Creativity Needs "Leaky Mental Filters"

One of the most interesting writers on the psychology of creativity is cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman. In a recent article at Scientific American, quoted in part below, he discusses the potential relationship of non-clinical levels of psychopathology to creativity.

[Researchers] have found.. that while on-the-spot, timed creative cognition is associated with the ability to focus attention, real-life creative achievement is associated with the ability to broaden attention and have a 'leaky' mental filter. In other words, perhaps the very same characteristics that may hinder performance on IQ tests and standardized academic tests (e.g., broad attention, impulsivity, daydreaming, and fantasy-proneness) are the very same characteristics that increase the chances of real-life creative achievement. Further research should investigate this intriguing possibility.

While careful to point out that certain mental pathologies shouldn't romanticized for their supposed connection to creativity, Kaufman's point about "leaky" mental filters interests me because it suggests that our brains differ in degree, not kind. Prodigious savant and synesthete Daniel Tammet very quietly made similar points during his IdeaFestival 2010 appearance, parts of which may be watched here.

Elsewhere, Kaufman writes about the link between intelligence and "an openness to experience."

His interest in the subject grew out of difficult childhood. A self-described "late bloomer," he regularly argues for wide range of intelligences in his writing.

The little understood relationship between creativity, intelligence and the brain is certainly a big part of the story of Jason Padgett, who as a young adult was attacked and beaten outside a bar. Severely concussed, he later began to experience crippling social anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Like other synesthetes he also noticed that he had begun to see shapes and angles everywhere, and had somehow also gained the ability to intuit the complex mathematics behind natural phenomenon.

Padgett is one of the very few people in the world with acquired savant syndrome. He'll share his story at IdeaFestival 2014.

A limited number of Festival passes and Day passes are available, but you'll need to get one soon.

I hope to see you at IF14!

Stay curious.


Image: Geoff Oliver Bugbee