This post is on the interrelationship between your frontal and temporal lobes … no no no that sounds too much like science journalism … Let me digress into the neuroscience of creative action … oh now you’re plagiarising your own book! … Recent research has proven that there is a correlation … don’t contradict your own teaching and start with something that sounds like academic messaging …
Does this interruptive pattern in the process of writing ring a bell for you? Before you can even finish an attempt at a clear, concise and compelling sentence, you go and censor yourself back to square one. In my masterclass Group Projects, where all participants collaborate together in the authoring of copy, I see this happen over and over again. One participant will be composing a sentence out aloud for me to write down (and project onto the screen for all to see) then stop mid-thought and abort their half written narrative as bad, wrong or boring. And yet it is so important to complete the thought into at least a rough sketch of a sentence so that you a) get it out of your system, b) document the thought so that it can be fairly judged to c) have something tangible to build on and d) see where it can lead you.
As you can imagine, this stop/start approach to conceptualising and writing is not only frustrating but also self defeating. I wrote about this in my book Copywriting in Action (page 161-2), where I cite neuroscientist Alice Flaherty’s own research into the interrelationship between our brain’s temporal and frontal lobes. In brief, the temporal lobe functions to understand the meaning of things, while the frontal lobe has to do with speech and generating ideas. So when you’re in the process of creating something, such as composing (constructing) a sentence, it is the frontal lobe in action. Meanwhile the temporal lobe is judging it. Now if you let the temporal lobe have free reign of the process, it’s censorship won’t get you far (unless of course your initial thought is clear and precise and instantaneously articulated with unquestionable impeccability). But for us mere mortals who need to work hard to express well, an unregulated temporal lobe can imprison our capacity to generate and articulate ideas into a creative block. Just being aware of this potentially conflicting relationship between lobal functions will enable us to discipline our mind and perform our task more effectively (in terms of quality) and efficiently (in terms of time).
But now I have some more quantifiable facts to add to Alice Flaherty valuable insights into the powers of our mind. In February 2011, Richard P. Chi and Allan W. Snyder from the Centre for the Mind at the University of Sydney, published an illuminating research article in PLoS ONE with the rather hoodoo voodoo title, Facilitate Insight by Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation.
They took 60 normal individuals and subjected them to a transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS). This is where you pass a very small current from one side of the brain through to other side. Chi & Snyder worked on the assumption that certain parts of our brain control our thinking processes. When we acquire knowledge, we use it to control how we acquire more knowledge or reason, and determine our approach to tasks and problem-solving. They quote economist, John Maynard Keynes who said, “The difficulty lies not with the new ideas but escaping from the old ones which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds”.
In other words, we end up with a closed mind because of what we know. So if you could free the mind from the inhibitions imposed by what you already know, you can then think more objectively and as a result, more laterally, more creatively, and ultimately, more insighfully.
Chi & Snyder’s procedure was to stimulate their volunteers with tDCS, switching off the left side of brain (minus) and leaving the right side switched on (plus). This inhibits the dominant left hemisphere, specifically the anterior temporal lobe which is believed to have an inhibiting effect on the more creative right side of the brain.
There were two groups: The Sham Stimulation Group (control) and The tDCS Group. When they got their subjects to do a simple task rearranging matchsticks to solve a problem within 6 minutes, only 20% of participants in the sham stimulation (control) group solved the Type 2 (hard) problem compared to 60% of the tDCS participants. Similarly, only 45% of participants in the control group solved the Type 3 (easier) by the end of 6 minutes compared to 85% of the tDCS participants.
In short, the people who had the left side of their brain switched off were successful 50% of the time, compared to 20% of the time in the control group. This suggests that if we “disinhibit” that part of our thinking that interrupts our creative process, we can think far more creatively. How do we do this with a tDCS hit? As I said at the end of the opening paragraph, awareness is our tDCS – to Defer Censoring Story until we have complete ideas and narratives to review, refine or rewrite. Of course, this requires discipline so that we can resist that inner censor called the temporal lobe from convincing us that our work is not good enough. It may be right, but that shouldn’t stop us from going through the process to a workable outcome. A lot of that process is confronting our own insecurities, idiocies and mediocrities. These we can use as the manure for growing the insight that makes for genuine creativity.
To put it in Hemingway’s words as one of my students did, “Write drunk, edit sober”.