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The Creating Brain: The Neuroscience of Genius Hardcover – November 30, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. How does one define extraordinary creativity? Is creative genius a product of nature or nurture? And can those of us who are less creative enhance the creative capacity in ourselves and others? Andreasen (The Broken Brain), editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Psychiatric Association, brings neuroscience to bear in providing insight and expert analysis of the connections between extraordinary creativity, mental illness, intelligence and the social environment. The complex subject matter is punctuated with intriguing research, such as Andreasen's Iowa Writer's Workshop study examining the relationship between creativity and psychopathology; a study of London taxi drivers showing that their need for extensive memory of the city leads to a larger hippocampus; and a study of members of symphony orchestras that found increased gray matter in Broca's area. These studies lead Andreasen to conclude that "extraordinary creativity" is the result of neural processes that "differ qualitatively as well as quantitatively" from those of other people. The author's passion and admiration for creative genius and the arts—not surprising given her Ph.D. in Renaissance English literature—is evidenced in her exploration of such great minds as Mozart, da Vinci, Michelangelo and Tchaikovsky. And quotations from introspective accounts by mathematician Henri Poincaré, chemist Friedrich Kekulé, Stephen Spender and Neil Simon vividly describe mental activities that are anything but ordinary. Andreasen leaves us with hope that the potential exists to enhance the creative capacity in our children and in ourselves. Photos and illus. (Nov.)
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From Scientific American

What is the nature of creativity? What conditions foster it? What is going on inside the brain of a Mozart or a Shakespeare during the creative process? And is there a relation between creativity and mental illness, as often posited? Science thus far has produced only sketchy answers to these fascinating questions. The Creating Brain is a worthwhile inquiry into the subject and a reminder of how little is known.

Nancy C. Andreasen, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at the University of Iowa who started her career as a Renaissance English scholar, argues that some characteristics of creative people—such as openness to new experiences and sensitivity to sensory inputs—may also make them more prone to mental and emotional problems. Her study of Iowa Writers Workshop participants shows a correlation between mood disorders and creativity, and other scientists have found similar tendencies in studies of literary and artistic types. Such research, however, has not shown a suspected link between artistic creativity and schizophrenic symptoms. Andreasen, who tends to draw conclusions primarily from her own work, notes that she is performing a study to see if any such tendency exists among especially creative scientists.

Despite the paucity of evidence, Andreasen suggests that creativity arises largely from the "association cortex"—parts of the frontal, parietal and temporal lobes that integrate sensory and other information. This idea, however, has just begun to be researched; Andreasen, again, relies heavily on her own study, this one done with positron-emission tomography (PET) scans of people’s brains during free association.

In pondering the topic of genius, Andreasen points out that certain historical times and places have produced a bounty of brilliance. Among these "cradles of creativity" she lists ancient Athens, Renaissance Florence and mid- to late 19th-century Paris. Her list of factors spurring creative thought in such places is plausible if unsurprising: intellectual freedom, open competition, a critical mass of creative people, the presence of mentors and patrons, and some degree of economic prosperity.

Andreasen also provides tips for boosting creativity. For adults, she proposes exercises such as making close observations of a chosen item or imagining oneself to be someplace or someone else. Her suggestions for kids are mainly common sense, including less television exposure and more music and outdoor activity. The Creating Brain contains much of interest, even if breakthroughs lie mostly in the future.

Kenneth Silber


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 197 pages
  • Publisher: Dana Press; 1 edition (November 30, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1932594078
  • ISBN-13: 978-1932594072
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #348,075 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Lee D. Carlson HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on November 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It is accurate to say that there has been more creative energy released in the last twenty-five years than any than the last twenty-five hundred. This is due not only to the number of people that are actually alive now, but also to the vast amount of knowledge that is readily available. Modern technology is responsible for the availability of this knowledge, and the technology itself was the result of human creativity and ingenuity. In addition, creative people can now communicate in ways they could not before, thanks to the rise of the Internet. Further, innovation has been strongly encouraged, not primarily by educational institutions and hierarchies, but by the business community. This is an interesting development, and one that shows every indication of continuing. The academy, which used to be considered a refugee camp for the creative mind, is no longer a place where one can pursue and develop original ideas without extreme difficulty.

In this highly interesting book, the author acknowledges that the environment is important in nurturing creativity, but she also wants to understand what mechanisms in the brain are responsible for it. An understanding of these mechanisms is extremely important, for it could point the way to better methods of enhancing creativity, either by using pharmaceuticals, with techniques from genetic engineering, or possibly with radical changes in the environment. The author is a neuroscientist, and not a philosopher, and so her analysis is based more on what is observed in the laboratory, and not mere speculations from the armchair. Her goal is to obtain a neuroscience of creativity, which considering the paucity of research in this area, is a goal that one hopes she (and other researchers) will succeed in reaching.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By STEPHEN PLETKO on March 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover

QUESTION: What do Neil Simon (playwright), Mozart (music composer), and Friedrich Kekule (organic chemist) have in common?

ANSWER: Each was considered to be a creative genius.

This slim book by Dr. Nancy Andreasen attempts to explain how the above people and those like them create great works of art and come up with original ideas in the sciences. Does their creative genius reside in their neuroanatomy?

Andreasen explains more about her book:

"[My] book is primarily about extraordinary creativity. I wanted to write about how extremely gifted people have created things that have made our lives, our society, and our civilization richer and more beautiful."

Each of this book's six chapters is divided into subsections. Below I will give the title of the chapter (in upper case) and then give the titles of each subsection so as to give an overview of the entire book:


The evolution of concepts of creativity; Creativity vs intelligence; Creativity and society: who decides?; What is creativity.


The scientific study of creativity; The creative person; The creative process; The case-study method and introspective descriptions of the creative process; Five introspective accounts (written by five people who represent extraordinary creativity).


Creativity and the brain; How does the brain think?; A primer of brain anatomy; The complexity of brain networks; The human brain as a self-organizing system; What is human thought?; Unconscious thought; The neural basis of extraordinary creativity.
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34 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Derek J on January 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In writing this book Dr. Andreasen had to consider her audience. This
book was written for a general audience, not the academic or medical community.
Therefore it must appeal to that end both in language and length of text.
I think that Dr. Andreasen is successful in her anecdotal approach to
writing this book. It keeps things interesting for those of us who might
have trouble sifting through the thousands and thousands of articles
published about creativity in medical or psychology journals. If you are looking for a summary of everything that has been written on the topic, you are looking for another book....and very likely one that would not be of much interest to a general audience.
Why anyone would expect a book that is obviously written for most
moderately educated people to be so conclusive, especially at this stage
in neuroscience, is beyond me. If one were to try to cover all aspects of
how people are creative, it would likely be longer than all of wikipedia.
I am an artist. For this book, I used a method usually reserved for viewing art, and
that is, assume everything is intentional. If the painter gives Mary a
long neck, it's not that he or she doesn't know how to paint a neck. It is because the painter is trying to emphasize something about the neck. Being a PhD in
English, I would gather that Dr. Andreasen knows a thing or two about
writing well. Being an accomplished scientist in addition, she also has an amazing capacity to make difficult topics easy to understand. Perhaps this skill-one that is quite rare in highly credentialed scholars like Dr. Andreasen-is one reason that several reviewers have perceived the book to be "too simple."
In this book Dr.
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