Scientific Evidence: Origins of Creativity

By Shlomo Maital

Scientific American

In our book Cracking the Creativity Code:   my friend and co-author Arie Ruttenberg and I present a framework for creativity called ZiZoZi – zoom in (on the problem), zoom out (to find solutions), zoom back in to apply them.  Repeat as needed.

   Recently browsing through old Scientific American issues, (March 2013), I found an especially wonderful one on “The Evolution of Creativity”. In it Heather Pringle, who writes on archaeology, explores how human creativity evolved, over thousands of years of human history. It includes this passage, which describes a process similar to zoom in/zoom out:

     “….[creative] individuals are excellent woolgatherers. When tackling a problem [according to cognitive scientist Liane Gabora, U. of British Columbia, and Scott Barry Kaufman, psychologist at NYU],   they first let their minds wander, allowing one memory or thought to spontaneously conjure up another. [Zoom Out].

   “This free association encourages analogies and gives trise to thoughts that break out of the box.   Then as these individuals settle on a vague idea for a solution, they switch to a more analytic mode of thought. They zero in on only the most relevant properties, Gabora says, and they start refining an idea to make it work. [Zoom In].

     Gabora believes that as hominoids developed bigger brains, this led to a greater ability to ‘free associate’. More stimuli could be encoded in a brain made up of many billions of neurons. More neurons could participate in the encoding of a particular episode, leading to a finer-grained memory and more potential routes for associating one stimulus with another.

   The key seems to be the word “associate”.   Creative people link things that other people find totally unrelated. These ‘leaps’ of insight occur in brains that are good at making such connections.

     And the more we practice, the better we get at it.