Are we born creative or does our imagination grow over time? And if it blossoms, who plants the seed and nurtures the soil?
Some years ago, I took it upon myself to conduct 1,000 personal interviews with men about woman, love, and life. Note: I had no idea men would be so open to sharing their innermost thoughts and emotions, which proved to be emotionally exhausting for me. After suffering two meltdowns due to information overload, I could listen no further and so by end of the sixth year, I stopped the interviews at 527 men.
I was fortunate to gain access to men who were well known for their creative talents. Award winning movie directors, actors, and writers shared access to the source of their imaginations. Their stories were sometimes bitter and sometimes sweet. Almost to a man they credited the inspiration and encouragement received from their mothers—but not their fathers. Successful men often cited their fathers as the chief discouragers in their pursuit of artistic careers.
One example: the interviewee was an Academy Award nominated director. His popular films expose the human spirit with all its good and bad qualities. “D” shared the source of his creativity:
My father was an attorney. He saw the law as my only career option and allowed me no time for fantasy. My mother adored movies, and often during the week, after school, we might spend an hour or two at the local theater since father was forever working late. I became familiar with the movie stars of the day, but more importantly, my imagination grew with each exposure. Knowing my father’s dislike of comic books, my mother allowed me to keep a secret treasure box under my bed. It was filled with the latest Superman, Green Hornet, and Spiderman adventures. It was her quiet support that granted me the freedom to find my happiness in life. I would have been miserable as a lawyer, but as a director and screenwriter I have found my joy. I would say my mother saw the latent seed in me from birth and cultivated it, risking my father’s displeasure.
My own early imaginative days:
I spent most of my fourth year huddled in the dark in the hall closet, determined to turn myself into a black panther. With my eyes closed, I chanted a spell I had conjured from some unknown source (we did not own a television.) “Now I shut my eyes real tight, and wish and wish with all my might.”
Somewhere in my pre-K imagination I had determine that with the right amount of positive thinking I could shape shift. But where does a television-less tot get the idea she can change into a jungle cat? And how did I learn about panthers without the Internet or the telly? Did my imagination enter the world as part of the infant me but with a separate memory of things I had yet to experience? What stems from our imagination and what is truly memory? Where did I learn about black panthers as this was before Disney’s Jungle Book, and my formative years were spent in a small apartment in the city?
What gives humans their creativity?
In 2013 Dartmouth researchers concluded in a study that creativity lies in a widespread neural network — the brain’s “mental workspace” — that consciously manipulates images, symbols, ideas and theories and gives humans the laser-like mental focus needed to solve complex problems and come up with new ideas. (It reminds me of a shocking haircut.)
“Our findings move us closer to understanding how the organization of our brains sets us apart from other species and provides such a rich internal playground for us to think freely and creatively,” said lead author Alex Schlegel, a graduate student in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. “Understanding these differences will give us insight into where human creativity comes from and possibly allow us to recreate those same creative processes in machines.”
Scholars theorize that human imagination requires a widespread neural network in the brain, but evidence for such a “mental workspace” has been difficult to produce with techniques that mainly study brain activity in isolation. Dartmouth researchers addressed the issue by asking: How does the brain allow us to manipulate mental imagery? For instance, imagining a bumblebee with the head of a bull, a seemingly effortless task but one that requires the brain to construct a totally new image and make it appear in our mind’s eye.
In the Dartmouth study, 15 participants were asked to imagine specific abstract visual shapes and then to mentally combine them into new more complex figures or to mentally dismantle them into their separate parts. Researchers measured the participants’ brain activity with functional MRI and found a cortical and subcortical network over a large part of the brain was responsible for their imagery manipulations. The network closely resembles the “mental workspace” that scholars have theorized might be responsible for much of human conscious experience and for the flexible cognitive abilities that humans have evolved. The theory sounds plausible, but what about my black panther?
Story Source: The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Dartmouth College. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
I continue to wonder how much of our creativity comes from prior life experiences as child protégée’s often remain unexplainable – Click the link below for a mind-boggling performance. Nature or Nurture?
What do you think? Did you enter the world ready to create? Or was it nature, nurture, or a combination of both?
I’d love to hear your thoughts!
With love & laughter,