Scientists have for some time, been looking at neurons in the brain that they call Mirror Neurons.
It appears that simply put, these neurons learn from vicarious experience (watching, hearing) and not by doing. Now in all honesty, scientists have sufficient evidence that these neurons work this way in primates, but are not quite sure that they work this way in humans. However, there is a good bit of solid research going on that seems to confirm this theory.
If we follow this logic, then one of the ways in which we can trigger creative thinking is by watching creativity at work. The problem is, of course, that we can only watch the output of creativity, and not what the brain is actually doing up there in that maze of neurons. But, since we can learn to dance quicker and better by watching dancers, we can also become more creative by watching the output of creative people.
Creativity happens in all sorts of ways. Sometimes watching other people, sometimes working with others, and sometimes just off by ourselves. It is clear that we don’t need others to be creative, some of our most creative people need to be by themselves to create. Think about the recluse J.D. Salinger who just passed away. But it seems clear that if you need to jump start creativity, fire up those mirror neurons by surrounding yourself with creative people.
Over the last six years, there have been a number of studies where they place an individual in an fMRI and having them play a video game while measuring a variety of measures of cognitive activity. One that intrigues me happened a number of years ago at the University of Southern California, where subjects played a game called “Tactical Ops”. Normally, subjects stuck inside a pounding MRI machine can handle only a max of 20 minutes before a break. In this case, an hour later the players were still going strong.
The actual results of tracking the blood flow and measuring the dopamine levels is not nearly as important as what this says about attention and the power of intermittent reinforcement.
On a larger level, most studies have concluded that while there are definitely down-sides to digital game addiction, playing certain games can truly improve pattern recognition, systems thinking, patience, and peripheral vision.
Rick’s Recommended Games:
There is an area of the brain (the cingulate cortex for you neuro-geeks) that is partly concerned with how much attention is given to experiencing a particular pain. It has been found that the use of virtual reality is so stimulating, that it leaves less attention available to tune in to the pain… hence we don’t feel it as much. In this particular research, burn victims found relief by immersing themselves in cooling virtual environment.
You see, pain is all in the mind. Once the pain signal is sent to the brain, what we experience and how intensely we experience it is all a matter of how the brain interprets it. This is why when you touch something hot or very cold, for a split second you can’t tell the difference. This is also why we don’t notice a pain when we are very occupied. (ever notice a bruise later and not have any idea how you got it).
Brains as a Memory System: Video
Treo creator Jeff Hawkins urges us to take a new look at the brain — to see it not as a fast processor, but as a memory system that stores and plays back experiences to help us predict, intelligently, what will happen next.
This video from TED, among other things, gives the clearest explanation of what the Right and Left Hemispheres do.