Be creative! Experience – Sleep – Hack the brain?

In a QI episode about hypnotism, it got me thinking, about a lot of things and I number of stories delievered by the QI Elves and Mr. Fry, started to resonate and remind me of other talks and discussions about creativity and where it comes from.

I have always been interested in Hypnotism and what actually happens when you are hypnotised.

Wikipedia’s article claims it is a state of heightened fantasy the same kind children live in when playing games. It feels real on a level, but it’s still and active choice. And partly this hypnotic state can be accomplished during your experience as you read books/ watch film/ lister to music/ play games something that engages the brain.

The brain is highly susceptible to suggestion but is highly imaginative as you can get wrapped up in your own creations.

Within the same episode, Mr Fry and the Elves entertained us with a curious question about “your life flashing before your eyes”.

To which the explanation was the brain fast forwarding through your wealth of experience to find a way out of your current predicament. It seams rather logical.

In addition to this, they gave an example of a fireman hearing a sound, and instinctively knows to run away.
The explanation that the sound is registered, stored, filtered, assimilated, categorised into the brain long term storage, more than likely at the behest of our subconsciously so to speak. And as the subconscious does this, it categorises strange creaking sound during a house burning incident with the other ones it had, and sees the pattern of when this creaking sound happened in the other circumstances the building collapsed.
The fireman then has an urge to leave the building completely on instinct, his active concious side of the brain may not know the reasons why until after.

This I found interesting – quite interesting if you pardon the pun.

It resonated a little bit about a study with sleep and memory, I been googling for some time and I can’t find it so I don’t have a reference to show you.

The premise of the experiment was get a bunch of people to play a new map in a first person shooter game.

Everyone learnt their “routes”.
I start here > I run up the stairs > across the hallway to the armour > then down the stairs second door on the right to the health pack.
The second part of the experiment was – half of the players then went to sleep and the other half stayed awake.
The next day, they played the same level again.
The ones who didn’t sleep went down the same established route.
The ones who did sleep, suddenly took different routes or had magically after their sleep had formulated more effecient routes, as if the brain during sleep studied the level in detail, processing the information the player had attained during their waking hours.

It was like the subconscious processed the experiences and did some problem solving for you.

Very interesting indeed almost like the firemans brain having a subconcious database working in parallel filtering information and pattern matching it with what is currently being experienced.

I work/have worked as web programmer in the advertising and creative industries and known many a talented artists; I have to come up with creative solutions to problems, just like my colleague, and had to battle my muse to do so, and I’ve seen my colleagues with illustrations/typography/copy writing battling with their ebbs and flows of their creativity.

And I find the “creative process” interesting.

Sometimes it’s all hands on deck with stress and pressure, other times, it’s a walk, youtube, facebook, toilet break, a nap on the sofa, loud music with headphones.
And then all of a sudden you find yourself in “the zone”, there is this flow of something pounding through you until the idea is spent up.

So it resonated when others talk of a creative process.
To quote Jonathan Coulton in an recent interview where he talks about song writing ( [18:49])

“thinking about it, not thinking about it, walking around, playing the guitar, whatever you do to shut your brain off enough until you can find ‘it’”
he even talked about “channelling the muse”

Which in turn reminds me of a Ted Talk.

“Elizabeth Gilbert muses on the impossible things we expect from artists and geniuses — and shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person “being” a genius, all of us “have” a genius/muse/demon, i.e. an external being that houses that creative aspect of our being thus, when we are not feeling “it”, we don’t need to feel guilt and pressure but offloading the the very feelings that might negates our creativity and blame our muse for not turning up to work today. It’s a funny, personal and surprisingly moving talk – that rolls the clock back from our “enlightened” model of how our brain works to something more ancient.

Where Elizabeth was talking and giving example of creativity and how inspiration can come at all the wrong times, and how something Poems, stories, can come fully formed.
Where she brings up this interesting concept of hanging her creative pressure on her muse/demon and blame that thing for not doing it’s job.

It’s almost like a mystery, as if a hole opens up from another dimension and just thrusts these things into us.
Which when working in a creative branch, needing that hole to open up on a Monday morning meeting and you can’t find it again is a little annoying.


Time to study the brain, the left and right hand side.

“Jill Bolte Taylor got a research opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: She had a massive stroke, and watched as her brain functions — motion, speech, self-awareness — shut down one by one. An astonishing story.”

(now if i remember this right)

The left side of the brain is like a serial processor that we have access to, our little voice/ego that tells us who we are, and that we have to pick up the milk from the store for breakfast tomorrow.

The right side of the brain works like a parallel processor and just absorbs everything we see and do – and I’m sure it does a lot more, but in to keep this in scope of what I want to talk about, Lets keep it overly simplified.

Conclusion ?

Our subconcious the right side of our brain is a parrallel processing, organising and pattern matching system, clearly the thing that told the gamers who got to sleep where that health pack REALLY was.

It was the right hand side of the brain who told that fireman to run out of that building.

And obviously to ensure the sorting of this database is done correctly we need sleep and adequate amounts of it – (sorry parents of newborns)

But what if  our muse, our little creative demon is the same thing.

What if, that “rush” of a fully written story? is actually the subconcious not just filtering/organising/pattern matching like data in our database experience – but it’s also actively creating.

What happens if one side of our brain is actively and in the background, writing poems, laying out scenes in a book or a film,
and then one day when the subconscious is done, it turns to the concious mind and just delivers it over.

Would it be degrading to artists to tell them to just go out, experience and bunch of stuff and sleep on it, and the day afterwards they should get the material they need?

But with learned behaviour and thinking strategies, Is there a way we can systematically hit a hypnotic state, hacking/re-programming our thoughts in our the brain (as the expression goes) and get access to this creative subconscious.

Is the watching of a movie/ or reading a book – really the answer? Our brain are engaged and get partialy hypnotized state. Does that state link our concsious and subconcious partailly to so we get access to the work our subconcious brain has been preparing on the side (if it is at all ready). Are we to meditate to another state of mind?

It feels like a more structured approach than  the meaningless depressing walk because we can’t create, talking about something else, only to see a leaf/tree/something that sparks that eureka feeling and you have everything you need….and when you get stuck you think back to that trigger event and you squeeze out bit more from your muse.

But even if we could structure a burst from our subconcious demon, it still feels rather hit and miss and  one way. Can we get the little demon more organised could we interact with it, making the subconscious more productive, can we be more effective? Could our creative works be better? Would it take some of the pain, anxiety and even the joy out of the creative process?

I needed to share this idea with someone.

Maybe there might be something to all this, with studies already done, with books and papers published that needs to be circulated and enlightening myself and others, and if not, you are more than welcome to sleep on it!


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