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April 17, 2002
6:20 AM   Subscribe

Bionic Man? "Australian scientists say they have created a "thinking cap" that will stimulate creative powers. It is based on the idea that we all have the sorts of extraordinary abilities usually associated with savants."

The device is said to improve drawing skills within 15 minutes.
posted by MintSauce (24 comments total)

 
(I'm still waiting for my damn flying car though...)

posted by MintSauce at 6:21 AM on April 17, 2002


They sure have been busy down there. That said, this article said that they tested this thing on seventeen people. Seventeen! Seems a little slim to me. I know that clinical tests are sometimes done on small groups, but I'm not holding my breath.
posted by anathema at 6:36 AM on April 17, 2002


drawing skill isn't creativity, it's muscle memory.
posted by atom128 at 6:37 AM on April 17, 2002


So are you only creative as long as you have this thing on your head? Hm. And the article said that some scientists believe creativity is not a state of mind but an activity. I tend to agree with that. Most people that claim that they don't have an artisitic bone in their body actually do-- they just choose not to exercise it.
posted by jojo at 6:43 AM on April 17, 2002


The human mind has long fascinated psychologists

In the name of God, who on earth put that tag under that photo? Human mind? Psychologists? You don't say. Anyway, Center for the mind dot com seems to be down: cache not so functional. This slight reference led me to learn about Vernor Vinge at least...
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:45 AM on April 17, 2002


A lot more here (via Arts & Letters Daily).
posted by pardonyou? at 7:02 AM on April 17, 2002


... these hidden talents can be stimulated using magnetism [...] it might be possible to train someone to access this state by controlling their brain waves.

Errrr, no offense implied, but I'm going to choose not to believe all this before I hear more compelling evidence.
posted by magullo at 7:13 AM on April 17, 2002


They intend to submit their work for publication in a scientific journal.

Translation: It hasn't been peer-reviewed and nobody has reproduced their results.
posted by NortonDC at 7:14 AM on April 17, 2002


jojo - i would define creativity more as the ability to create and convey an inteded idea through an artistic manner (be it drawing, photography, sculpture, non analytic writing, etc.) I go to art school (risd), and it's really obvious to me which people have been drawing their whole lives, as opposed to the ones (like me, i was a photo boy all through high school, never really started drawing till i got here) who hadn't too much. The ones who had been drawing a long time had already through trial and error stumbled across which lines, which methods of cross hatching, which thicknesses conveyed the shape or form they were trying to put down on paper. I have a good friend who can draw photo realistically while drunk out of his mind. It's amazing to watch. To quote Georgia O'Keefe, drawing for him is like riding a bicycle down, hill, with his feet of the pedals.

I on the other hand... heh. I've been working at drawing a lot since i've gotten here, it's something I'd really like to improve, and I have, a good deal. I draw for at least 2 hours every day, if not more, and all that shading, line work, what have you is starting to make sense to me a little bit more each day.

So its through these observations, and a few conversations with other students here, I came to the conclusion which I believe pretty strongly. Admitedly, I'm not an australian scientist, but I think it's a pretty rational deduction. Once you've seen something so many times, and studied it so many times, recalling it is not a matter of effort, and the true creativity lies in what you do with that talent.

of course, id still like a crack at trying on that hat :)
posted by atom128 at 7:23 AM on April 17, 2002


RJReynolds: you're forgetting where these folks are: it's Centre For The Mind, not Center.

I'm having serious deja vu; I could swear we talked about this guy not too long ago but I'm damned if I can find the original thread. Even remembering that someone made a crack about "what is Baz Luhrmann doing in this photo?" isn't helping me find it. Anyone? Or am I imagining this?
posted by ook at 7:30 AM on April 17, 2002


Ah, here. And rodii is much funnier than my memory gave him credit for.
posted by ook at 7:40 AM on April 17, 2002


Australian scientists say they have created a "thinking cap" that will stimulate creative powers.

I'm holding out for the smarty pants.
posted by turaho at 7:43 AM on April 17, 2002


It does make some sense, especially given the fact that some kid began exhibiting abilities usually associated with savants after getting whacked in the head . Maybe we're all incredibly intelligent, then again maybe not.
posted by jaden at 8:46 AM on April 17, 2002


atom: my cousin studied portraiture at risd. :)
My thoughts are a little muddled yet on the meaning of "creativity", but I think my point coincides with yours: although there is such a thing as an artistic gift, it's not guaranteed to make anyone a good artist if they don't practice.

I've been drawing all my life (and recently took up painting) and the only reason people tell me I'm good is because I do it a lot and spend lots of time looking at 3-D objects in a 2-D way. Even if I was born with savant-like gifts (which I most certainly was not), if I didn't practice, all that "talent" would do me very little good.

But a booster in the natural skill department would certainly be nice.
posted by jojo at 9:17 AM on April 17, 2002


hey I'm going to RISD right now! I should be eating lunch.

Drawing skill is creativity, not in the airy/fairy sense of the word, but in combining what you know you see with what you see, and then deciding what to put on the paper. The muscular part is something that becomes second nature, really.

Now, I find that being in different states of consciousness affects my draughtsmanship. Oddly, I find when I am jittery and attentive because of amphetamines but tired out physically, I can draw really well. It seems to induce the state of pleasant distracted concentration required to record what's put in front of you.

So in this respect, I can understand how this device would help. Creativity means many different things, however, and there are higher functions than those used for drawing, for instance, the manner in which you draw, and what the drawing really means. I find that all visual/artistic decisions have a greater chance of success when they are decided by coordinated but nonverbalized thoughts - extremely specific feeling is how I'd describe it. I'm not sure how any brute force neurological device can help with that.

But hey, I'd buy one. I don't like drawing, but I have to do it...so it'd help me I think. I'm sure David Hockney would buy one.
posted by Settle at 9:57 AM on April 17, 2002


My question on this technique is where artists such as George Grosz fit in, in which a flawless sheen and a machine-like perfection is not the point of the art. Am I completely wrong in almost instantly recalling that Prisoner episode, "The General," in which a computer-aided hypnotism allows all residents of the Village to learn facts and figures, spouting them off in exactly the same way (down to the sentence), but with little understanding on how to masticate upon them or put them into context?

Who's to say that genius doesn't rely in some way upon dormant parts of the brain? Beethoven's indelible "da-da-da-dum" opening of the fifth came into play because his mind concentrated upon the knock of the bill collector at the door. This dormant association to music produced the results we enjoy today. Harlan Ellison once began a short story because he misheard the words "Necco wafers" as "Necro waiters."

If the dormant instinct was to be suddenly switched on, then would the majestic results be more flagrant and ultimately less interesting, without the glorious subtext of what an artist subconsciously discovers while producing a particular work?
posted by ed at 9:58 AM on April 17, 2002


The cartoon strip Monty covered this same topic. Start with April 1 and read through April 6.
posted by jazon at 10:11 AM on April 17, 2002


I'm with magullo: The question of how they define creativity is beside the point until they demonstrate that their "findings" are sustantial and significant. This looks a little too much like wishful thinking (a practice many of us have savant-like abilities at) to be taken seriously yet. Cold fusion, anyone?
posted by BT at 10:21 AM on April 17, 2002


This article is confusing in this respect: Is this device able to switch on some kind of innate creativity that may be hidden in an individual, or does it just enable certain skills? For example, does it enhance memory and motor skills so that you are simply a more skillful artist, or does it also help you "feel" and recognize ideas that may be floating around at a subconscious level so that your work has more than just technical merit? And like ed points out, would bringing those feelings out into the conscious mind make their art less interesting (because a lack of mystery or subtlety...)? (The more I think about this, the more skeptical I'm becoming.)
posted by jojo at 10:24 AM on April 17, 2002


Article from the previous thread:
Autistic children differ from nonautistic children in another way. Normal kids find it frustrating to copy a picture containing a visual illusion, such as M. C. Escher's drawing in which water flows uphill. Autistic children don't. That fits with Snyder's idea that they're recording what they see without interpretation and reproducing it with ease in their own drawings

Maybe the thinking cap, if it works past the placebo level that is, shuts down cognition in a way and makes one more of an automaton intead of being a typical thinking, questioning, self-critical person. Don't autistics act more like robots than persons? We're not really talking about creativity or the expression of ideas here, we're talking about mechanical abilities like drawing or playing the piano. There's a difference between being able to play ultra-fast van halen guitar licks and writing a good song. The autistic seems to be great at the former, but there's not much said about the latter.

This could be a lot like the difference between a normal state of consciousness and being hypnotized. If I asked you to count to one thousand you'll probably trip up or just get mentally fatigued and quit. If I ask you to say the word "doggie" 200 times you'll trip on your own tongue after a while and the word will start to sound silly in your head. A hypnotised person has no trouble doing these tasks. He's simply not operating at a level where he's going to make mistakes because of his altered consciousness.

Another good example is Patrick Flanagan's Neurophone, [fusion anomoly link] which allows deaf people hear. When it was first invented, Pat was 14, people assumed this was a telepathy machine. So did Pat. Later on he discovered that it worked because the skin is piezo-electric and its nerves could be tricked into telling the brain that they're hearing sounds. This bypasses the normal hearing mechanisms and the thinking cap might work on the same principles.

The thinking cap doesn't need to augment what's there, it just has to find a way to make you do something. You could be the least creative person in the world, but if I can trick your hand into drawing amazing perspective pictures, that doesn't mean you're anymore creative than you were, it just means there's some other way to create artwork instead of the traditional way.
posted by skallas at 10:47 AM on April 17, 2002


Then no thank you. I'll keep making art my own way.
posted by jojo at 10:52 AM on April 17, 2002


I don't think the savants do draw with "mechanical perfection," but I agree with your point, ed. I've read some about artistic savants, and apparently the reason they don't utterly dominate their fields is that while they start out at a high level, they don't have the capacity to improve. The Discover article that pardonyou? linked to ended with ruminations about shutting down people's "concept-making machinery" in order to make them draw better, etc. Of course, it's helpful when drawing to be able to step back from a picture and not be fixated on "this is a horse," "this is a hoof," etc. But I believe that to improve further you do want to eventually bring that concept-making machinery back into play, to come up with new concepts (verbal or otherwise) to help you make sense of your discoveries and build upon them.

It would be interesting to plug one of these creativity caps onto someone who's already developed their creative faculties. Do they improve, or just kind of revert to a previously used style? Are they able to make sense of what they've drawn "under the cap" and incorporate its lessons into their normal work?
posted by furiousthought at 10:55 AM on April 17, 2002


this isn't about mechanical precision. That requires no creativity whatsoever after a point. Creativity is taking what you see and know and combining different things to create a new coordinated whole. It is all about synthesis through association. It is very hard to get into a good creative mindset, and when you do, you feel like you can do anything. Being someone who is told 24/7 to be creative, I have a strong suspicion that this device may very well work. The product that the person creates is based wholly on their unique experience.

There is nothing holy or astonishing about any artist's skill. Although I cannot do anything Carvaggio could, it is painfully clear to me how he did it and how he thought of it. These things may be a mystery to many, but the simple fact is that remarkable art is made when someone recognizes what creativity feels like, and can concentrate on creative thinking. That, combined with the other shit, like their surroundings and beliefs and intent, makes artworks. This device could never give you skills but it could dramatically accelerate your ability to concentrate on totally nonverbal synthesis, which would translate to skill pretty directly. The device stimulates, it does not teach. It puts you in the mood. It's like a targetted psychoactive.
posted by Settle at 2:27 PM on April 17, 2002


most likely nobody will see this cuz this thread's a day old, but for what it's worth, I think skallas' idea is more probable than Settle's. I think making somebody more creative would involve a lot more than a magnetic thinking cap. However, I do see how a device like that could enable someone to develop "hidden" skills-- that's not so complicated.
posted by jojo at 6:36 AM on April 18, 2002


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