18.4.06

looking for creativity in a haystack of neurons

>> can creativity be quantified? Can it be reduced to specific firing of a set of neurons that can be examined in an fMRI or tested empirically on levels of experimental validity at par with the physical sciences?

> can we hold the human soul with the cold mechanical grasp of science?

>> don’t get poetic now, it makes me shudder. I’m simply wondering that since psychology is inevitably becoming more and more exact; with increasing reliance on experimental validity than ever before. Freud may have gotten away with interpreting dreams a century ago, but nobody listens to dream-interpreters now without the backing of data from scientific equipment worth a gazillion dollars.

> don’t you miss the good old days when one can come up with domain-changing theories just by observing three children – one’s own children at that? If someone presents a paper today based on the observations of offspring, that someone might get an IgNobel prize instead of an Erasmus.

>> most probably. This trend towards experimental investigations of a complex mental process should make a stronger case for interdisciplinary collaboration, especially between psychology and neuroscience. Both have much to gain from the other discipline because neither one can completely explain a phenomenon as complex as creativity.

> do you believe then that components of creativity such as insight or drive cannot be completely explained by neuroscience?

>> yes, but I also believe that some other components (such as cortical arousal) is best analyzed experimentally. I have always believe that creativity, and the Self, is more than a sum of its parts. Mike C puts it more eloquently when he said, “The human organism cannot survive as a bundle of neural reflexes...”

> I agree that neuroscience has huge potential contributions to the study of creativity, but how could it be applied to historiometric studies? Although we can conceivably examine the neural process of eminent individuals who are still alive (or willing to be strapped on to a huge toroidal magnet while they are asked to perform creativity-inducing tasks), most creative geniuses being studied by historiometric researchers are dead.

>> personally, I’m uneasy with the historiometric approach. Although it is based on empirical research and in fact backed upon by quantitative data, there is too much uncertainty in examining psychological process of a hundred years ago. If we have problems determining neural processes while we are looking at it through fMRI in real time, how much more when we are investigating what is going through Leonardo’s brain half a millennium ago. Plus there is that phrase: garbage in, garbage out (GIGO). Although originally intended for computer systems, it can be applied here. No matter how sophisticated the statistical techniques used to process the data, if the historical values are inaccurate (an we have reason to believe that historical inaccuracies are not farfetched), then the output based on those data will also be inaccurate.

> I’ll tell you a secret. When I read about how Freud attempted to explain Leonardo’s straightness (or gayness) out of childhood experiences, I had to fight a strong urge to burst with maniacal laughter.

>> your preoccupation with Freud is becoming increasingly disturbing. Back to the historiometric studies, I can see that it has very significant utility in the study of creativity. In fact, the Phenomenon approach presented by Gardner relies in part with the results from Simonton’s historiometric studies. The phenomenon approach itself is useful especially for individuals with big C.

> but as you mentioned, dead people can’t be strapped on to fMRI or examined with a PET scan. So perhaps we should try to start a historiometric survey of eminent people now! Einstein might be dead but Hawking isn’t! I’m sure the future generation of creativity researchers will thank us for providing them with solid data for their historiometric studies.

>> and perhaps then, we will understand what is so unique in the brains of creative geniuses with the goal that, as Gardner hoped, we can apply that knowledge to understand what makes all of us creative.

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