The Neuroscience of Originality - 2 minute read

What makes us creative? Many people think it’s inborn. Some of us are born to be accountants while others of us are born to be artists. And woe unto those artists when they try to earn a living selling their work to all those accountants. But a study points to the idea that we are all born with the ability to be creative. It depends on how we use our brains.

The study found that when a person had a lesion in their right medial prefrontal cortex it impaired their originality. You may have noticed in all that neuro-region talk the word right. The right side of the brain is known to hold the more open-ended, non-linear, creative side of things. 

Meanwhile, lesions to the left, notice I wrote left posterior parietal and temporal cortex, were associated with slightly elevated levels of originality. In fact, the larger the lesion the greater the originality. The left side of the brain is famously associated with logic, linear thinking, language. 

The authors conclusion is that our original ideas come from the right hemisphere and, more importantly, our originality is inhibited by the more linear, logical left side. In other words the more you focus on linear logic, the more you focus on being reasonable, the more you hinder your ability to be original. 

This is not to say one should simply be unreasonable all the time. It is more a question of balance. If you are reasonable and logical all the time your brain does not have the free reign it needs to be original. But if you are original all the time you never have the discipline to edit your originality to make it useful. 

Since we live in a world that prizes productivity and usefulness most of us skew towards linear logic. But since we also live in a world that demands innovation we need to give more freedom to the non-linear. 

There are tools to help with this but first you have to get your head around the idea. 

Judah Pollack