hypoactivity of your prefrontal cortex for the generation of novel ideas. The second state involves the hyperactivity of the prefrontal cortex in which you critically assess these new ideas. In reality, this is not an orderly process. In real life effective creative thought involves the switching between these two stages. First to generate ideas, and second to evaluate them. This becomes an iterative process. The Healthymemory Blog Post “Improving Nonjudgmental Awareness” provides a meditation technique inducing hypoactivity of your prefrontal cortes. The Healthymemory Blog Post “Improving Selective Attention” provides a meditation technique to induce hyperactivty in your prefrontal cortex.

An article in Scientific American Mind1 provides the following tips to maximize your creativity (with some enhancements by your blogger).

Become an expert. If your going to be creative you need something in which to be creative. You need to develop a solid knowledge base to connect remote ideas and to see their relevance to a problem.

Observe. When trying to come up with a new product or service, study how people use what is currently available and what problems they face. If this is an artistic endeavor, try to understand why people like what they like.

Know your audience. Walk in the shoes of the intended consumer. How would child use a remote controller? How would an elderly person access a voting booth. How can I make this for a vegan? How can I produce a piece of art appealing to this audience?

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone. Seek activities outside your field of expertise. Take a class; read a book; travel to a foreign country. The hope is that new experiences will foster novel thoughts.

Be willing to work alone. Although group brainstorming can help you synthesize your ideas, it is more effective if you have started the creative process on your own.

Talk to outsiders about your work. A different perspective help you see alternative solutions or possible faults with your original idea.

Have fun. Good moods forge remote associations. Up beat music might help, but also makes tasks that demand focus more difficult. To concentrate, dampen your demeanor with sad songs.

Take a nap or let your mind wander. Sleep and daydreaming can make yo work your unconscious mind work on a problem that is stumping you. (This is my favorite technique!)

Take a break. Occupying your mind with a different task can unleash novel solutions. (another personal favorite!)

Challenge yourself. Disrupt you daily routine. Abandon your initial idea (even if it works) and look for a new one. Borrow from other people’s answers and try to improve them.

This last item reminds me of a statement that is attributable to Picasso, I believe (again if I err, please comment and correct me). “Good artists borrow. Great artists steal.”

1Chrysikou, E, G. (2012). Your Creative Brain at Work. July/August, pp. 24-31

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. 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.

Disabusing the Myth that Older People Do Not Have New Ideas

January 3, 2012

A valuable article1 by Vivek Wadhwa in the Washington Post argued against the common misconception that the best entrepreneurs are young. The article began with a quote from the venture capitalist Vinod Khosla who said, “People under 35 are the people who make change happen. People over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas.” This is a common misconception.

Wadhwa counters this misconception with research of his own. He and his research team explored the backgrounds of 652 chief executives and heads of product development in 502 successful engineering and technology companies established from 1995 to 2005. The median age of successful founders was 39. Twice as many founder were older than 50 as were younger than 25, and there were twice as many over 60 as under 20. Another researcher, Dane Stangler, analyzing Kaufman Firm Survey Data and the Kaufman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity found that the average age of U.S. Entrepreneurs is rising, and that the highest rate of entprepreneurial activity shifted to the 55 to 64 age group.

Wadhwa provided further evidence that people do not stop being creative when they reach middle age. Benjamin Franklin invented the lightning rod when he was 44, discovered, electricity at 46, helped draft the Declaration of Independence at 70, and invented bifocals after that. Henry Ford introduced the Model T when he was 45. Sam Walton built Wal-Mart in his mid-40s. Ray Kroc built McDonald’s in his early 50s. Ray Kurzweil published “The Singularity is Near” in his 50’s. Alfred Hitchcock directed “Vertigo” at 59. The architectural masterpiece, Fallingwater, was built by Frank Lloyd Wright when he was 68. Wadwha goes on to note that the most significant innovations of the highly celebrated Steve Jobs, the iMac, iTunes, iPod, iPhone, and iPad, came after he was 45.

Reader’s of the Healthymemory Blog should be aware that these examples of successful aging are due to their continuing to engage their attentional and System Two processes (See the Healthymemory Blog Posts “Review of the Washington Post’s The Aging Brain, More on Attention and Cognitive Control,”, “Passing 65,” “Memory and Aging,” and The Two System View of Cognition.” ) (Note that clicking on the hyperlinks will take you to other articles and not the Healthymemory Blog Posts.  To read the posts, enter the title in the blogs Search Box.)

1Wahwha, V. (2011). Who says the best entrepreneurs are young? Not the numbers. Washington Post, 11 December, G4.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. 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.

What is Incubation?

October 17, 2010

Let me be more specific, the question is what is incubation in the context of creativity or unconscious thought. The French mathematician Henri Poincare developed a four stage model of the creative process based on his own introspections regarding how he made his mathematical discoveries. Here are the four stages:

  1. He put in a great deal of conscious work until he became stuck and put the problem aside.
  2. At this point his unconscious took over. His unconscious worked beneath the surface. This is incubation
  3. The solution emerged into consciousness.
  4. At this point he checked the solution and found that it was correct.

Some psychologists debunk this theory because they have been unable to replicate it in their laboratories. Unfortunately, the vast majority of psychological research is done with college students. Moreover, the duration of an experiment is typically only one or two hours—sometimes even less. This reminds me of when I was a graduate student. At that time there was debate about whether we could control our own autonomic nervous systems. For example, could we learn how to control our heart rate (apart from running to increase it)? Most psychologists argued that we could not control our autonomic nervous systems based on short term studies with college students. The fact that Hindu mystics, among others, had already demonstrated a phenomenal capacity to control their autonomic nervous systems and alter their heart rates was ignored. The same situation seems to be prevailing with respect to creativity. The four stage model introduced by Poincare has been confirmed with a variety of creative individuals.

I certainly am no genius, but I have experienced incubation, most often when I am trying to recall a name, event, or vocabulary word. After a prolonged period of failure in which I was unable to recall what I wanted, hours, sometimes days, later the answer pops to mind.

Today it is generally believed that the vast majority of mental activity occurs below the level of conscious awareness, so it is not surprising that these efforts continue after your conscious mind moves on to something else. The implication is that you can continue to exercise your mind after you consciously abandon the exercise. The important part is that you need to start thinking about something. Incubation does not occur without an initial conscious effort.

That is why the Healthymemory Blog encourages you to try to remember things that you think you know, but that you cannot quite recall. This initiates the use of memory circuits that have been inactive for long periods of time. Trying to remember these items reactivates them. This reactivation should continue after you have abandoned your conscious attempt to recall the information. If it has not popped into memory after several days, retry your conscious attempts. If there is still no recall after days, then take recourse to transactive memory and attempt to look up the information.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2010. 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.