How the creative brain works or how by making a sandwich you can upgrade your creativity with 15%

      Ever since I was little I have always been pretty curious around the world that is surrounding me. I definitely have been one of the annoying children that ask random questions constantly. My mom even admitted earlier today that she used to read additional literature, because sometimes I would ask questions she herself did not know how to answer!

Driven by unquenchable thirst for knowledge, here I am! In university, finishing up my MA program and getting ready to give start to a whole new chapter of my life- the serious one.


In my previous post we talked about what is serious and what is not. To be honest, I think I will always continue to look at the world through my pink glasses. But this is because I choose to- it has become part of myself and after 23 years I can proudly say that I am happy with what I have become (and what I have remained to be 🙂 ). And why should that mean I am not serious? After all, we saw that play can be serious player, too!

Exploring the world around me, one day I came across an amazing documentary from BBC that discovers different theories about what processes are going on in our brains when we are experiencing insights. I love watching documentaries and settle my curiosity. Another signature of my character as a person is that I always seek for logical reasons behind every thing. To be honest I was really surprised by the fact that I was about to watch a film about a logical explanation behind the process of creativity. Doesn’t it sound a like a paradox? Anyway my curiosity is always stronger and leads the way so I dived in.

Photo: screenshot from the documentary.

The movie itself starts in a very pleasant way, giving us vibrant images from the beautiful Californian coastline. As they have already got my attention 100%, popcorn was not needed. The first story in the documentary is about an experiment, held by the ocean pier, making people wonder How can they remove a $100 bill when a giant metal pyramid is balanced on top? To solve the problem they should think of a way to get the money, without disturbing the pyramid’s position. The solution is easy- think OUTSIDE of the pyramid.

Prof. Jonathan Schooler from University of California, Santa Barbara is one of the individuals behind the project. He says that the process of “suddenly realising the other way” is the actual moment we experience the so called insight, which is a critical moment of the process of creativity in our brains. When the experiment was held, people involved in it were using both sides of their brain, but the right side is the one responsible for the process of insight. And there you have it! Who said you should take the $100 out as a whole, when you can burn it?


Next Dr. Mark Beeman from Northwestern University explains where is the inspiration being captured as it strikes like a lightning and again it is the right side of the brain. Insight оссurs in thе аntеriоr suреriоr tеmроrаl gуrus, wе hаvе оnе оf thеsе оn еасh sidе оf thе brаin but whеn аn insight оссurrеd it shоwеd а burst оf gаmmа rауs оn thе right hаnd оnе. Here my thirst for knowledge ran faster than the film and I wondered what happens before the process of insight? How do we get there? Fortunately Drexel University professor John Kounios answered my questions. He explains briefly that after many studies he discovered that before the insight our brains produce alfa waves on the back of our brains where is the cortex responsible for image processing. A curious note is that only seconds before we knew the solution to our problem our brain “shuts down” or “blink”. This is how it cuts off distractions!

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It all starts with a problem that logic can’t solve, then it is the brain blink and there are the gamma waves that lead us to the moment of insight that actually lights the bulb. 

Flashing images takes us back to Venice Beach in California. Wonderful beach, too bad we did not have enough time to go there when me and couple of friends from uni were on a trip to the West Coast of the United Stated couple of weeks ago. As the sun is setting and the skateboard guys are going wild, Dr. Rex Jung (University of New Mexico) is asking people who can find most uses of a simple red brick for 1 minute time. After serious attempts from people of all genders and ages, Dr. Jung explains that the process of finding a different approach to an already common thing/problem is called divergent thinking, which of course we are already familiar with from my previous blog post 🙂

Photo: screenshot from the documentary.

This interesting image does not represent new kind of gluten-free vegan noodles unfortunately. What it speaks about instead is thе wiring in оur brаins thаt соnnесts diffеrеnt rеgiоns аnd wе аll hаvе 150.000 km оf it stоrеd uр thеrе ! Another theory he catches in his speach is that IQ and creativity are a lot different than people think.

What really makes us creative are the connections our brain does between different regions in it. And believe it or not, when it comes to creativity LESS IS BETTER. Before you drop your jaw like I did he adds that certain areas of our brain are less packed and nerved traffic is slowed down. Therefore our brain figures out different pathways and thus new areas are being connected with each other (divergent thinking). Creativity is SLOW. Roads are small and unknown, drive carefully!


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As the documentary is almost finished a new pretty exciting theory for me occurs. The theory behind music improvisation. The easiest way to explain the process of this kind of improvisation will be by saying that it is music that will never be played in the same way again. (Or at least it will be pretty hard- I still believe nothing is impossible.)

Being a musician I know that when you improvise you do not think of what will happen next. This is the only time I can gladly say that I just “go with the flow”. I let the music fulfil me and as I feel it rushing through my veins I just let it be. Dr. Charles Limb from Johns Hopkins University is very fascinated by this idea and he decides to study it. He invites one of his friends who happen to be really experienced jazz musician. He puts the musician in a scanner when a specific computer software will calculate what happens in his mind while he improvises on his keyboard.

The results- Dr. Limb discovers that there are significant changes in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain as if the musician turns off the “gate keepers” and is willing to take risks. He does not think of the reason, he just plays.

Before I summarise all of the info you just gained let me add about the last fascinating case study of Dr. Simone Ritter from Radbound University of Holland. She founds out that there is a relation between creativity and unexpected experiences. She proves herself to be right and in addition says that if everyday we try to disrupt our routines even in the smallest way (dip your pancake/sandwich in chocolate, do not spread it on top of it!) we will burst creative process in our brains up to 15%! And yes, again this is the “magic” of divergent thinking.

The new connections our brain makes between our brain cells lead to the formation of new original ideas. However this does not guarantee this ideas are going to be working. For the successful implementation of a really good and working idea we need a lot more things than just playfulness which is more relevant to the creative part, but not the innovation part. It requires different set of skills like analytical thinking, attention to detail and persistence (Bateson & Martin, 2013).

All these processes of innovation, insights and creativity can easily get us stuck. Our music professor will always say- if you feel tired, better take a break, go for a walk and then listen to the track again for fresh ideas. It turns out that when we take a moment of “break” we can do one more trick to upgrade our creativity level even further!
Prof. Jonathan Schooler (again) finds out that if we engage our minds with less-demanding tasks that will still allow our brains to wonder freely when we take a “break” it will increase our creativity! By doing this we “stir the pot”, allowing special kind of unconscious recombination which again is beneficial to creativity.

I found the whole documentary really fascinating and curiosity-relieving if I could say, because a lot of my questions were answered. Also I overcame my suspicious thinking in the beginning because I never believed that creativity can actually be studied in a reliable scientific way. What can I say- we live in the era of miracles and great technological innovation and advance, God bless!

If you want, have a glimpse yourself, there is nothing more I can/should say 🙂 : 

See you on my next adventure. You are all invited! In the meantime stay safe and drive slowly but surely on your new undiscovered roads of creativity! Safe journey!


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