Friday, December 28, 2012

On Zen, Drugs and Creativity (from Jonah Lehrer's "Imagine")

Edit: I'm only about 20% of the way done I'm finished with this book but and it really is was an eye-opener.  His research and easy-to-read writing style really brings some good points about tapping into our creative centers into the forefront.  If you think you're not a "creative type," Lehrer just might change your mind.  I'll keep highlighting as I'm reading and share through my Twitter (@pb_zen).  Here are the main points that I've taken away and would like to share so far:

Zen and Creativity:

A story about a Zen Buddhist meditator that illustrates the importance of these alpha waves. At first, this man couldn’t solve any of the CRA problems given to him by the scientists. “This guy went through thirty or so of the verbal puzzles and just drew a blank,” Kounios says. “He assumed the way to solve the problems was to think really hard about the words on the page, to really concentrate.” But then, just as the meditator was about to give up, he started solving one puzzle after another; by the end of the experiment, he was getting them all right. It was an unprecedented streak. According to Kounios, this dramatic improvement depended on the ability of the meditator to focus on not being focused so that he could finally pay attention to all those fleeting connections in the right hemisphere. “Because he meditated ten hours a day, he had the cognitive control to instantly relax,” Kounios says. “He could ramp up those alpha waves at will."

ADHD and Creativity:

Students diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) got significantly higher scores. White then measured levels of creative achievement in the real world, asking the students if they’d ever won prizes at juried art shows or been honored at science fairs. In every single domain, from drama to engineering, the students with ADHD had achieved more. Their attention deficit turned out to be a creative blessing.

Drugs and Creativity:

A recent online poll conducted by Nature, nearly 20 percent of scientists and researchers regularly take prescription drugs in order to improve mental performance. The most popular reason given was “to enhance concentration.”) Because these stimulants shift attention away from the networks of the right hemisphere, they cause people to ignore those neurons that might provide the solution. “People assume that increased focus is always better,” says Martha Farah, a neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania. “But what they don’t realize is that intense focus comes with real tradeoffs. You might be able to work for eight hours straight [on these drugs], but you’re probably not going to have many big insights.” (Marijuana, by contrast, seems to make insights more likely. It not only leads to states of relaxation but also increases brain activity in the right hemisphere. A recent paper by scientists at University College, London, looked at a phenomenon called semantic priming. This occurs when the activation of one word allows an individual to react more quickly to related words. For instance, the word dog might lead to faster reaction times for wolf, pet, and Lassie, but it won’t alter how quickly a person reacts to chair. Interestingly, the scientists found that marijuana seems to induce a state of hyperpriming, meaning that it extends the reach of semantic priming to distantly related concepts. As a result, one hears dog and thinks of nouns that in more sober circumstances would seem completely disconnected. This state of hyperpriming helps explain why can-nabis has so often been used as a creative fuel: it seems to make the brain better at detecting the remote associations that define the insight process.)

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