Creativity and the Shower

I wish I could get a quick degree in neuroscience. I wish I could stand side by side with a neuroscientist and watch learners brains under a variety of test cases – lots of learners, where we could do statistical analysis on inquiry-based learning, game-based learning, teaching to the test, everything we can think of…and watch the synapses fire (or not).

I have been at several talks lately where the slides come up showing all the areas of a brain that glow when a player is in flow. Jesse Schell spoke at G4C about how we need to keep many parts of our brain active or they get “itchy” and will wander off and get distracted if we don’t keep them satisfied. This is why, he explains, even though one might think that while driving a car the last thing we need is a distraction like music or audio books, that in fact it helps our brain not wander off completely.

What also makes complete sense to me now is why my best leaps of innovation come in while gardening or often in the shower. While taking care of the daily ritual of showering that I have completed for more decades than I care to admit, my body and reflexive parts of my brain are on auto-pilot and other parts of my brain are in a relaxed but fruitful state of processing. I will often have a sheer moment of brilliance in the shower –  coming up with a perfect next step to a nagging problem or a great “why not do such-and-such ?” just out of the blue…and then not remember if I had washed my hair or not. I’ve conceived major projects in my head while splitting hostas or pulling weeds.I think much more clearly away from my desk.

I don’t have the neuroscience terminology at hand, but I am coming to understand from the talks I hear that it is not the activity in one range of the brain (or of one certain stimulus or set of practices and behavior) that lends itself to innovation and creative leaps – it is when the brain is in flow and providing the environment for knowledge and ideas to become fluid and connect with one another. There is so much to learn from neural research that might blow the doors off everything we think in learning sciences – and even more, once we think we know what learning is and how it works, it could just change before we know it.


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