Charles Limb on science, music, and creativity

The May 2011 issue of Scientific American includes an article on hearing specialist/surgeon/saxophonist Charles J. Limb, who is studying the neural basis of creativity. Below are some excerpts as compiled by SAS&M’s Kate Clark.

WHY SHOULD SCIENTISTS STUDY CREATIVITY?

While I think creativity is amazing, I don’t put it on a pedestal. I view it as a very normal biological process that some people are able to take to extremely profound levels but that fundamentally is a basic requirement of human civilization and how we advance.

WHAT IMPLICATIONS DOES YOUR WORK HAVE FOR, SAY, EDUCATION?

If we can understand what actually changes in the brain to perhaps reduce conscious self-monitoring…. How a teacher can take that and utilize it in a lesson is another thing entirely, but I think there’s food for thought.

A NUMBER OF RESEARCHERS ARE INVESTIGATING CREATIVITY RIGHT NOW. WHY DO YOU THINK THIS CONVERGENCE OF INTEREST IS TAKING PLACE?

We have some new methods of analyzing brain activity and brain function that are allowing us to ask questions that were probably off-limits for scientists…. Now we are seeing that, okay, these are legitimate methods to try to answer the questions. We need to learn how creativity affects the brain and how to implement creativity in educational systems, how to encourage children to be creative.

WHAT’S NEXT IN YOUR CREATIVITY RESEARCH?

…The next real direction I’m headed into has to do with trying to clarify our study of reward mechanisms in the brain and their relation to creativity. Why is it that we like to be creative? Why is it that we like to perceive creativity? And what happens when somebody is improvising, in terms of pleasure or reward centers?

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