In recent years we've come to understand that emotion is critical to thinking.
It's a pulmonary process.
More recently, the psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman has written that an "openness to experience" is one of the defining characteristics of creative thinking. This week in Harvard Business Review he expands on that idea, pointing out that creative minds are "messy," that "affective engagement," or the extent to which one knows one's own emotions, is a predictor of artistic achievement, and that the "unusual" - as in the mixing and matching of a wide variety of ideas or situations - is fertile creative ground.
That last point is an endorsement of the IdeaFestival if I've ever heard one.
I also liked this description of the creative physiology:
At the end of the day, the ability to broaden attention and the ability to narrow attention are both key contributors to creativity. A recent neuroscience study led by Roger Beaty (and which I was a collaborator on) suggests that creative people have greater connections between two areas of the brain that are typically at odds: the brain network of regions associated with focus and attentional control, and the brain network of regions associated with imagination and spontaneity. Indeed, the entire creative process—not just the moments of deep insight— involves states of euphoria and inspiration as well as states of calm, rational focus. Creative people aren’t characterized by any one of these states alone; they are characterized by their adaptability and their ability to mix seemingly incompatible states of being depending on the task, whether it’s open attention with a focused drive, mindfulness with daydreaming, intuition with rationality, intense rebelliousness with respect for tradition, etc. In other words, creative people have messy minds.
Like the jazz trumpeter flirting cleverly with melodies, it's the tension between freedom and focus that produces insight.
I was also reminded of the quote at the top of this post while reading Kaufman's piece, and how easy it is to be led astray - "primed" as Leonard Mlodinow said three years ago, and as Teller magically demonstrated three years before that - unaware of what is right in front of our noses.
Perfect reason, isn't.