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The Creating Brain: The Neuroscience of Genius Hardcover – November 30, 2005
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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 peoplesuch as openness to new experiences and sensitivity to sensory inputsmay 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 peoples 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.
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