by Kelly Baugh
Recently I heard a TED Radio Hour episode about the interaction between creativity and dedication that set my little writer's heart fluttering. It was given by Charles Limb, a music cognition researcher for Johns Hopkins University.
Limb and his team had jazz musicians play some tunes while hooked up to MRI machines. They studied the differences in the brain and which parts of it were active when the musicians played memorized music versus improvised music.
Here's what they found:
When musicians played improvised music a large part of the prefrontal cortex of the brain almost completely shut down, specifically the area involved in conscious self-monitoring. In other words, the part of the brain that's tells you what's socially acceptable, what you need to do to fit in and what will make you look the least awkward, etc.
At the same time, another area of the brain, the part that's thought to be autobiographical or self-expressive went into overdrive.
According to Limb, "We think that at least a reasonable hypothesis is that to be creative you have to have this weird dissociation in your frontal lobe. One area turns on and a big area shuts off so that you're not inhibited so that you're willing to make a mistake. You're not constantly shutting down all of these new generative impulses."
Limb speculates that someday scientists might be able to create pills that help activate and deactivate certain areas of the brain for optimal creativity.
If that sounds a little too Brave New World for you, Limb goes on to say, "I tend not to over-romanticize the idea [of creativity]. I think there's a bit of a myth that art comes from some ethereal land of inspiration and just the lucky few are able to generate it. I mean, most artists have been working at their craft for their whole lives. They're putting hours and hours and hours into learning to play their instrument, or to paint or whatever it might be. This is something that they're practicing, it's not just magic. The idea that a professional musician can enter a flow state because they've practiced doing it is important."
Hard work, Creativity, and their interplay: the human brain is a beautiful thing.
Click here to listen to Limb's entire TED Talk What Does a Creative Brain Look Like?