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Aha! The anatomy of insight, like a rolling stone.
April 7, 2012 3:56 PM   Subscribe

How do we have insights, and where does inspiration come from? Jonah Lehrer goes inside Bob Dylan's brain to find out...the "neural correlate of insight": the anterior superior temporal gyrus (aSTG). This small fold of tissue, located on the surface of the right hemisphere just above the ear, became unusually active in the seconds before the epiphany.

[pdf] We propose that people have an Aha! experience when they suddenly recognize that some information, which they have already semantically activated, either is the solution or points to the solution path. The suddenness suggests that the solution-related activation was previously below the threshold of awareness, perhaps overshadowed by other activation not related to the solution. This account jibes with the consensus view that insight problems misdirect solvers to consider unhelpful information or solution paths: Some misdirected activation may be stronger than activation of solution-related concepts. Only when strong misdirected activation subsides can solutionrelated activation surpass the threshold of consciousness and be recognized.
posted by nickyskye (22 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
previously.
posted by phaedon at 5:14 PM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is there a drug in the works, something to make me have insight and inspiration synthetically, without the work, the time, the thought? Or was that Cocaine?
posted by TwelveTwo at 5:32 PM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


So now we can build a hat that actually has a light-bulb that goes off when you have an epiphany?
posted by delmoi at 6:46 PM on April 7, 2012 [15 favorites]


Psychedelics can give you the sensation of having achieved insight, associated with whatever nonsense occurred to you at the time. As with natural dreams, they can also give you genuine insights, due to connecting information in random ways and hence finding unanticipated synergies. Telling the difference is the problem. While psychedelics are not addictive as such, some personalities find the sensation of insight extremely desirable, and so will use the drug rather than actually solving actual problems.

Entheogenics do a similar thing with the religious experience, the sensation of belonging, destiny, having a place and purpose in the world. Therapeutic to the disconnected and alienated; somewhere between ritualistic and masturbatory to those who have plenty of healthy connections in their lives. Religious ritual and chanting will give many people this experience naturally to some extent, which is a part of the appeal of churchgoing that is lost on most self-described "rationalists". They are getting a "natural high" by doing it. Of course they're not interested in your arguments about underlying truths.

Similarly marijuana can give you a sense of accomplishment and contentment whether warranted or not. Accordingly it is medicative for excessive anxiety, and helpful for circumstances where anxiety is warranted but unhelpful (which is most of the time anxiety occurs). However, it risks the user's sense of ambition and desire for natural achievement of worthwhile goals.

Used the right way a "mind-altering" drug is a ladder, used the wrong way it is a cage. In any case it only alters the mind in a manner that neurochemistry already supports.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:56 PM on April 7, 2012 [18 favorites]


Delmoi, even better than that: the hat you describe would be a biofeedback training device!
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:57 PM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow. What a fabulous post! Just such a great thing to come home to. Thanks, nicky.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 7:45 PM on April 7, 2012


This post is...peanuts...duct tape...9 v battery...wait, AWESOME.

(My ear hurts.)
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:28 PM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Delmoi, even better than that: the hat you describe would be a biofeedback training device!
Training for what though? To recognize when you have an epiphany? But don't you already know that?
Psychedelics can give you the sensation of having achieved insight, associated with whatever nonsense occurred to you at the time. As with natural dreams, they can also give you genuine insights, due to connecting information in random ways and hence finding unanticipated synergies. Telling the difference is the problem. While psychedelics are not addictive as such, some personalities find the sensation of insight extremely desirable, and so will use the drug rather than actually solving actual problems.
I read a story about a guy who decided to take LSD to see if it would help him invent stuff, he came up with this thing you put a toilet to help toilet train children.

On the other hand, while not taking LSD he built a cool collaborative hypertext system where multiple people could edit documents while video conferencing. Oh yeah, he also did this in 1968. And also no one else had ever done anything like it. And since you kind of need a mouse for that, so he invented that too.

(He called the potty training thing a tinkle toy)

He also came up with a chording keyboard to go with the mouse, which no one uses. It would probably make things a lot more efficient though, you wouldn't need to switch between mouse and keyboard to change 'where' you type.
posted by delmoi at 9:52 PM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


If modes of thought are influenced by blood and bioelectrical flow to parts of the brain, and the ephiphanous lightbulb hat is an analogue device, perhaps it may help the wearer identify modes of thought that are associates with impending epiphany, to more easily "get into the mood". I recall reading something about EEGs being useful for sleep therapy for a similar reason. It is related to the question of whether the thoughts we think--our internal narrative flow, words and images--is caused by, or causes, specific neurological activities. To what extent the conscious mind is a post-hoc rationalization dispenser.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:20 PM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


He also came up with a chording keyboard to go with the mouse, which no one uses.

Actually many people use chording on standard keyboards via Ctrl-Alt-Shift-Win combinations.
posted by metaplectic at 11:38 PM on April 7, 2012


Is there a drug in the works, something to make me have insight and inspiration synthetically, without the work, the time, the thought? Or was that Cocaine?

Actually, such a drug could not make you have insight for free. You'd still need to have the underlying components in place - there's nothing that can replace the work of originally acquiring these components, for instance through study, practice, or experience. Dylan just didn't write Like A Rolling Stone - he'd been focused on composing/performing intensively for years before that.
posted by carter at 11:53 PM on April 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


btw, interesting article nickyskye - Thanks for posting!
posted by carter at 11:54 PM on April 7, 2012


"Imagine: How Creativity Works," a 3:41 video based on Jonah Lehrer’s new book.
posted by LeLiLo at 12:08 AM on April 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.

Love you nickyskye...thanks.
posted by adamvasco at 12:55 AM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I found the Guardian article overreaching - making conclusions that are just not there. For example:

"Every creative journey begins with a problem. It starts with a feeling of frustration, the dull ache of not being able to find the answer. When we tell one another stories about creativity, we tend to leave out this phase of the creative process. We neglect to mention those days when we wanted to quit, when we believed that our problems were impossible to solve. Instead, we skip straight to the breakthroughs. The danger of telling this narrative is that the feeling of frustration – the act of being stumped – is an essential part of the creative process."

Really? While using Dylan as an example, it's worth mentioning that he's reputed to have written 2-3 songs a day, that just "came to him" without any effort, numerous times over a period of years. That would seem to contradict the notion that "EVERY creative process starts with a problem."

I would also like to know more about how Beeman's research came to attribute insight to high gamma wave activity in the RIGHT SIDE of the Anterior Superior Temporal Gyrus when the linked Wiki article and many other references don't mention functions of the right aSTG but concern themselves the auditory and speech processing area of the left side (Brodman's & Wernicke's areas).

It would be great if someone had more information about the right side that the articles references.

Also, it it sounds way to reductive to attribute creativity/insight/ genius to wave activity within a discrete part of the brain. My guess, is that at some points in the creative process, more of the brain is utilized. Just my guess, but if their hypothesis was true it would seem pretty easy to create genius by stimulating the aSTG with gamma waves. I would also assume, that individuals vary in their neurologic strategies to create.
posted by noaccident at 5:04 AM on April 8, 2012


The relationship between hallucinogens and insight is a bit more complex than having an a-ha moment while tripping. Mostly, you get back and find the whole universe doesn't actually smell of turps. But sometimes, you end up with a different way of looking at how things relate that stays with you for a very long time and can be used in the quotidian life.

I remain an enthusiast.
posted by Devonian at 5:19 AM on April 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


So Schenectady is located in the aSTG. I'll have to program my GPS.
posted by localroger at 5:37 AM on April 8, 2012


> My guess, is that at some points in the creative process, more of the brain is utilized.

That's exactly what the article says.

It would be great if someone had more information about the right side that the articles references.

In the second article, the pdf one, there are many references on that topic listed in the footnotes.
posted by nickyskye at 10:33 AM on April 8, 2012


Relevant:

- A good, critical review of Lehrer's new book.

- "Voodoo" (or "puzzlingly high") correlations in fMRI studies.

- Lehrer interviews the author of the above paper.
posted by AceRock at 4:24 PM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Psychedelics can give you the sensation of having achieved insight, associated with whatever nonsense occurred to you at the time. As with natural dreams, they can also give you genuine insights, due to connecting information in random ways and hence finding unanticipated synergies. Telling the difference is the problem. While psychedelics are not addictive as such, some personalities find the sensation of insight extremely desirable, and so will use the drug rather than actually solving actual problems.

Psychedelics don't give you insights. They make everything feel like an insight. When you're high, hearing a song on the radio makes you think of the first time you heard that song, which makes you think of somebody who was in the room at the time, somebody who used to be a close friend but whom you lost touch with, and then you realize the song is about lose somebody and – AHA! What an insight!

In reality, every song is about loss or love or whatever, everybody has associations with songs, and nothing special has happened at all. You've just altered your brain's chemistry to make your ordinary, banal experiences seem transcendent and personally important.

It's the people who have a hard time accepting banality who are most fond of psychedelics.
posted by deathpanels at 4:55 PM on April 8, 2012


Thanks for the links AceRock. Definitely worth reading the critical article and discussion between Jonah and Tim/Meehan (first link, comments).
posted by bigZLiLk at 9:36 PM on April 8, 2012


Oooh, he spoke at a library conference that I attended recently. Very interesting guy, and good speaker. I've been meaning to buy his new book (Imagination?) but the reviews have been pretty bad it seems.
posted by 1000monkeys at 5:01 PM on April 9, 2012


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