Radio Cade

Creativity and the Brain

May 13, 2020 Dr. Kenneth Heilman Season 1 Episode 79
Radio Cade
Creativity and the Brain
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Radio Cade
Creativity and the Brain
May 13, 2020 Season 1 Episode 79
Dr. Kenneth Heilman

“Creativity is finding unity in what appears to be diversity,” says Dr. Kenneth Heilman. Author of  Creativity and the Brain, Heilman, a distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Florida, explains where creativity may reside in the brain, how it differs from raw intelligence, and how creative people actually think. Heilman has been fascinated by creativity since childhood. Almost killed by meningitis as an infant in 1938, he was saved  by a doctor who had heard of a new treatment and tried it on Heilman. “Creativity has reduced a huge amount of suffering,” Heilman says.

Show Notes Transcript

“Creativity is finding unity in what appears to be diversity,” says Dr. Kenneth Heilman. Author of  Creativity and the Brain, Heilman, a distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Florida, explains where creativity may reside in the brain, how it differs from raw intelligence, and how creative people actually think. Heilman has been fascinated by creativity since childhood. Almost killed by meningitis as an infant in 1938, he was saved  by a doctor who had heard of a new treatment and tried it on Heilman. “Creativity has reduced a huge amount of suffering,” Heilman says.

Intro:

Inventors and their inventions. Welcome to Radio Cade the podcast from the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention in Gainesville, Florida. The museum is named after James Robert Cade, who invented Gatorade in 1965. My name is Richard Miles, we'll introduce you to inventors and the things that motivate them, we'll learn about their personal stories, how their inventions work and how their ideas get from the laboratory to the marketplace.

Richard Miles:

Creativity in the brain, where can it be found? How does it differ from intelligence? And what are creative people like? I'm your host Richard Miles, today, My guest is Dr. Kenneth Heilman, distinguished professor emeritus at the University of Florida and author of surprise, a book called "Creativity and the Brain". Welcome to Radio Cade Ken.

Dr. Kenneth Heilman:

Thank you for inviting me.

Richard Miles:

So Ken, like many of our guests on this show, you spent your career in Florida, but you were born in Brooklyn. So, the first thing I gotta ask is, Dodgers or Yankees? Let's get that out of the way first.

Dr. Kenneth Heilman:

Brooklyn Dodgers. But when they moved to LA, I stopped being a professional sports fan.

Richard Miles:

So you didn't switch to another team? You just gave up entirely on sports?

Dr. Kenneth Heilman:

Well, you know, here was a team that was tremendously supportive and actually started integration with Jackie Robinson and what happened because they offered him a free stadium in the park and Patriot, the hell with the fans that have been watching him for all these years, we're going to LA and I said, look, I don't move for businesses.The hell with this I'm not watching this anymore.

Richard Miles:

And that was a precursor of things, the calmest teams to abandon their cities, to go to other markets and so on during the expansion years. Okay. Well, now that we've got that most important question out of the way, let's sort of dive straight into our topic. As you know, Phoebe and I, have always been interested in the neuroscience of creativity and I think the first time we met, probably about 2010, it was to get your ideas and some other folks at the University of Florida, we're planning a big exhibit on the neuroscience of creativity. And so we needed to get smart, and we knew that you were one of the folks to talk to. So creativity is one of those terms that gets thrown around a lot and sometimes it's defined in different ways. So why don't I start by asking you to define creativity from your point of view, and then how does it differ from intelligence? But let's start with that.

Dr. Kenneth Heilman:

Okay. First of all, when I was in high school, I took a public speaking course, I got to seen it, but your teachings are remember, is thought by definitions and tell people how important it is. So we'll start with the definitions. It depends where you look up creativity for different definitions. If you go to websites, for example, it says productive and mall by originality. So according to them, if I sat down in front of a word processor and randomly hit keys for days and days and days, it would be creative because it would be original. Nobody probably would hit the same keys and if I did it long enough, it would be productive, but you wouldn't feel this would be creative. I think the best definition, but the same complete by Banowsky who said, creativity is fine in unity in what appears to be diversity. The only problem with this definition it is no mention of originality or productivity. So I think in the book and during lectures, when I define creativity is the ability to discover, understand, develop and express in a systematic fashion, novel, orderly relationships said , in other words, finding the thread that unites. Now, a lot of people in other definitions state, it must have value, and I never understood why they put it in and sure, great artists, and you never sell your painting and it burns or something. It doesn't mean that it wasn't creative. Even now. It has no value. So value, I'm not sure really defines it . It defines it and far as business people, but not as far as people who produced creative products. Now let me tell you about the second part. If you look at my yearbook at high school, all the way back then he says Ken Heilman wants to do medical research. And what happened when I was a little boy, I looked down at my arm and I noticed I had a scar right near the front on the top and I asked my mother, what is that mom? She said, oh, when you were an infant, you came down with meningococcal meningitis. And this was 1938 or 1939, and the doctor said we have no cure for it. He's going to die. It turns out this doctor actually had an appointment that Columbia University and you were working on a new drug called sulfur drugs . And he actually lifted some out of the laboratory poets and my house did a cut down. That's what the scar was for, gave it to me, and here it's 79, 80 years later and I'm still here. And that really brought to mind how important creativity is. You inclined have suffered with diseases and so many other problems and when you think about all the wonderful things that we've done, when used appropriately, creativity has reduced a huge amount of suffering . So that's why it's always been a very important topic to me.

Richard Miles:

So can you write it? Creativity is closely linked to raw intelligence, but it's not quite the same thing? Is that correct?

Dr. Kenneth Heilman:

Well, let me talk about intelligence and creativity. Okay. First of all, let me start by saying in general, when I've written about this, I talk about three major steps in the creative process. The first one is preparation, and that's learning all the skills and knowledge that you need to be creative. The second one, I call creative innovation and that's coming up with the creative ideas. And the third stage of course is production. Now I'm not going to discuss that at all, because that depends upon the domain of creativity. But what about IQ Willem , as you probably know, okay. With IQ, when initially it was early on used people call people who have IQ over 130, 140 geniuses. And genius implies that you're tremendously creative. And it turns out there was a psychologist, I think at Stanford, whose name was Terman . And what Termin did was gave all the students and around San Francisco and all that area an IQ test that he developed called the Stanford Benet. And then he followed all these people along and it turns out some were very successful, some or just usual, but there were no Nobel prize winners that was in his genius class, but it turns out that there was two Nobel prize winners whose IQs were too low to be in term as geniuses that reached and got the Nobel prize. So one was Shockley who invented the transistor and you know what that's meant to our world . And another one was Alvarez who helped develop the radar. They both won Nobel prizes, but they didn't have IQs high enough to be included in terms of geniuses. So in general, people found out that later on, there was not a direct relationship between intelligence and creativity. And in general, a lot of people who've written about this say, you just need to be intelligent enough to learn the skills and knowledge in the creative domain that you're doing. People have a cutoff of about 110 or 120 , but there is no direct relationship.

Richard Miles:

So it's more of a threshold factor, right? That once you reach that threshold of somewhere between 110 and 120, there's not a correlation that the smarter you are, the more creative you are.

Dr. Kenneth Heilman:

No Relationship. Now, it turns out that special talents are important. They're very, very important. But of course, the IQ test doesn't test special talents. So way back in the 1700s, there was a philosopher, Gall, who was actually the founder of phrenology, but Gall had two very important postulates. One postulate was that different parts of the brain perform different actions. And the second postulate was the better developed this module was, or this specific form better develop better at work. Now, what happened was Gall, was aware that our skull grew depends upon brain growth, so we said, oh, if we measured the skull, maybe we can tell about people and what they are capable of doing. The problem with that is it became a pseudoscience and all these people were making all these crazy suggestions, but it turns out a neurologist in France in the mid- 1800s, Paul Roca, heard a student of Gall's talking about the importance for the frontal lobes and speech and he had a patient in the hospital who had a stroke sometime before was actually dying of, I think, tetanus and the patient had trouble speaking. He could understand, but he couldn't get out the speech. The patient died and sure enough, he had a lesion in his frontal lobe. And then, in the second paper, Paul Broca examined eight people who had problems with speech from strokes, all eight of them, they were right-handed and all eight of them had left hemisphere strokes. So that provided a positive finding that really in some way, supported Gall's, hypothesis. And we know that the left hemisphere understands speech. One of my mentors or Norman, Geschwind looked at a huge amount of people's brains at the auditory cortex in the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere. And he found that the auditory cortex was actually bigger in most people in the left hemisphere, but even with great geniuses, sometimes their brains are different, but this hasn't really been evaluated today.

Richard Miles:

I just wanted to interject or ask a question about the role of the left hemisphere and at least the theory and how that contributes to creativity. Cause I remember in your book, which came out in 2010, it came out. I remember you described a number of what to me were surprising associations with higher creativity, including, for instance, being lefthanded, epilepsy, having dyslexia, being slow, and learning to speak, mental illness. And if I understood correctly, the general theory sort of connecting those was a suppression of, or damage to the left hemisphere actually allowed the right hemisphere of the brain more license, I guess and that may contribute to creativity.

Dr. Kenneth Heilman:

You're jumping ahead a little bit. Okay. There have been studies for example, by Miller who's out in San Francisco, he looked at some people who had a degenerative disease, which mainly occurred in her left hemisphere and their artistic skills actually became enhanced and what was interesting, there hasn't been a lot of research looking at the true geniuses, but one of the interesting stories about Einstein's brain, it turns out that Einstein said it would be okay if they took his brain out and they examined it. And he was in Princeton, New Jersey, and there was a pathologist whose name was Thomas Harvey. So Harvey took the brain out and after it was fixated, he took a knife and he cut it into small blocks, 240 little blocks, and sent it all around the world to different people. And he said, well, tell me why he was a genius. People said, wait a minute, you gave me this little block of brain, how can I do anything? Well, the only thing that Harvey did was good was he actually photographed Einstein's brain after he took it out. And what was really interesting is that on the left hemisphere, there's a big, big, Valley called Sylvian fissure . It's a big Fissure and it separates the frontal lobe from the temporal lobe and the parietal lobe from the temporal lobe. And what was really interesting about Einstein's brain is that his Sylvian fissure can go all the way back and it didn't actually go into the prior lobe . On the left side, it stopped really, really early. And after seeing that people said, oh, that's why he was a genius because he didn't have these big a soul . So I go into his prior lobe and dividing up his neural networks. Well, it turns out that one of the things we know about evolution is that the more GRI and salsa you have, it means the more cortex you have, okay. And that's not a sign of superiority, it's a sign that something is wrong. And if you look at his history, that part of the brain is very important for language I'm his parents for them to the pediatrician when he was about three years old, because he was not talking. And the other thing that was really interesting about Einstein's brain, if you look at it, is that his right pro lobe was huge. Now, in addition, Arnstein was also probably dyslexic again, that parietal lobes' important. So the question comes up that his less evolved left temporal low , allow his right to actually be superior. And it turns out when you read all the Weinstein's works about himself, he said he always used spatial reasoning. And could it be that he was such a genius because again, his left hemisphere did not develop, but his right hemisphere really alone . Now, what's really important. Also, as we're going to talk about the frontal lobes are very important for divergent thinking. And it turns out, as I mentioned, Einstein had a huge, huge right frontal lobe.

Richard Miles:

Ken, when we talk about divergent and convergent thinking for listeners who aren't exactly sure what we mean by that, convergent thinking is when there's one or a couple of right answers and you're honing in on that right answer to a given problem and divergent thinking is when there could be a range of different types of solutions to a problem. One sort of looking in the other one sorta looking out.

Dr. Kenneth Heilman:

Let me talk a little bit about that because the very first step in innovation to creative process is disengagement. What do I mean by disengagement? You have say, hey, this doesn't explain your work, this is not the truth. And maybe one of the best examples of this is Copernicus who said , hey, wait a minute, this doesn't make sense that will all revolving around the earth. Okay, It has to be other possibilities. Could it be that we're revolving around Mars? or the sun? And then after he disengaged from that, he went ahead and used divergent thinking other possibilities, and he came up with a concept, hey, it's the sun. We're revolving around the sun. So the first step in creativity is first of all, disengagement, I don't believe that's the way done. Maybe as a better explanation. No one's ever painted this one. No one's ever written music. Hey, here's a good novel no one's ever written about. So you disengage from what has been done and then from there, you do divergent thinking saying, hey, what are the alternatives? What are the possibilities? Now it turns out from the neurological perspective, one of my mentors, Derek Denny Brown, brain neurologist said that all animals can do two things. They can approach or they can avoid and he said, this is even true of humans. He said it turns out that the frontal lobes are the disengage void organ and the temporal and parietal lobes and several or more for approach. And we know that when people damage their frontal lobes , what they do is they separate. In other words, they can't disengage. So if we give them a test where they have to organize cards in a certain way called the Wisconsin card sorting , once they get one successful one, that's it they'll keep on repeating it, repeating it, repeating it, something we call the separation. And one of the things that we use to look at divergent thinking is something we call the alternative uses test. What you say to the person, okay, I'm going to give you an object and what I want you to do is give me the different things that you can do with this object. But the more different it is, the more points you get. So for example, I give somebody a word, the brick, if they say, Oh, you use it to build houses, to build fireplaces, you get maybe a point for each of those. If you say, Oh, you know, you've been using it as a doorstop or a bookend you get two points. If you say, Oh, you know, what you can do is take it in the bathtub with you and after your bath, you can use it to rub off your calluses you get three points. So your idea is that's a test of divergent thinking, but creativity. So a lot of tests of creativity are one that's used a lot is called a Torrance test. Where they have both verbal and visual-spatial test of divergent thinking. But as I said, this is only the first sub-stage of innovation. Now, a very important thing about innovation and creativity is curiosity and risk-taking. And that's very, very, very important. And the reason why so many people get into creative occupations is because to them, it's very rewarding. So you go back and you go through history and you look at artists , composers, whenever even scientists and what happened was financially, they did terribly, but they wanted to create because it gave them great joy. And the best example is Galileo, who proved Copernicus thing. You know, what the Pope did to him? Prisoner the rest of his life.

Richard Miles:

Yeah.

Dr. Kenneth Heilman:

And it turns out they finally forgave him about 40 years ago because he showed that the sun was in the center of the universe. Now it turns out that there's a place deep in brain called the ventral striatum. And in animals, if you stimulate that, the animal will keep on doing whatever it was doing. It's very rewarding. And that whole system is reward system. And it's also hooked up to the frontal lobe. And it turns out that excitability of that system is very important for the drive and motivation. It turns out that, that system was also abnormal in people who use drugs. And that's why actually, you see your very high rate of drug abuse in people who do creative. So let me go to the third part of innovation. So we have to disengage and say, hey, it has to be better answer to divergent thinking in saying , hey, what is the possibilities create ? The next one, and the critical element is finding the thread that unites and William James was really one of the founders of current psychology and said the thread that unites unheard of, combinations of elements and subtle associations and spearmint, another famous person who said creative ideas result from the combination of ideas that have been previously isolated. And perhaps the best example is Einstein's E equals MC squared. Prior to that time, they were isolated. So it's very important in the creative mode that the neurons in the brain and these modules that we're talking about, that they communicate with each other. And there's some evidence that that's true. So one of the great experiments showing about this communication was done by a neurosurgeon, Joe Bogan. And we talked about that the right hemisphere is important for visual-spatial and the left for verbal and we had an epileptic's whose seizures can be controlled, so they spread from one hemisphere to the other. So they were going to cut the connection between the two hemispheres, the corpus callosum. So the seizures couldn't go from one side to the other side, but Bogan was curious whether or not this would interfere with creativity. So they gave people the inkblot test and the inkblot tests , as you know, just has inkblots and you tell people, hey, what does this look like? And then you could judge the creativity. People like me say that looks like a moth that looks like a bat and a lot of people come up with very creative ideas. So he tested these people and then after the collosum was cut, they retested them. And the creativity was actually gone. Why? Because the visual system could not communicate with the verbal system makes sense?

Richard Miles:

These various parts of the brain have to be constantly swapping information with each other.

Dr. Kenneth Heilman:

And in fact, when you record from the brain, the brain waves, when people are in a creative mode, their brainwaves actually go ahead and have a certain type of coherence, like they're all communicating with each other. So in general, one of the things we ask is how do we increase our networks? Well, one of the great stories about chemistry is about tequila. They knew benzene had six carbons, but they didn't know how it was organized. So he was drowsy and off to sleep. When you imagine or dream about a snake, biting its own tail in gear , Hey, it's a ring, but it turns out if you look at almost all great creative ideas, people were almost always in a state of relaxation. Isaac Newton, when he came up with calculus and he came up with the laws of gravity, there was an epidemic almost like ours , but I think it was a little bit worse and they closed up Cambridge university. It was a plague, and so, he went up to his mother's farm and now we have plenty of time and he sat under the apple tree and thought about these problems and came up with these ideas. When he went back to Cambridge, after it was over, they gave all kinds of administrative jobs because she was so successful with the ideas, he didn't come up with much after that. Einstein came up with most of his theories late at night, in the patent office, when it was very, very quiet. Even when you think about when you get a great idea, you yell Eureka! Well, it was Archimedes who came up with that idea, the concept of buoyancy and what was he doing? He was taking a bath, another relaxing thing. The person who actually improves the nerves theory of the brain was a spanish physician, Raymond Ecohall, and he wrote a book actually, about creativity, which is an interesting book. In the book he says, if a solution fails to appear yet, we feel success is around the corner, just try resting for awhile . Now, another thing that we know about creativity is actually that one of the most creative types of people are people who have depression and bipolar disorder tend to be very, very creative. And so we thought what's going on here about sleep, relaxation, depression, all those kinds of things. Well, it turns out they're all similar in that in our brain, we have a neurotransmitter called norepinephrine. And when you get norepinephrine what happens is your attention goes externally rather than internally. So for example, if you were a child and you were sitting in the back of your class, just dreaming, daydreaming all the time the teacher you would say, hey, take your son or daughter to the doctor and get em some medicine. They give medicines like Dexedrine. They increase no norepinephrine. What do people do then? They attend to the teacher, they don't go into their own mind . If you're going to be creative, guess what you have to do. What do depressant people do almost all day long? Go into their own mind . So we actually wanted to test that theory. I did this with a fellow David B. We gave normal participants, anagram tests . You take words and you mix up the letters and you see how long it takes them to get the word. And some of them, we gave a medication called Propranolol, it blocks norepinephrine . One of the bad side effects, it turns out, if people take it too long, is depression. And it turns out when we gave these people Propranolol, this beta blocker of norepinephrine, guess what? They performed much better. Then with another fellow George Gotcebing. We know that when we treated epileptics, we found that one of the ways of doing it is by simulating one of the cranial nerves called the Vegas nerve. And what the Vegas nerve does is actually increase the output of norepinephrine in the brain. And it's interesting because now they also use it to treat depression and we gave creativity tests while we're stimulating. And we weren't stimulating and low and behold, what do we find out? That when we are stimulating him your creativity went down. So in general, it's important to go ahead and be in a very relaxed state.

Richard Miles:

It sounds like in general, there's this obviously complex interplay between left and right hemisphere and various areas of the brain. But if I had to sum it up, it seems to me in your book, a part of what you do is say that these various conditions in left hemisphere, whether they're through an accident of birth, or an injury, or a certain mental state, we're in the inclination to search for that conversion type of thinking and free up, the more divergent type of thinking that may occur elsewhere in the brain. Who , for instance, like I'd signed that the example you gave of him being delayed in his speaking clearly didn't make him not a creative person. It may been just the opposite.

Dr. Kenneth Heilman:

This is important that when people get head injuries, the place that they injure most likely is the, frontal lobes and the connections. And the frontal lobes are the critical thing, both for divergent thinking and for motivation to continue working and to actually produce the creative object or thought or whatever it might be. So, no , that's not generally true. There have been cases where people did get injured. Strokes, dementia that didn't enhance the creativity, but remember in those people, they paid a price, they were disabled. So yes, in certain unusual cases, brain damage can enhance it. But in most people interferes with every stage, the first stage, the preparation it interferes with that, it interferes with divergent thinking and it also interferes with convergent thinking.

Richard Miles:

Ken, if we could come back to the question earlier, how much of this is hardwired? And you're basically born with this ability to do that creative type of thinking at a high level and how much of it could be taught in schools or taught in workplaces and people could sort of make themselves be more creative in general?

Dr. Kenneth Heilman:

No, you're asking a very, very important question that's going on for centuries and centuries. In general, both are important. Nature is important. Brain development is important and nurture is important. And those two things have to go together. So for example, there's the famous story in Romania. The leader during communist times wanted to increase the population. So we encouraged people to have more and more children and they couldn't afford the children, so they put them into these units. They fed them, but they didn't play with them, and they didn't hug them. Guess what's happened to these kids. They were all mentally impaired because they need that stimulation to have the brain growth. And this is true throughout life. So it's not purely nature because nurture helps develop the brain. And that's been shown, you need a combination of both, but I think it is very, very important growing up to be a stimulator as possible and to do as many new and novel things that possibly you can. One of the things that really troubles me about our educational system is that in general, they downplay the opportunity for children to be creative. So who are the first teachers they fire when you have economic problems?

Richard Miles:

The music teacher and those folks, right?

Dr. Kenneth Heilman:

The music teacher and the art teacher, And in general, how do they gauge how well somebody does, they gauge it by their knowledge. There's no tests that they give em that really looks at their creativity. And none of the teachers in school talk about even how do we enhance this creativity? And it's really a shame because it turns out there was a book written by Richard Florida, and in his book, he says something very, very, important which is coming to be true in the future. The success of different nations, societies is not going to be based on people's labor, like labor in factories, and so forth. It's going to be primarily based on creativity. America has been very, very fortunate because it was a country of immigration. And the people who came here said, Hey, wait, I don't like what things are going on here, there must be a better way. And therefore, America has been a very creative country. My grandmother, who was a Jewish grew up in Belarus, was pregnant with my mother and she told her husband, I don't want to bring my kids up here. It can be spiteful and treated badly, I want to go to America. And it turns out that America allows people to become very creative. But we need to really force that in our school systems and we're not doing it. And we're doing everything the opposite way. So for example, in medicine now, how did they decide how valuable you are? By how many relative value units. So I'll just tell you the story about me very briefly. I see patients with cognitive disorders and usually, in my afternoon clinic, I would see about four patients, but I was teaching medical students. And most of these patients were sent by other neurologists because they couldn't figure out what was going on with these patients. And if you go into pub med and type my name, you'll see how many reports there are about unusual patients. I got a letter from an administrator at The University of Florida that said, you come to clinic at 12:30, you don't leave clinic until past six o'clock, and you'll only see four new patients. It wasn't really his fault, that is the mentality now. So even medicine, if you see something interesting, something that's different that you want to really look at and examine you can't do it. So, and so many domains were interfering in the schools and medical schools were interfering with really the growth of creativity. Which takes time, rest and patience.

Richard Miles:

We'll Ken, thank you very much. We're about out of time, but that's been a fascinating discussion about the relationship of creativity and the brain. And I'm thankful that somebody invented the internet and zoom and laptops, those creative folks made this conversation possible. So thank you to that wider community who makes these conversations as possible, but thank you very much for joining us today on Radio Cade.

Dr. Kenneth Heilman:

Thank you for inviting me and for all the wonderful work you all are doing in enhancing creativity to Bob Cade is so wonderful. Finding out about the museum is something that's looking at attempting to enhance creativity. Thank you so much.

Richard Miles:

Well, thanks for coming on Ken, appreciate it.

Outro:

Radio Cade is produced by the Cade museum for Creativity and Invention in Gainesville, Florida . Richard Miles is the podcast host and Ellie Thom coordinates, inventor interviews. Podcasts are recorded at Hardwood Soundstage, and edited and mixed by Bob McPeak . The Radio Cade theme song is produced and performed by Tracy Collins and features violinist, Jacob Lawson.