Creativity in the Brain

Fuster nailed it! See also the Lloyd Armstrong video clip in this blog.

    •    It has been said that creative intelligence is the ability to invent goals, projects, and plans-in other words, we might say, to invent the future (242).

    •    A reasonable assumption is that the creative process consists of the formation of new cognits (brain circuits) , that is, new network representations in the cortex (the brain´ś grey outer shell).

    •    These representations result mostly from divergent thinking as opposed to convert thinking.

    •    Convergent thinking consists of inductive and deductive reasoning, which converge towards logical inferences and the solution of problems(Guilford, 1967).

    •    Divergent thinking, on the other hand, is free of logical constraints, autonomous and to some extent free-floating, reliant on the imagination, and minimally anchored in the immediate reality.

    •    Creative cognits emerge mainly from divergent thinking.

    •    To create, in the present context, is to make new cognits out of old ones.

    •    At the root of this process is the formation of new associations between old cognits.

    •    Thus, to reinvent the future is to reinvent the past by making new associations in it.

    •    The new cognits are potentially infinite, much as the old ones where, because the range of either is determined by the practically infinite combinatorial power of some 10 billion cells or subgroups ( i.e Modules, assemblies) of them.

    •    Therefore, the spread and configuration of created cortical cognits and their supporting networks are extremely variable.

Fuster, J.M. (2003). Cortex and mind: Unifying cognition. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Exciting times

I do not want to comment on what is happening right now worldwide on a political level. Everybody can see for themselves. Occupy wall street is certainly the most interesting worldwide phenomenon. What is quite new is how social media to become a decisive tool not only in spreading the message, but also in direct interacting with those in power by posting images of pepper sprayers; lampooning them, ballooning them, mocking them out of their wits. Powerful media in people’s hands will influence the world’s social, political, and economic structures dramatically over the next few years.

Nauseating …

There is a fly in my soup …

Pushing my thoughts away from the cacophony of Twitter’s #cablegate, I read Sartre’s last Interviewwhere he indicates some of the things that had moved him in his

Sartre's novel Nausea

life. He confesses to some sort of anarchism and to having been a loner, apart from the women he adored. Sounds almost like Assange – only joking.

Funny how people see themselves. Interesting his take on transparency. He reckons that in the future there will be a time where we have no more secrets from one another. An early Facebook aficionado!

He said:

I think transparency should always be substituted for what is secret, and I can quite well imagine the day when two men will no longer have secrets from each other, because no one will have any more secrets from anyone, because subjective life, as well as objective life, will be completely offered up, given. It is impossible to accept the fact that we would yield our bodies as we do and keep our thoughts hidden, since for me there is no basic difference between the body and the consciousness.”

A dreamer like Mark Zuckerberg?

Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sarte
Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sarte

The world, in terms of a network of human actors, is a complex and an emergent system, that also includes technologies and communication systems and is getting more complex every day. Yet our emphasis is still on humans and how we interrelate with objects. Here I disagree with some aspects of object-oriented philosophy. Keep in mind, deception has been an important positive evolutionary development of early hominids, still to be seen in Chimpanzees, who separated from us only 5-7 Million years ago! Positive in the sense of an adaptive trait enhancing survival.

These post-war intellectuals, no matter how high I hold them in my esteem, didn’t know much about biology, anthropology, evolutionary psychology, nor physiology itself. Freud was the star in the study of the soul in those days, but unfortunately not much of his wisdom holds up to scientific scrutiny. His theories were based on spurious evidence. See Why Freud Was Wrong – Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis by RICHARD WEBSTER.

Neuroscience, as we know it, wasn’t around yet. For them, and for many intellectuals today,  mind and spirit was made of different stuff than brains, peptide molecules and atoms. The Cartesian split, the ethereal mind versus the material body. They knew nothing about information theory or the phenomenological experience of selfhood.

Their perception of total freedom, i.e. Sartre, seems to us like Kindergarten spiel or Disneyland, whatever angle you take. There is no such thing as total freedom. We are constrained by our social environment and our upbringing. Imagine walking around dressed up like Mozart. You would never do this unless you would be singing an aria on stage. Why not? You are free to do so. As you can see there are some serious constraints on what we allow ourselves to do and what not. But there are situation where we might have to jump over the fence.

The current wikileaked world  shows that certain political groups of interest use information deceptively if required to get their imperial agenda across.  Others try to foil their attempts, so it’s spy versus spy! Or is it chimp versus chimp? Or us versus THEM? I wonder whose side is FOX BUSINESS rooting for these days? Watch this! Or are we still all deceived and there is yet another agenda behind all of this?

Whatever it may be, there is grounds to believe that we do have SOME freedom to decide whose side we’re on. So Sartre, you’re still cool, maybe more than ever, we still need you.

Please Turn on Your Cell Phone …

Ink well desks from Jean Vigo's hilarous 1933 movie, Zero for Conduct

In Opinion Juliette LaMontagne writes:

Please Turn on Your Cell Phone

Mobile devices aren’t distractions in schools; they’re machines for learning.

It might surprise you to learn that students from New York City’s most impoverished neighborhoods arrive at school each day with personal computers. The problem is that they deposit these powerful learning tools at the nearby bodega — where they’re held like a coat check service for a dollar a day — because their personal computers are cell phones, and they are banned by New York City’s school chancellor, Joel Klein. Many students will circumvent the ban by blind-texting from their backpacks or from the bathroom. But it’s not that simple for those who have to pass through metal detectors and scanners to gain entry into the school building each day.

The rationale for the cell phone ban will not surprise you: critics claim the phones are distracting, can be used to cheat and add no educational value. In a speech to the National Urban League, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “You come to school to learn, not to play games or send text messages.” Apparently, his words were aimed at students and administrators alike; last month, text-messaging service on all Department of Education issued devices was disabled. Only weeks earlier, the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, came out in support of cell phone use saying, “Finding ways to use cell phones to deliver lesson plans to students would improve education and meet federal guidelines.”

Once again the battle rages between technophobes and technophiles. Read the comments to her article. I remember vaguely my school days when in education (that is amongst my teachers) the battle raged about students using ball point pens instead of fountain pens, and earlier, using a fountain pen instead of a dip pen and an ink well. They were machines for learning as well.

The prime argument against cell phones in school is distraction. But that is not something new. I used to goof off for hours in class, playing battleship with pen and paper with my class mates, writing love letters, or reading comic books under the table.

Let them text or hide behind their Facebook screens. I’m happy that they attend my class at all, and quite often they all look up, drop their distractions and we have some cool discussions about some video clip that I show them about a particular topic. It’s my delivery that counts.

But presumably the issues run much deeper. Apart from the student’s Karma running over the teacher’s Dogma we as educators tend to forget one of our prime justifications for our educational existence, namely to discipline. Remember Foucault:

Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons ? (Foucault 1975)

So it may be about the fear of loosing control in the classroom. But, apologies for being sarcastic, we don’t need Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon anymore. We have the iphones and ipads in class, surely allowing any interested party to not only identify location via GPS but also monitor their subversive and not so subversive thoughts as they drill themselves through SMS connections and web URLs.

But there are more interesting considerations.

Contrary to McLuhan, and more in line with Friedrich Kittler, it may be legitimate to see ourselves as extensions of  technologies instead of technologies being extensions of ourselves. You don’t need a chip implant to get inside into someone’s head. The Vatican knew that when in 1622 A.D. Pope Gregor IV set up the congregatio de propaganda fidei, the Vatican’s spin doctors (Kittler, Optical Media, 2010, p.76). He was quite ahead of his time.

Vigo: French revolt

Kittler quotes McLuhan in his book “Optical Media” on page 29:

McLuhan went so far as to write that under audiovisual Kittlerconditions our eyes, ears, hands, etc. no longer belong to the bodies they are associated with at all, let alone to the subjects that figure in philosophical theory as the narrators of the afore-mentioned bodies, but rather to the television companies they are connected to.

Replace television companies with the media industrial complex (pun intended!) and you can see that the issue is not the cell phone at all but our understanding of the role of media in society, or as Morpheus in the Matrix would put it, it’s the machine, stupid, turning us into batteries. And here it takes a lot of guts from educators to unplug their students. This of course is impossible. But it may also not be necessary, because the better students learn how to handle the new media, whether in class or outside of classrooms, the better they will learn how to poke holes into the fabric of media reality. The “(wiki) leaks” are (still) easy to find, yet the censors of the inquisition are not sleeping.

P.S. Zéro de conduite (English: Zero for Conduct) is a 1933 film by French film director Jean Vigo. It was first shown on April 7, 1933, and was subsequently banned in France until February 15, 1946.  Sarkozy you haven’t got a chance.

Creativity needs Context

An idea, even an idea of genius, even an idea that is to save millions of people,
never moves of its own accord. It requires a force to fetch it, seize upon it for its own motives,
move it, and often transform it
(Bruno Latour, The Pasteurization of France, 1988)

Grandfather in the Trenches
Arrow shows the man I've never met.

Creativity thrives with context and the context of war is never easy to miss. It is always right around the corner.

Where to start? Maybe with my grandfather. I never knew him because he fell on “The Field of Honor”. I still remember that withered, brownish piece of paper amongst my dad’s family collectibles, sent by the German office of the fallen heroes, or whatever they called themselves.

Here you see him upright in the middle, a tough German WWI soldier sacrificing his life for the Kaiser. Fortunately he didn’t end up like many of his comrades, physically and mentally mutilated without recognition, the ones that American novelist and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo picked up in his novel Johnny Got His Gun, an anti-war novel written in 1938 (published 1939) by and published by J. B. Lippincott company.

This novel I happened to read around the year 1965 in German translation, where it was called “Suess und Ehrenvoll”, or “Sweet and Honourable” in translation. After I had read that novel I knew I would never join the military.

The story goes as follows, recounted by Wikipedia:

Joe Bonham, a young soldier serving in World War I, awakens in a hospital bed after being caught in the blast of an exploding artillery shell. He gradually realizes that he has lost his arms, legs, and face, but that his mind functions perfectly, leaving him a prisoner in his own body. He tries to die by suffocating himself but he has been given a tracheotomy, which he cannot remove or control.

He successfully attempts to communicate with his doctors by banging his head on his pillow in Morse code. At first he wishes to die, but then he decides that he wants to be put in a glass box and tour the country, to show people the true horrors of war. Neither wish is granted, however, and it is implied that he will live the rest of his natural life in this condition.

As he drifts between reality and fantasy, he remembers his old life with his family and girlfriend, and reflects upon the myths and realities of war. He also forms a bond, of sorts, with a young nurse who senses his plight.

Anyone who had the not so rare opportunity to wake up in an intensive care bed can relate to what it might feel like, not being able to move, to talk, to make contact.

This theme was picked up by many, but I only want to mention the American heavy metal band Metallica, quoting again from Wikipedia :


“One” is a song by the American heavy metal band Metallica. It was released as the fourth and final single from their fourth album …And Justice for All.

“One” was also the band’s first Top 40 hit single, peaking at #35 on the Billboard Hot 100.

It is one of their most popular songs and has remained a permanent live staple since the release of the album. Like “Fade to Black”, “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” and “The Day That Never Comes”, the song starts off slow and clean, but as the song goes on, becomes heavier and faster, leading up to a tapping solo by Kirk Hammett, and a dual guitar solo by Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield.

Despite being a big hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and the music video receiving heavy airplay on MTV, the song itself received very little to no radio airplay, due to its “violent” lyrics and length of over seven minutes.

The song’s theme and lyrics are based on Dalton Trumbo’s 1939 novel Johnny Got His Gun, telling the tale of a soldier whose body is severely damaged by a mortar shell. His arms, legs, eyes, mouth, nose and ears are gone and he is unable to see, speak, smell, or hear. His mind functions perfectly, however, leaving him trapped inside his own body. Trumbo directed the movie adaptation in 1971, from which the footage for the “One” music video is taken.

“One” is a favorite of many Metallica fans, and thus is a fixture of the band’s live shows.

It’s worth following the lyrics on the clip, which pale against the backdrop of the current Guardian article Wikileaks Iraq war logs: every death mapped

Following Latour’s idea of Action Network we might interpret Metallica as a force that fetched Trumbo’s idea, seized upon it for its own motives, moved it, and transformed it, gave it a new impact, and merging it with a contemporary context strengthened the alliances for creative reflection on the futility of war.

Never forget War is a Racket.

As I had said: Not unusual

Experience: I was locked in my own body

‘I couldn’t talk, but I could feel, hear and smell. The only part of my body I could move was my eyelids’