The Neuroscience of Creativity and Invention
Creativity often seems like something mystical or magical. Sometimes, it can feel as though creativity doesn’t even come from us, but rather, that it descends upon us in a blinding flash of light or a lightning bolt.
But creativity is far from magical. In fact, it can be boiled down to some rather simple neuroscience and most scientists agree on the specifics of how it occurs.
There’s No Such Thing as Creativity
Effectively, research suggests that there is no such thing as creativity, or rather, that original ideas are not so original as they may at first appear. Creative ideas are now believed to almost always be the result of old ideas and thoughts being combined in novel ways.
So, a new story you thought of will likely be based on old stories you heard, combined to make something new. Likewise, if you have a new idea for a logo design, there’s a good chance it’s actually a combination of old images you’ve seen combined with the text of that logo. In terms of neuroscience, this is the result of different ideas combining in your brain.
How the Brain Works
To understand how this works, it can help to first understand the basics of how the brain works. Fundamentally, our experiences of our own thoughts and the world around us are caused by neurons in the brain, or “brain cells”, firing. Brain cells are just like other cells in the body, except they are all interconnected by tendrils and branches called dendrites and axons. Each connection represents a memory or a combined idea, and new connections are formed every time two of them fire simultaneously.
When we’re relaxed and we let our brains “wander”, this essentially means we’re exploring these connections and turning inwards to our memories and ideas rather than focusing on the data coming in. The most extreme example of this is when we’re sleeping, and dreams form out of random combinations of memories, experiences, qualia, and feelings.
Inspiration then strikes and we get ideas when two neurons fire at the same time and reveal a new connection or a new combination of thoughts. What results is the birth of a new idea or a new creative work, though in actuality, it’s all about old ideas firing simultaneously to create something unique.
What does this tell us about inspiration? It tells us that input is crucial for output. So read, watch, explore, and think. The more you experience, the more inspiration you will enjoy!