Sunday, February 7, 2016

Books I should read: cultivation and geography

Sci Am has an excerpt from How to Cultivate your Creativity.

The key to this excerpt is "Openness to Experience" and it is one I have struggled with. An example:
A friend and I had hiked on a mountain in the city I lived in but not close to my home.  Once we reached street level, we walked toward the subway.  We passed a store and something about it caught me eye so I translated the sign for my friend.  It was "Milk, honey, Ginseng and a third product (it might have been "ma" or hemp) for 5,000 won ($5 CAN).  This was the first time I had seen such an offering and I had money in my pocket but for some reason I said, "I think I'll try that the next time I'm around."  My friend snorted and said, "How about now?" It was great stuff, better than beer after a hike.  I can't explain why I chose to walk past but I am glad my friend convinced me otherwise.
Okay, back to Sci Am:
The downside of this quality is that it might make creative people more prone to distraction than others. Researcher Darya Zabelina of Northwestern University found that people with a “leaky” sensory filter—meaning that their brain does not efficiently filter out irrelevant information from the environment—tend to be more creative than those with stronger sensory gating. Zabelina also observed that highly creative people are more sensitive tonoises in their environment—a clock ticking, a conversation in the distance—than less creative people. “Sensory information is leaking in,” Zabelina has explained. “The brain is processing more information than it is in a typical person.”
This brain quirk was a known characteristic of many eminent creators, including Charles Darwin, Franz Kafka and Marcel Proust, who each expressed a hypersensitivity to sound. Proust kept his blinds drawn and lined his bedroom with cork to filter out unwanted light and noise and wore earplugs while he wrote, whereas Kafka said that he needed the solitude not of a hermit but of a “dead man” to write.
And although it may sometimes be a hindrance to creative work, this distractibility also seems to be distinctly beneficial to creative thinking. Sensory hypersensitivity most likely contributes to creativity by wideningthe brain's scope of attention and allowing individuals to take note of more subtleties in their environment. Taking in a greater volume of information increases your chances of making new and unusual connections between distantly related pieces of information.
This last part confuses me but is somewhat explained in the article.  "Taking in a greater volume of information" is not something you can choose to do although expertise in a field does permit it.  That is, an experienced quarterback in football can observe more action around him than a rookie.  Or, he knows what to tone-out.  A book I read years ago, Sleights of Mind, discussed awareness of your surroundings and how people were fooled into thinking they did know their surroundings when they actually ignored a lot (see: white-black ball passers on Youtube).
And yet, the excerpt specifically notes that the trivia noticed by these creative people was not irrelevant but hindsight would show it to be useful, that remarkable intuition had occurred.  I can see that this is interesting but not how to learn from it.

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The Current, a new show on CBC, has an interview with Eric Weiner, author of The Geography of Genius.
Some trivia from the interview:
One of the common threads for geography and genius in Weiner's findings is walking. Charles Dickens walked through London at night working on plots, Mark Twain was known as a constant pacer.Research out of Standford University found people on treadmills produced more creative ideas. Many walked to the Agora, into life and chaos, which fed the imagination
The book sounds interesting but the excerpts in text - there is also a twenty-four minute interview I have not yet listened to - are pretty random and do not lead to much in the way of conclusions.

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