Creativity, Attention, Self-Editing, and Depressants

While reading the description for Mark Levy’s Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight and Content I was struck by this paragraph:

Freewriting is deceptively simple: Start writing as fast as you can, for as long as you can, about a subject you care deeply about, while ignoring the standard rules of grammar and spelling. Your internal editor won’t be able to keep up with your output, and will be temporarily shunted into the background. You’ll now be able to think more honestly and resourcefully than before, and will generate breakthrough ideas and solutions that you couldn’t have created any other way. [Emphasis mine]

As it happens, I’ve always been a creative person. I’ve also recently learned that a hallmark of ADD is creativity (and the drugs that treat it have a tendency to impair creativity). And, as I’ve seen for myself, a recent study mentioned in an Economist article found that drinking alcohol enhances creativity. If the history of modern music is any gauge at all, marijuana also enhances creativity.

Meanwhile, in trying to understand what makes my own brain work the way it does while reconciling the fact that everyone’s brain is basically the same, weight- and component-wise (ie, high-IQ individuals don’t literally have faster neurons or more neurons). I came up with an idea of “Assertion Bias”. My idea was that ADD, “creativity”, and some kinds of high IQ might result from a neuronal pattern that, one way or another, favors relatively “deep” chasing of assertions over whatever is the “norm”, potentially resulting in more rare cognitive leaps more often, resulting in increased “creativity” (relative to the norm), but at the cost of having less attention (consciousness time) available for what the “average” brain would be doing, given the same input. In this way, “Assertion Bias” is like a facet of ADD but, in my opinion, a more useful description of what the brains of people with ADD are doing, as opposed to simply not being “attentive” (especially since people with ADD can be extraordinarily attentive to whatever interests them at the moment – which is often video games for children with ADD).

But Levy’s book description is also correct – a key part of “creativity” is modulated by the degree to which we self-edit ourselves. It seems like these are all inter-related. Interestingly, another point of diagnosis for ADD is impulsive behavior. And someone who edits their ideas for potential actions a little less than the “norm” would tend to exhibit “impulsive” behavior – though such a person would probably call it “creative behavior,” except when it gets them into trouble. =)

Another facet of ADD is a kind of irritability, as well as procrastination, both of which I also know well, and have noticed seem to arise for the same reason – a sense of mental fatigue. The irritability sets in when others pressure someone with ADD to focus on something that ADD-person isn’t “interested” in and, so, has trouble mustering the “mental energy” to focus on. Repeated calls for their attention result in irritation for the ADD-person. Procrastination results from the ADD-brain being “interested” in other things and, as a result, unable to muster the interest in what prudence would suggest one “ought” to focus on.

So, perhaps the “internal editor” is less prominent in people with ADD as a result of this de facto mental fatigue, and alcohol and other depressants simulate the same effect. But depressants would be expected to have a broad effect on the brain, not such a targeted effect. However, for a long time I’ve thought there seems to be an interesting difference in how depressants, such as alcohol, affect different people. It would be interesting whether fMRI studies found that alcohol, rather than only depressing – rather alternately stimulates and depresses oxygen utilization in different regions of the brain in different people, and does so in a consistent pattern for any given person.

If so, it might be that ADD, creativity, and the way any one person responds to alcohol are actually merely side effects of small changes in blood vessel distribution or simply the way blood-oxygen gets utilized. This could be driven by subtle changes in the relative location of specific neural areas, or small efficiencies or inefficiencies in some of the proteins involved.

More importantly, it seems plausible that these are all inter-related aspects of the same neural dynamic…


About stormculture

In pursuit of reality.
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