How the mind works: Creativity and Emotions

Understanding how the human brain works and reacts, at it’s most basic level, makes it possible to understand other “unexplainable” phenomena’s in the world around us.

As examples take the terms “Creativity” or “Emotion
. Today they are extremely recognized terms in our industry, but we have no understanding of what they are, and usually explain them with black magic stuff like “subconsciousness”.

What is this “Magic” that Michael Bierut writes about in his popular article This is my process on the Designobserver web site.

Now Israel Rosenfield and Edward Ziff have written a most excellent article on The New York Review of Books going through a range of books in order to understand how the brain works. It is a most recommended read, excellent:

Read How The Mind Works: Revelations

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This post is an unflattering summary mixed with thoughs from other sources like Helen Fischer, Clotaire Rapaille and Dan Gilbert. It gives a superficial explanation on how the brain works (with some leaps of faith :o)

    How the brain operates:
    1. The brain is bundle of trillions of neurons.
    2. A neuron is a string/cell with one receiving end and one transmitting end.
    3. Neurons are not connected to each other. There is a gap (the synaptic cleft) between each one.
    4. When two neurons communicate the cleft is bridged by the transmitting end of one neuron sending chemicals (neurotransmitters) into the cleft. These chemicals charge the receiving end of the other neuron (with electrical ions) and communication has occurred.
    5. A neurotransmitter can be a range of different chemicals – having different effects.

    How we learn:
    1. The brain tries out a lot of communication combinations between neurons, some of these combinations cause a “reward” reaction. (when applied some of the chemicals give a sensation of reward)
    2. Rewards cause repetition and repetition strengthens connections between neurons and makes the specific communication more effective and more common.
    3. It’s a Darwinian system – ruled by elimination of things that create no reward.

    Now it gets interesting:
    1. Some neurotransmitters (the stuff being sent into the cleft) are effective in strengthening the connections without repetition.
    2. One of these is Dopamine.

Notice that name, dopamine, it’s a chemical that the brain releases in a lot of instances. Some of them in cases connected with “emotions”. Watch Helen Fischer talk on Love at TED.

Clotaire Rapaille says that in order to learn we have to combine information and emotion – happening at the same time (that is the dopamine (or other accelerative chemicals) creating strengthened connections between neurons without repetition).

Which would explain why bad advertising would need several repetitions in order to work while excellent advertising needs few.

    So how do we recollect stuff:
    1. The brain doesn’t store events (a memory) as a whole, it stores fragments of it and we synthesize / create the memories in between when asked to remember it. (A bit like a master animator drawing only the key frames and junior animators drawing all the frames in between)
    2. A fragment is stored in a collection of neurons which have no adjacency – they are not physically connected.
    2. When remembering something we collect all these neuronic impressions into fragments and then create the event by synthesizing the blanks.

    How creativity (could) work(s)
    1. So if an event is stored in fragments , each fragment would again be a collection of neurons. (that’s a whole lot of neurons being stored for any memory :o)
    2. When being exposed to information we relate it to something we already know in order to understand it and create knowledge.
    3.When being exposed to an event in the creative phase it might relate to and trigger any of the previously mentioned neurons being a part of a fragment of a memory of an event – setting of a conscious recollection of the (now) related memory.

Is that what we call subconscious creativity, what Michal Bierut calls magic? Is this why suddenly, whilst thinking of A, B and C suddenly enters conscious thought?

I would insist that this does not take the randomness / originality out of creativity because all your memories from your 20, 30, 40 50 or 60 year long life, stored in the front, back and sides of the brain create so much of an incomprehensible and randomly felt set of memories that a good idea can be and would be perceived s original, unpredictable or magic :o)

Just because the process is set doesn’t mean your memories are.. It’s just a combination of neurons, fragments and events nobody has had the pleasure of combining previously…

    [OK, this is all loose ideas created by combining a range of sources, but I still hope the theory has created some interesting and random sparks in readers heads event though the theory itself is a bit unscientific :o)]

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