“Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.” Thus said Anton Ego in Pixar’s “Ratatouille.”
Where does a new idea come from? How does it start? When does it spring up? Who are the people who usually bring forth great ideas?
Of course, all ideas, great and not so great, come from a group of brain cells conspiring with each other to come up with something new and useful which was not noticed or observed by most everyone but has been in the environment all along.
All of a sudden, for some unexplained reasons, these conspiring brain cells decide to flow together in a different and coordinated pattern, resulting in something that moves the owner of the brain to react with a “wow” feeling. This is usually a lucky event—an individual plucking novel ideas from nowhere.
I’m sure you know of the most famous innovator of all time—Albert Einstein. But are you aware that he was only 16 years old when he first came up with the Theory of Relativity? One day while he was strolling along and daydreaming, he wondered what it would be like to ride on a beam of light. It was then that his “light bulb” turned on, and he saw his now famous theory clearly.
How did Einstein get those brain cells?
In 1966, the first study on the genetics of creativity was published by American behavioral researcher Leonard Heston. He reported that children who were adopted away from their biological schizophrenic mothers were more likely to pursue creative careers than those children whose mothers did not have such a mental history.
Four decades later, researchers at Harvard led by Dennis Kinney duplicated Heston’s study. They suggested that schizotypal individuals inherit a different way of thinking and perceiving associated with schizophrenia, without getting the disease or its devastating symptoms.
Using the lifetime creativity scale, Kinney and his team rated 36 adopted offspring of schizophrenic parents and a control group of 36 equally matched children of non-schizophrenic parents. They found that those with high creativity scores were the offspring of schizophrenic mothers and that, surprisingly, some high scorers from the control group also had many schizotypal personality traits.
In another study with a different design, British Daniel Nettle and Australian Rawling and Locarnini found also that creative people score high on the schizotypal personality scale. And Harvard’s Shelly Carson and Meyersburg found that those with highly creative performance in the arts are more likely to believe in magical thinking, telepathy, memories of past lives, fortune telling, and crystal balls.
In 1998, Sylvia Nasar published the book “A Beautiful Mind” about John Nash, a Nobel Prize winner known to have schizophrenia. Nash was asked why he believed that aliens from outer space were contacting him, and he replied that his mathematical ideas came through supernatural beings, so he believed in them. His case is an example of how a brilliant “eureka” moment can pop out from nowhere; this is similar to a delusional experience, called thought insertion, among people suffering from psychosis and who believe that outside agents have injected thoughts in their brains. However, most schizophrenia patients do not produce innovative ideas or objects. Those who are highly creative both have reduced cognitive disinhibition coupled with high function cognitive level or IQ.
With reduced cognitive filtering, many who are creative and innovative have the tendency to focus deeply on the content of their deep thoughts, forgetting self-care needs and social graces. Just read about the lives of Beethoven and Van Gogh, who had problems with personal cleanliness and grooming.
From Harvard and the University of Toronto, researchers Peterson and Carson found in 2003 that highly creative people with high scores on the creative personality scale and in the creative achievement questionnaire have low scores in cognitive disinhibition. These researchers think that such a low score permits a variety of thoughts and colorful ideas to fuse into conscious awareness that can be mixed and reconfigured in a new and original form that results in an extremely practical and easy service or product to use.
With the help of new technologies, researchers are now studying the brain’s electrical activities to explain how the “aha” moment is delivered. In the early 1970s, Maine University researcher Martindale studied the brain waves (EEG) of creative people. They found that these people produce more alpha waves in the ranges of 8 to 12 hertz per second during creative activities, compared to those who are less creative. They interpreted this finding to mean that innovators were allowing more information into their conscious awareness.
Others are using PET (positron-emission tomography) in the study of creative brain cells and their chemistry. In 2010, researchers from Karolinska Institute in Stockholm suggested that innovators have different neurotransmitter receptors in the brain cells and have less dopamine-binding receptors that allow them to receive more information into conscious awareness.
With these new findings in creativity on how our neurons work, in the near future we will be popping designer drugs that will jump-start a new era of innovators.
Leonardo L. Leonidas, MD, retired in 2008 as assistant clinical professor in pediatrics from Boston’s Tufts University School of Medicine, where he was recognized with a Distinguished Career Teaching Award in 2009. He is a 1986 graduate of the UP College of Medicine. He authored the eBook “How to Raise A Happy, Smart Child” (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005UZGCMA).
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