Friday, November 27, 2009

Your Brain on Jazz

An older article in Science Daily called This Is Your Brain On Jazz: Researchers Use MRI To Study Spontaneity, Creativity caught my attention for a number of reasons.

The article provides a layman's interpretation of how the creative act affects the operation of the brain.
The scientists found that a region of the brain known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a broad portion of the front of the brain that extends to the sides, showed a slowdown in activity during improvisation. This area has been linked to planned actions and self-censoring, such as carefully deciding what words you might say at a job interview. Shutting down this area could lead to lowered inhibitions, Limb suggests.

The researchers also saw increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, which sits in the center of the brain’s frontal lobe. This area has been linked with self-expression and activities that convey individuality, such as telling a story about yourself.

“Jazz is often described as being an extremely individualistic art form. You can figure out which jazz musician is playing because one person’s improvisation sounds only like him or her,” says Limb. “What we think is happening is when you’re telling your own musical story, you’re shutting down impulses that might impede the flow of novel ideas.”

Limb notes that this type of brain activity may also be present during other types of improvisational behavior that are integral parts of life for artists and non-artists alike. For example, he notes, people are continually improvising words in conversations and improvising solutions to problems on the spot. “Without this type of creativity, humans wouldn’t have advanced as a species. It’s an integral part of who we are,” Limb says.

He and Braun plan to use similar techniques to see whether the improvisational brain activity they identified matches that in other types of artists, such as poets or visual artists, as well as non-artists asked to improvise.

The study is published in the Feb. 27 issue of the journal Public Library of Science (PLoS) One. http://www.plosone.org/article/fetchArticle.action?articleURI=info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0001679


What's interesting here is that the very thing that enables the creative juices to flow are the very thing that we in this society must consciously attempt to suppress.

In school, in job interviews, and in the presence of individuals who interpret everything literally, a creative or intelligent individual must be on guard. These days an over-active imagination gets even elementary schoolchildren in trouble. Pictures of guns in art class, fictional stories about murder, or free-association dialogs can and are misinterpreted these days of sure evidence that the individual who drew, imagined, or exercised the speech is crazy, dangerous, or deranged.

For artists this is nothing new. An artist who turns off inhibitions must be high or psychologically imbalanced. Yet, we are told, this is the essential feature of creativity.

So, whenever I hear about the government or parents, or some degree-certified expert assert that creativity can and should be taught I'm amused. Public schools are dangerous places for teachers and students to be creative.

And even businesses who claim to recruit out-of-the-box employees would fire one on the spot because they don't fit the ever-fearful, careerist, don't-rock-the-boat lemmings.

Creativity is a lonely exercise and best practiced in private unless you're in a niche like jazz that celebrates with appreciation the altered state that art demands. And the gifted student must learn early to hide their gift because it can be misunderstood or snuffed out by institutions that have no use for the one that sticks out or fails standardized memorization tests.

The education industrial complex (EIC) has some tried and true formulas. Household income = superior intelligence = entitlement to superior EIC destination that confers official diplomas of intelligence. It's a closed society and the creative need not apply.

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