Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"Drowning in possibility"

Today, I return to one of my earlier themes on this blog, neuroscience.
I just read another of Jonah Lehrer's postings on his blog, Frontal Cortex. He asks, are distractible people more creative? As someone who is definitely both easily distracted and creative, I'd have to say yes.Others may beg to differ.
I love the quotation Lehrer takes from that great melancholy Dane, Soren Kierkegaard (author of such laugh fests as Sickness Unto Death, which I had to read in Philosophy class), undoubtedly referring to (what else?) the downside of multiple options: "Drowning in possibility."
When the mind is alert enough to pull in sights, sounds, smells, scraps of conversation, odd juxtapositions, interesting coincidences and the like, it feels like a huge gift from the universe. Poetry and other kinds of leaps of faith will arise from the synthesis of the right things rushing in together at the right time. It's a heady experience. No wonder many creative people say they feel like idle observers in the creative process: it's as if they hardly have to do any work at all to get something golden. (That's an illusion, of course. Everything involves hard work at some point - 99% perspiration, right?)
However, all that sensation rushing in can cause a log jam. That's why we need discipline, guidance from the Master, and so on. The selection process (instinct, carefully employed memory, experience, education) has to work, otherwise what occurs is far worse than an embarrassment of riches. It may bring creativity to a complete stop. (Been there, done that.)
The modern world provides access to millions of data to anyone with a computer. And yet a distractible person can be overloaded even while walking down the street. In the extreme, of course, it's mental illness.
No wonder we think there's a thin line between genius and madness. Creative people walk that line almost all the time.

1 comment:

  1. I would tend to agree with the premise on this one. For myself, distractibility is a way of life, a trait of character that I constantly need to fight with to get things done. But the really interesting things seem to be the ones that don't get done but only briefly glimpsed as a result of mind wandering off at every oppportunity.