3 Bad Habits Made Good (With Help from Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine)
Do you ever wonder what sparks creativity? Why is it that sometimes ideas just seem to flow like water? Why do some people seem inherently capable of new and original ways of thinking? These are the questions Jonah Lehrer seeks to answer in Imagine: How Creativity Works. And in this pursuit, Lehrer presents three states of being (among many) that can lead to the best ideas.
In a study unrelated to daydreaming, a neurologist/radiologist stumbled upon a surprising bit of information: When left to rest their minds after a brain scanner-set activity, subjects’ minds were actually far from at ease. Rather, “They were overflowing with thoughts, their cortices lit up like skyscrapers at night.” There are certain parts of the brain that don’t normally interact, as they all have very specific purposes when a person sets their mind to a particular train of thought or task. Left to idleness, however, these parts work closely together, thereby accessing an inner database that produces concepts that wouldn’t otherwise surface, i.e., daydreaming.
People who strive for perfection aim to avoid mistakes and remain within the confines of what is correct and predictable. But while they may be prone to making fewer errors, allowing oneself to make the occasional mistake can lead to discovering new possibilities where they previously were unknown. Yo-yo Ma is the example Lehrer uses to illustrate this. Composer Bruce Adolphe first met Ma at Juilliard when the cellist was only fifteen years old. Adolphe had written a composition that contained a note he was told was impossible to perform. Ma, unaware of the impossibility, just went for it full throttle with nary a thought as to what he was about to do – and in his disregard for perfection, he played the note. It’s this ability to let go of perfectionism and embrace carelessness from time to time that “has turned Ma into one of the most famous classical performers in the world.”
Computer programmer Don Lee had his heart broken in 2005. As many of love’s sad sufferers are wont to do, Lee escaped to his local watering hole. Sad and bored, Lee became fixated on what the bartenders were doing while at work. He became immersed in the activity in front of him, beginning to inadvertently study the ingredients, the techniques, and the tastes. Today, the formerly brokenhearted tech guy is at the epitome of what Lehrer refers to as a person “on the fringes of a field.” With no formal training, Lee has created some of the most interesting concoctions behind the bar -- and has become one of New York City’s preeminent mixologists (currently at Momofuku) simply because he didn’t know any better.
These are among the myriad scenarios and examples Lehrer presents in Imagine. As with all of the greatest pop-science books of late, Lehrer explains the technical and complicated inner workings of the brain in an accessible, entertaining, engrossing, informative manner. Read it, ponder it, and then go ahead – daydream.
Want to know more about the book? Watch a really cool video here on Vimeo.
Update: Please note that this post was written prior to the news about falsifications in the book.