neuroscience posts

Creativity, Sex, & the Karate Kid March 22nd, 2012

One of my favorite tools to inspire radical new thinking is a technique I call forced connections. It is, fundamentally, a cognitive math problem: x + y = ? (assuming, of course, that x and y are seemingly unrelated things). This concept, also described as combinatorial creativity, is amazing because human brains are wired for it. The brain experiences cognitive dissonance when you try to hold two or more dissimilar things in your mind at the same time. It wants to resolve that tension so it creates resolution in the form of a new idea. Understanding how ideas work helps us design tools that facilitate idea generation. The articles and talk below explore ideational procreation through the lenses of neuroscience, quantum theory, psychology, and anthropology.

Musical Creativity and the Brain [The Dana Foundation] РThis article explores some big theoretical and empirical questions about creativity, namely what it is and how we do it.  My researcher heart jumped for joy with the introduction of an operational definition of creativity that comfortably applies across a range of artistic and business contexts: a fundamental activity of human information processing. The researchers discuss the brain functioning behind creative problem solving and the processes that make up creative behavior. Not surprisingly, it is a study in polarities: creativity is deliberate and spontaneous, cognitive and emotional, improvisation and composition, productive and consumptive. One of the authors, Charles Limb is a surgeon who also studies creativity and talks about your brain on improv.

During any creative act, from language production to marketing techniques selling the latest iPhone, ideas or past experiences are combined in novel and significant ways via the interaction of such cognitive capacities. The creative cognition approach is the current model dominating the neuroscientific study of creative thinking. According to this approach, creativity is far from a magical event of unexpected random inspiration. Instead, it is a mental occurrence that results from the application of ordinary cognitive processes.

How the Mind Creates Ideas [Psychology Today] – I often use forced connections when facilitating brainstorming as a deliberate idea-generating activity with specific stimuli (i.e. research insights). Quantum theory offers a more expansive approach to thinking about ideas as unmanifested sub-atomic particles that represent endless possibilities and countless possible combinations. The key to harnessing your quantum creative potential is to harvest as many ideas as you can: observe, record, interact, react.

We are taught to be exclusionary thinkers, which means we exclude anything that is not immediately related to our subject. Creative geniuses do not think this way. They know that the sky is a billion different shades of blue. When they brainstorm for ideas,  their first objective is to observe and record all thoughts and ideas as possibilities. They observe without judgment. This is why all their thoughts and ideas come into existence as possibilities. Creative geniuses also think inclusively which means they include everything no matter how unrelated or absurd. This is a basic requirement of creative thinking. Creative thinking requires the generation of associations and connections between two or more dissimilar subjects.

Matt Ridley: When ideas have sex [TED] РThe notion of ideas having sex is not, in fact, a new idea and the fruits of idea coupling have been applied and studied in a variety of areas. Ridley brings to life this concept with a tour of human evolution that offers material culture as evidence of our inescapable need for cross-germination in the collective brain. If you are interested in such creative romancing you can also find some practical tools to set the metaphorical mood  here.

What The Karate Kid Can Teach Us About Agile and UX [UIE] – While the selections above discuss the process of ideational procreation, this article illustrates the progeny of forced connections: Daniel-san + UX=Lessons in Agile Mastery. Gothelf suggests that ritual and repetition breed expertise in both the hard skills (i.e.rapid rendering)¬† and soft skills (i.e. trust and transparency) necessary for collaborative cohesion. Mr. Miyagi would certainly approve of this evolution of “Wax on. Wax off.”

Daniel found this level of mastery in the final tournament where he anticipated his opponent’s moves and ultimately defeated him. An Agile team achieves this when they trust each other implicitly, react as a cohesive unit to change and manage that change as well as any conflict with little impact to productivity or quality of work.

*Nota bene: The forced connection as metaphoric literary trope is not necessarily novel. In fact, some might convincingly argue that it is overplayed for its linkbaiting ability to seduce readers with catchy headlines. Personally, I am a sucker for such headlines and I have yet to grow tired of this tactic because I liken it to creative calisthenics. Reading and writing such pieces forces the brain to contemplate a familiar topic through a new lens. It requires the brain to constantly make new connections and it nurtures our divergent thinking capabilities. If you are looking for such exercise, try some of these: What Jay-Z Can Teach Us About The Future Of Education,What Downton Abbey Can Teach Us About the Future of Energy, What Nature Can Teach Us About Design,  and What Visual Designers Can Learn From Biggie Smalls.

 

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Stories behind the themes: Relational Connections November 15th, 2011
Part 9 of 19 in the series the Omni project

Welcome to the next installment of an unfolding bibliography of secondary research that fueled our generation of themes for the Omni project. Today we are focusing on the relational role of technology as a facilitator, participant, and obstacle. This broadly encompasses relationships between human and technology, humans and other humans, human with self, and even technology with technology. The nature of our relationships are changing, as our the tools that are available for us to make meaning of the data that they embody and generate. The items below begin to unpack this tangled web of interconnectedness along with rituals that arise and recede in response to progress and its discontents.

The tribesman who Facebook friended me [salon.com] - Really astonishing piece, especially since the whole “picture of a Kalahari desert warrior on a mobile phone” images became totally overdone in our field 15 years ago. Very intriguing characterization of the limited exposure to ideas this tribe had and in a very short time they are on Facebook. This article implicates technology in the evolution and revolution of relationships with (and within) tribes that hitherto were characterized by a lack of interaction with the rest of the globe.

But, what I am here to tell you is that it’s happening now.¬† We now live in a world in which a tribe that had not even heard of a feathered arrow until two years ago, can access every idea in the world.¬† For the first time in history, humanity is truly open-access.¬† Our entire species is “logged in.”¬† Should we mourn the passing of a phase in our history when bands of human minds still lived in isolation, or rejoice that we are finally all on the same page?

Life in the Age of Extremes [theatlantic.com] – The internet (which he seems to conflate or equate with processing power and computing capabilities) enables extreme reactions and responses that have great destructive potential. The author argues that interconnectedness via the internet amplifies feedback loops and therefore catalyzes extreme states and transforms the value of individual contributions within these collective contexts.

Optimists have long dominated the cyber-landscape, firm and vocal in their belief that the Internet creates a more transparent world, and that the quick and easy access to information it provides is bringing the global population together into one enlightened chorus of harmony. I have been deeply concerned that the Internet has created a centrifugal force that has the potential to tear us apart. The Internet’s reinforcement of uncompromising positions during acrimonious budget debate in Washington, the Internet-facilitated, high-frequency trading driving volatility in financial markets, and the use of Twitter to organize the recent street riots in the UK brought to mind Eric Hobsbawm’s 1994 book, The Age of Extremes. The book is about the extreme historical events of what Hobsbawm called “the short 20th century.” But he could just as easily have been writing about the 21st century, the Internet age.

Pew Internet Research Report [pewinternet.org] - Results of a recent study about cell phone use. Ironically, of the 2,277 interviews conducted about cell phones, 1,522 interviews were conducted by landline phone, and only 755 interviews were conducted by cell phone (that’s about 33%). So here we have a study that evokes questions about how we relate to others via technology and how that very relationship facilitates the study of the relationship. Is this relational research recursion?

83% of American adults own some kind of cell phone–and these devices have an impact on many aspects of their owners’ daily lives. Half of all adult cell owners (51%) had used their phone at least once to get information they needed right away. One quarter (27%) said that they experienced a situation in the previous month in which they had trouble doing something because they did not have their phone at hand.

When Roommates were Random [nytimes.com] – How technology is mitigating the influence of serendipity and randomness. Fueled the conversation of X before Y, i.e. how did we do X before Y came along?

It’s just one of many ways in which digital technologies now spill over into non-screen-based aspects of social experience.¬† I know certain people who can’t bear to eat in a restaurant they haven’t researched on Yelp. And Google now tailors searches to exactly what it thinks you want to find. But this loss of randomness is particularly unfortunate for college-age students, who should be trying on new hats and getting exposed to new and different ideas. Which students end up bunking with whom may seem trivial at first glance. But research on the phenomenon of peer influence – and the influences of roommates in particular – has found that there are, in fact, long-lasting effects of whom you end up living with your first year.

The Rebirth of the Ringtone [theatlantic.com] – A little ditty about the rise, fall, and rise again of audible cell phone rings, alternatively about the rise and fall of ‘vibrate’ setting. Begins to track some of the rituals of taming technology to comply with social norms and how our personal (i.e. ringtone) choices are reflective of our relationships and (in some cases) responsible for them.

I rarely hear a phone ring these days. Hell, I’m lucky if I catch a stray beep. Only those without much experience in the wireless world continue to derive pleasure from hearing “Achy Breaky Heart” every time an acquaintance calls. A phone on vibrate gives you a slight informational advantage over the people around you, but at the cost of your public identification with a kind of music. Somehow, putting your phone on vibrate seemed politely self-interested, not just plain sneaky.

Does The Internet Make You More Or Less Connected? [npr.org] – There are two sides to the coin of constant connectedness. The distraction from immediate social situations is real, but so is the fact that connections with people can be more frequent and relationships can blossom using technology.

The distractions play an even more aggressive role when it comes to my connection with myself. Most of the moments once reserved for a little alone time have been infiltrated by the realtime Internet. I never just wait for a bus, or just stand in line at a bank, or even just sit and think as I sit stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. At these moments, I pull my phone out of my pocket faster than a gunfighter pulls his weapon out of its holster.

Information Consumes Attention Focus In The Age of Abundant Stimulus [boingboing.net] – The paradox of focus and how it can be improved by meditation and pleasure. A lovely little respite that suggests strengthening our relationship with the present moment and our Self in order to better navigate the influx of attention-grabbing information.

The most promising solution to our attention problem, in Gallagher’s mind, is also the most ancient: meditation. Neuroscientists have become obsessed, in recent years, with Buddhists, whose attentional discipline can apparently confer all kinds of benefits even on non-Buddhists. (Some psychologists predict that, in the same way we go out for a jog now, in the future we’ll all do daily 20-to-30-minute “secular attentional workouts.”) Meditation can make your attention less “sticky,” able to notice images flashing by in such quick succession that regular brains would miss them. It has also been shown to elevate your mood, which can then recursively stoke your attention: Research shows that positive emotions cause your visual field to expand.

Love in the Time of Robots: A Duet With Siri [theatlantic.com] – Interview with creator of the viral song/video duet between human and iPhone. This delightful little duet touches on how we derive meaning from our relationships with our devices and gets us wondering about artificial interpersonal communication.

Do you think humans will actually fall in love with their robots one day? Is it happening already? OOOOOOh. Yes. I’m really infatuated with the idea of machines eventually being capable of love. I think it’s kind of inevitable, but I don’t really expect to see it in my lifetime.

 

 

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More, well, like a friend, a really really good friend March 28th, 2006

Much of user research hinges on unpacking words that mean one thing to one party and something different to another. Now we bring science into the picture, using MRI.

The research team found that while the same words were being used to describe people and products, different regions of the brain were activated when subjects were talking about one or the other. The fMRI scans detected that there was a greater neural response in the medial prefrontal cortex regions of the brain when applying the adjectives to people. But when focusing on brands, like Wal-Mart, Starbucks or Ben & Jerry’s, the left inferior prefrontal cortex was activated, an area of the brain known to be involved in object processing.

In other words, you can call it love, but fundamentally, we process the emotion differently depending on the object.

[via MIT Advertising Blog]

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