What is creativity and why are we surprised when logical types show it? Isn’t there supposed to be a dominant side of the brain? Left side logic – right side creative?
Right? Well. No. It’s a Myth.
Creativity is simply the ability to come up with something new – or thinking in new ways. Thinking outside the box, the ability to see patterns that are not obvious – equally relevant to maths, science, and the arts. Some of the curliest maths problems have only been solved through the creative leanings of the world’s greatest mathematicians, and some of the finest works of art are based on exquisite mathematical formulae.
“Creativity is only intelligence having fun”
– based on a quote by George Scialabba, Mindplay, 1984, Harvard Magazine
I am a scientist, but a rock and wood sculptor in my spare time. I find it liberating and enthralling to create something unique. How do I get into that creative space? No idea, but I do know it can’t be forced, and that I am completely unaware of the passage of time!
So, when did this left logical – right emotional brain idea take hold? The misconception began in the late 1800’s when two neurologists, Broca and Wernicke, noticed damage in the left side of brains from patients who had been unable to communicate properly. They reasonably concluded that language was controlled by the left hemisphere of the brain. Remember, this was all based on dissection and light microscopy, long before CAT scans.
The left brain-right brain idea caught the popular imagination – we like simple explanations. Writer Robert Louis Stevenson popularised the concept in one of his novels – the logical left hemisphere-dominant Dr Jekyll (think Mr Spock, too) and the emotional right hemisphere-dominant Mr Hyde.
And this stuck, despite not standing up to ongoing scientific research – people with missing or damaged lobes on either side still showed a full range of functions.
We now know that one side of the brain is more active than the other for some functions. Language is more localised to the left, and attention to the right, so one side of the brain may do more work, but this varies with the system not with the person.
There is no evidence for a dominant side of the brain, or a left-right split between logic and creativity. And the idea of logic and creativity being at odds with each other doesn’t hold up well, either. Neither does there being a conflict between being logical and creative. Almost every feat of logic and creativity shows the brain functioning as a whole.
So, that means that we scientists can be both, without some sort of deep soul-wrenching conflict!