The Brain, the Mind: Creative Thought by Helmut Schwab, Princeton, NJ, 1994
Download the entire essay
in Microsoft Word or click below on the paragraph you want to read
Abstract: A theory is suggested to explain practical (not artistic) creative
thought and consciousness – showing how brain structure and neural signaling
can lead to the occurrence of new concepts or ideas in the mind - through
a combinatorial process based on memory elements and perceptions. A certain
psychological readiness is a precondition. Focus retention and the analog
parameter of neural firing rate conditioned by valuation are important
physiological elements. Different types and levels of creativity are discussed,
as is creativity improvement.
This essay discusses brain processes on a neural signal level as they
occur in practical (not artistic) creative thought. Derived from the basic
functions of neurons and the structure of the brain, the functioning of
creative thought and consciousness is explained and presented in detail:
The neural interconnections in long-term memory are recognized to account
for associative memory activation.
There is a need to explain the path selection in the sequencing of thoughts
and the selective acceptance of thoughts into short-term, active memory.
This can be explained by the effect of an analog, quantitative parameter
("value") of neural signaling, such as the firing rate of neurons, and
by the observed combinations of activating and inhibiting synaptic connections.
The strength of synaptic connections and, mainly, connections to the Amygdala
and other parts of the Limbic System must also be considered.
Awareness and consciousness can be explained by short-term and long-term
memories of thought and by the selective acceptance of new thought in memory.
Focused thought is an important aspect of creative thought. Focusing can
be explained by back-referencing of later thought phases to initial, memorized
focus thoughts under associated "value"-signal considerations. This also
leads to the important explanation of delayed idea appearance at times
much later than focus establishment.
Two mechanisms explain the sudden, delayed appearance of ideas:
quantitative parameter ("value") peaks in subconscious thought
cross-connections in associative thought sequences.
Pattern recognition is explained by cross-connection of associations and,
more likely, by commonality of image element recognizing cells leading
to recall of images in memory.
The above components are necessary and sufficient for the explanation of
practical creative thought processes on the level as discussed in this
This part of the essay discusses special aspects of creative thought:
Speech and language in relation to thought
Discontinuities of thought based on interruption by sensory input
Different types and qualitative levels of creativity
The importance of left-sided (of the brain) and right-sided thought for
The influence of attitude on creative thought.
In this part, practical applications of the presented understanding
of creative thought are discussed: for creativity training, improvement
of working conditions, and better team configurations for increased creativity.
More important, the coherence of creative thought is discussed leading
to a theory of thought evolution similar to biological evolution. Interesting
and important philosophical implications result from that.
The final discussion relates to limits of utility for creative thought
in various settings.