Tuesday, February 4, 2014

CPD: Creativity and Critical Thinking in Higher Education - Week 3 Activities


PART 1. Listen to and reflect on this podcast: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/audio/2012/may/07/science-weekly-podcast-jonah-lehrer

Alok Jha meets Jonah Lehrer author of "Imagine: How Creativity Works".
Alok Jha says "Studying the brain is one of the big challenges of the 21st century". Lehrer says creativity is a new idea that has a second life, it's useful, and it finds a niche in the world.

The Swiffer power mop developed by Procter and Gamble, trying to develop stronger soaps, outsourced to a design firm, Continuum, who observed nine months of videos of people mopping, and concluded that mopping is very inefficient, so rather than getting the old mop head dirty all the time, they developed disposable cleaning heads for the mop.

Bob Dylan was sick of being a folk singer, and he was going to give up on the music industry, and he is going to paint and write novels, but he went to a cabin and he just kept writing for several hours "the ghost was in charge" having him write down words, 25 pages in all, and  he wrote "Like a Rolling Stone", which revolutionised rock and roll. A song that represents a combination of his influences: Woody Guthrie Robert Johnston, Bertolt Brecht, and William Blake, into a new kind of song.

Two parts to creativity, "a moment of insight", the answer came out of the blue, as soon as the solution arrives, it is clear that it's a solution. 
Superior Temporal Gyrus
A technique developed by Mark Beeman and John Kounios is to give people word problems, and doing an fMRI, just before an insight there is a spike in the anterior superior temporal gyrus, where different ideas are brought together ("remote associations").

Creativity is about the solution, and there are many ways to get to the solution, even a brute-force approach is creative.
  • Inspiration-side to creativity is linked with alpha waves. Sometimes our best ideas arrive after we've stopped looking for them. 
  • Perspiration-side to creativity is linked to working memory. This means there can be many iterations and can lead to people become melancholy. We can assess with up to 85% accuracy whether or not we can solve problems, and determine our progress  This is called "feelings of knowing" by Janet Metcalf.
How to solve a problem - First ask "do I think I can solve this?" if so put in the work, and then make progress, and then when you hit the wall, take a break.

Charles Limb's study of Jazz musicians shows that before they improv they deactivate an areas of the brain called the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex, associated with Self-Control and Executive Functions.

Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex

The limits of fMRI and EEG mean that there needs to be other threads of evidence, include patients with brain injuries, or degenerative brain conditions. Also looking at children's brain development, and dreams in sleep, that occur when the frontal lobes are inactive.

Creativity is subjective, and can be prophetic, but neuroscience is one way of looking at it. Also Nietzsche's idea of the Apollonian and Dionysian Dual map neatly on divergent and convergent thinking. David Hume also had good ideas on creativity. Aristotle mentioned the link between mood and cognition.

There is assumption that Creativity is related to the Arts and not to Science, but in terms of how artists and scientists operate, they are both working as problem-solving, and in the brain there is little difference in their processes.

T. S. Eliot said that bad poets are usually unconscious where he ought to be conscious, and are conscious where he ought to be unconscious. In the same way science can help us understand the right ways to improve our creativity, the right ways to control our environment.

One characteristic that defines a creative  person is grit, as defined by Angela Duckworth, it a single-mindedness and persistence, and has little to do with IQ or personality.

Reflection: As a life-long Bob Dylan fan I had to smile when I saw the topic of this podcast, and that the author Jonah Lehrer was being interviewed. I am very aware of this book, and that the author is an admitted fraudster, repeatedly, and plagiarist, whose book that is the topic of this podcast has been withdrawn from publication due to factual inaccuracies. Still on reflection the book might still be worth reading, and the podcast worth listening to. But for accuracy, I'm including an infographic created by  Journalism Professor Charles Seif on Jonah Lehrer's transgressions:
The ideas presented in this podcast are interesting, and do tend to confirm what I teach in my own classes about Problem Solving, but this has also renewed my interest in the neuroscience of creativity, and I'm going to re-read my copy of Adam Zeman's "A Portrait of the Brain".
PART 2. What are the main lessons you can take from it to apply to practice? You are asked to keep an Audio blog this week.
[Still have a raspy voice from having the flu, but will do a podcast and add to https://www.podomatic.com/ as soon as my voice is better].

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