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The Neuroscience of Creativity, Perception, and Confirmation Bias | Beau Lotto

To ensure your survival, your brain evolved to avoid one thing: uncertainty. As neuroscientist Beau Lotto points out, if your ancestors wondered for too long whether that noise was a predator or not, you wouldn’t be here right now. Our brains are geared to make fast assumptions, and questioning them in many cases quite literally equates to death. No wonder we’re so hardwired for confirmation bias. No wonder we’d rather stick to the status quo than risk the uncertainty of a better political model, a fairer financial system, or a healthier relationship pattern. But here’s the catch: as our brains evolved toward certainty, we simultaneously evolved away from creativity—that’s no coincidence; creativity starts with a question, with uncertainty, not with a cut and dried answer. To be creative, we have to unlearn millions of years of evolution. Creativity asks us to do that which is hardest: to question our assumptions, to doubt what we believe to be true. That is the only way to see differently. And if you think creativity is a chaotic and wild force, think again, says Beau Lotto. It just looks that way from the outside. The brain cannot make great leaps, it can only move linearly through mental possibilities. When a creative person forges a connection between two things that are, to your mind, so far apart, that’s a case of high-level logic. They have moved through steps that are invisible to you, perhaps because they are more open-minded and well-practiced in questioning their assumptions. Creativity, it seems, is another (highly sophisticated) form of logic. Beau Lotto is the author of Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently.

Read more at BigThink.com: http://bigthink.com/videos/beau-lotto-creativity-is-another-form-of-logic

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Transcript: Every behavior that we do, we do to reduce uncertainty. We do it to increase certainty. When you go down below in a boat and your eyes are moving and registering the boat, and your eyes are saying, “Oh, we’re standing still,” but your inner ears are saying, “No, no, we’re moving.” And your brain cannot deal with that conflict so it gets ill.

The stress resulting from uncertainty is tremendous in our society. It increases brain cell death. It decreases plasticity. It makes you a more extreme version of yourself. We do almost everything to avoid uncertainty. And yet the irony is that that’s the only place we can go if we’re ever going to see differently. And that’s why creativity, seeing differently, always begins in the same way: it begins with a question. It begins with not knowing. It begins with a ‘why?’. It begins with a ‘what if?’.

And I should also say that these assumptions are essential for your survival. Every time you take a step your brain has hundreds of assumptions: that the floor is not going to give way, that your legs aren’t going to give way, that that’s not a hole, it’s a surface. So these assumptions keep us alive. But they can also get in the way, because what was once useful may no longer be useful. So your brain evolved to evolve. It’s adapted to adapt. So a deep question is: how is it possible to ever see differently if everything you see is a reflex grounded in your history of assumptions?

Our assumptions—and the process of vision—is both our constraint and our savior at the same time. Because our brain evolved to take what is meaningless and make it meaningful. If you’re not sure that was a predator, it was too late. So your brain evolved to take this meaningless data and make meaning from it, and that’s the process of creating perception. And then we hold on to those assumptions. They create attractor states in your brain, right, and they become very stable. So how could we see differently? It’s by engaging the process of creating perception.
Well the first step in that is to not just admit but embody the fact that everything you do right now is grounded in your assumptions—not sometimes, but all the time. Because if you don’t accept that then you’ll never create the possibility of seeing differently.

So much of ‘Deviate’, if people walk away with anything, it’s knowing the process of perception and in some sense I want them to know less at the end than they think they know now, because nothing interesting begins with knowing, it begins with not knowing. Because the next step is to then identify your assumptions—because most of everything that we do, we don’t know why we do what we do—and then the final step is to question those assumptions.

But questioning assumptions is incredibly difficult, because to question assumptions, to doubt what you assumed to be true already, especially if that assumption defines who you are, is to do the one thing that our brain evolved to avoid, which is uncertainty.

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