The Creative Brain: It’s NOT Left-Right!

By Shlomo  Maital   

    creative brain

   There is an amazing explosion of resources and people studying the brain these days, and new results are sure to come.  Here is one, summarized in Scientific American (Aug. 19/2013) by Scott Barry Kaufman, “The Real Neuroscience of Creativity”. 

   Remember that left-brain-right-brain idea?  Left brain, is “L”, logical analytic, organized, rational.  Right brain is “R”,  creative, passionate, sexual, colorful, poetic, even irRational?

   Forget it.  The L-R distinction is “not the right one when it comes to understanding how creativity is implemented in the brain”, notes Kaufman.  “Creativity does not involve a single brain region or single side of the brain.  Instead, the entire creative process – from preparation to incubation to illumination to verification —  consists of many interacting cognitive processes and emotions.”    Different brain regions are recruited to handle the task, depending on the stage of the creative process.

  Many of these regions “recruit structures from both the left and right side of the brain”.

  To simplify and summarize:  There are thre large-scale brain ‘networks’ critical for creativity.  1.  Executive Attention Network – recruited when a task requires that the spotlight of attention is focused like a laser beam.  Active when you’re concentrating on a challenging lecture, or solving a problem.  2. The Imagination Network:  used when “imagining alternate perspectives and scenarios”.  3.  The Salience Network:  monitors both external events and internal stream of consciousness and “flexibly passes the baton to whatever nformation is most salient to solving the task at hand.” 

   The key to understanding creativity, according to neuroscientists, is recognizing that “different patterns of [thinking] are important at different stages of the creative process.

  So, what can we do with all this, to be more creative?  According to Rex Jung:  a) allow your mind to roam free, imagine new possibilities, and SILENCE THE INNER CRITIC!  Reduce the Executive Attention Network a bit, increase the other two.  Then, bring back the Executive Attention Network, to critically evaluate and implement your creative ideas.  In other words:  Zoom In, to understand the problem; Zoom Out, imagine, to seek many alternate possibilities; then, again, Zoom In, to choose the optimal alternative.  Organizing these stages is important. Skipping a stage will damage the process. 

      I am amazed that this neuroscience model fits precisely the model of my friend, colleague and former student Arie Ruttenberg, known as Zoom In/Zoom Out/Zoom In,  and presented in our forthcoming book The Imagination Elevator.  Ruttenberg derived his model by simply intuitively taking apart, and reconstructing, the ways he reached his own creative ideas.