Friday, July 25, 2008

Review of The Creating Brain: The Neuroscience of Genius posted by Nina Sacoor as part of CRS 625 Current Issues class summer 2008

THE CREATING BRAIN: THE NEUROSCIENCE OF GENIUS

THE AUTHOR

Nancy Andreasen, M.D., Ph.D., is the Andrew H. Woods Chair of Psychiatry and Director of the Mental Health Clinical Research Center at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. She is also the Director of The MIND Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She has been a professor of Renaissance Literature (the discipline of her PhD) and editor in chief of The American Journal of Psychiatry since 1994. She has written or edited fifteen books, including The Broken Brain and Brave New Brain. She was awarded the National Medal of Science in 2000 by President Clinton.

FROM OTHERS

Drawing on her expertise as a scientist, physician and scholar of literature, Nancy Andreasen gives a clear, readable, synoptic account of current knowledge in human creativity.
Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Education and Cognition, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Neuroscientists, until recently, shied away from the big questions such as “what is consciousness” “What is abstract thinking” or (the topic of this book) “what is creativity” as being empirically unapproachable. Nancy Andreasen’s book comes as a welcome antidote to this inherent conservatism and shows us how creativity can be approached scientifically. In a market that is flooded with “new age” books on creativity Dr. Andreasen’s meticulously researched contribution comes as a breath of fresh air.
VS Ramachandran, M.D. Director, Center for brain and cognition, University of California, San Diego and author of A BRIEF TOUR OF HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS

OTHER
Dr. Andreasen was a keynote speaker at the Learning & The Brain Conference, May 2006 in Cambrigde, MA, organized by Harvard Graduate School of Education – Mind, Brain and Education and co-sponsored by other leading research universities.
I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Andreasen (and having the book signed).



SUMMARY

In this book, Andreasen (2005) provides a tour of creativity and the brain and addresses questions such as “what is creativity”, “where does it come from” and “can everyone be creative”. As a psychiatrist and a neuroscientist, she explores how the human brain achieves creative breakthroughs, the difference between ordinary and extraordinary creativity and the relationship between genius and insanity. She examines the creative person and the creative process by discussing creators such as Mozart and Henri Poincare.

In the nature of creativity, the author offers a detailed discussion on creativity vs. intelligence, from the study of genius conducted by Lombroso and Galton, to the measurements of IQ (Terman, Binet, MacKinnon). She distinguishes between ordinary and extraordinary creativity, and adopts Csikszentmihalyi’s “systems model” which include the person, domain and field.

Andreasen (2005) also examines the creative person and the creative process and attempts to provide an understanding from a scientific point of view, discussing Guilford’s call on psychology’s lack of attention on creativity, the development of tools to measure personality and cognition in their relation to creativity, the emergence of historiometrics developed by Simonton, as well as the case-study method (used by Frank Barron and D. W. McKinnon, for example) as a research strategy for the study of creativity.

“How does the brain think” and “how does the brain create” are questions that guide the search for a neural basis of creativity. According to Andreasen (2005), creative people often slip into a zone in which ideas and thoughts come up freely in a disorganized way. During that state, a part of the brain known as the association cortex becomes very active. That brain region is known to be able to link up ideas or thoughts in potentially novel ways.

The book also explores the relationship between genius and insanity by analyzing mental illness in extraordinary creators like Einstein and John Nash. Creative people are more vulnerable and have greater openness and tolerance to ambiguity. As these characteristics can lead to feelings of depression or social alienation, some symptoms may translate into mania or perhaps schizophrenia.

Finally, the nature and nurture of creativity are discussed by covering the importance of the environment, mentors and patrons and the role of innate gifts. Creativity and brain plasticity represents perhaps the most interesting discussion as it reveals the brain’s own ability to re-make itself in an adaptable, responsive and continually changing way. Andreasen (2005) declares this fact in a clear and compelling manner:

Neuroscience adds a new dimension: it makes us aware that experiences throughout life change the brain throughout life. We are literally remaking our brains – who we are and how we think, with all our actions, reactions, perceptions, postures, and positions – every minute of the day and every day of the week and every month and year of our entire lives” (p. 146).

References:
Andreasen, N. C. (2005). The creating brain: The neuroscience of genius. New York, NY/Washington, DC: Dana Press.

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