Monday, July 30, 2012

Random Reflections on Creativity

I am in the middle of a book called The Creating Brain: The Neuroscience of Genius.  It was suggested to me by a neuropsychologist whom I met recently through a colleague.  Although I wouldn't necessarily recommend the book, a few ideas came to mind as I read it that I thought were interesting:

1)  The ability to recognize and reconsider relationships is at the core of all creativity.  (I am reminded of Hofstadter's (1995) comments about the critical role that variations on a theme play in creativity.)

2)  Novel approaches to perception, observation, interpretation, and representation are essential components of creative production.

Perception - What falls within the scope of our awareness?  What do we notice?  I believe this to be heavily influenced by our openness to new experience, and by the depth and breadth of our prior knowledge and experience.

Observation - How deeply do we immerse ourselves in both our internal and external worlds?  To which features of those worlds do we attend?  How many layers do we consider?  To what extent are we attuned to the relationships between those layers, or to the dynamic interactions between them?

Interpretation - On which resources do we draw as we seek to understand our experiences?  Do we consider what we have observed from multiple perspectives using a wide variety of heuristics?  Do we look at both individual and systemic factors?  Do we consider sociocultural contexts?  Are our interpretations non-linear, dynamic, flexible, and fluid enough to accommodate change?

Representation - How do we attempt to represent our experiences, our questions about them, and our conclusions?  Do our representations acknowledge that they are necessarily incomplete?

3)  Much research on creativity has highlighted the important role that unstructured down time plays in creativity.  However, that may be because it facilitates unstructured thought.  Andreasen (2005) phrases the idea in this intriguing way: "I would hypothesize that during the creative process the brain begins by disorganizing, making links between shadowy forms of objects or symbols or words or remembered experiences that have not previously been linked" (p. 78).  This might explain why children seem to "lose" their creativity as they progress through school.  Perhaps the highly structured nature of schooling (and the type of thinking it reinforces and rewards) precludes engagement in the types of cognition responsible for creativity.

4)  Creativity is linked to the development of linguistic proficiency.  Language teachers and their students are quick to assume that a large vocabulary is a prerequisite condition for any sort of creative composition in another language.  A quick look at the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines 2012 seems to support that. Yet consider the implications of this statement: "It is likely that one factor contributing to literary creativity is having a lexicon not only large in quantity of words but also rich in associated meanings for each word" (Andreasen, 2005, p. 67).  How frequently do we explicitly engage students in developing associative networks of MEANING around the lists of vocabulary words we insist that they memorize?  It is not uncommon in older textbooks to see words categorized by parts of speech (such as nouns, adjectives, etc.).  At best, we may categorize the words topically (i.e., foods) with a few subcategories thrown in (fruits, vegetables, beverages).  However, textbook drills seldom connect the words to meaningful contexts, much less engage students in exploring layers of meaning associated with the words.  As a result, we severely limit students' ability to create with the language they are learning.

Andreasen, Nancy C.  (2005).  The Creating Brain:  The Neuroscience of Genius.  NY:  Dana Press.  ISBN 1-932594-07-8.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Dance

Anchored in the sand
Of shared understanding,
She scooped up a handful of notes,
Letting them flow through her fingers;
He patted them down with his feet
In syncopated splashes of skill.

Comfortably connected,
They waded deeper into the music
Swaying and swirling
To the rhythm of the waves
Which ebbed and flowed around them.

As they danced, she slowly realized
Just how far she had drifted
From the glittering shores
Of her best self—

A scintillating sandcastle
Sparkling in the sunlight
Of sudden insight.

She closed her eyes
Before the next wave of doubt

Came crashing in.

Cherice Montgomery - July 13, 2012