I’m going to prom tonight! So I’m getting this out of the way tout de suite (tout de suit?).
I forced myself to watch another documentary last night. I don’t know if it’s a matter of being responsible, disciplined or self-loathing, but making myself consume more educational content out of fear and guilt is working. If that ain’t success- wait, I’ll stop myself there. I clearly don’t know what success is.
The documentary I watched was on creativity and the human brain. I think the presenter was a neuroscientist or something. Clearly I wasn’t paying that much attention. All I know is that he had an eerily plodding delivery and the script was a little on the nose. Aside from that, it was quite interesting. It was simply worded and didn’t get overly technical, which was a boon for a science dummy like me. What captivated me? Let’s see.
One of the more fascinating examples they had was a scientist who dealt with nanotechnology. She was facing financial restrictions, given the difficulty of working on microscopic hardware. She simply didn’t have the budget to do the work she wanted to, in order to advance her understanding. From what I gathered, it’s really fucking expensive to do precise programming and engineering on such a small scale. She thought back to a childhood toy of hers called Shrinky Dinks. I didn’t know about them, but they’re basically polystyrene sheets that can be coloured, then heated. When they interact with heat they shrink dramatically. She discovered that she could apply the same principle to her nanotechnology, even with trace amounts of metal. What this meant was that she could work on full sized hardware before shrinking it down, retaining all of its qualities. She eliminated her fiscal issues by thinking outside the box. Isn’t that ridiculously smart and creative? I thought it was downright clever.
They also talked about why human beings are able to be creative, and it has to do with input/output receptors. In a rat’s brain, for instance, the input/output receptors are right next to each other. A rat will recieve input signals (say, looking at a piece of food) and the output impulse is to eat the food, which they do. There’s no real processing, just instinct. In a human brain, the I/O receptors are separated by billions of neurons. This gives us the capacity to receive an input signal, process and examine said signal, before reacting with an output directive. In the same example, we could see food, consider whether or not we want food, and decide what to do with it. Maybe we’d take the food and save it for leaner times. Or contemplate different ways of preparing the food that’d be tastier. Perhaps we’d look at the food and it’d spark a memory. The colour palette could stitch together with latent thought to give us design ideas, linguistic notions or create humour. Our ability to discern before acting was a major game changer in human evolutionary success.
The other thing I took from the documentary were a few linked notions. Our brains run off fuel (food) and often seek to run efficiently in order to make that fuel last. It’s why we often seek the path of least resistance in our activities. The more we’ve done simple tasks, the less effort we need to put in to accomplish them subsequent times. We want things to be easy, because it draws on instincts we honed when food was scarce.
At the same time, we seek novel experiences. We want to light up our brains with the thrill of something unexpected. We get used to stimuli we’ve processed again and again. It stops becoming exciting and grows dull. To clarify so far, we want new things, but we don’t want to put in effort to get those new things. Path of least resistance, right?
Being creative means pushing boundaries. It’s a ton of work that may not pan out with obvious or immediate benefits. It’s hard. Furthermore, to achieve mastery over something, it’s often repetitive and tedious. You don’t become a virtuoso without practice, but practice is boring. The thrill of the new or novel is hard to find when you’re retreading the same space. It’s not to say that hard work doesn’t yield new or exciting things, but it takes time and focus to get there. Time and focus are the antithesis of least resistance stuff. Once you get to that point, you’ve got the fear of failure to contend with, and that’s a whole new obstacle. Do you see why it’s so hard for many of us to take the first step? Being creative means considering all of those prospective struggles along the way and opposing your natural instincts to chill out. It feels like you’re acting against your best interests, when it’s entirely the opposite.
No wonder I find it hard to make myself learn in the first place.