The Eureka Hunt

This stimulating New Yorker essay (right now gated, but worth buying the issue for) focuses on where creative moments come from.  Excerpt:

Many stimulants, like caffeine, Adderall, and Ritalin, are taken to increase focus — one recent poll found that nearly twenty percent of scientists and researchers regularly took prescription drugs to "enhance concentration" — but, accordingly to Jung-Beeman and Kounios, drugs may actually make insights less likely, by sharpening the spotlight of attention and discouraging mental rambles.  Concentration, it seems, comes with the hidden cost of diminished creativity.  "There’s a good reason Google puts Ping-Pong tables in their headquarters," Kounios said.  "If you want to encourage insights, then you’ve got to also encourage people to relax."  Jung-Beeman’s latest paper investigates why people who are in a good mood are so much better at solving insight puzzles.  (On average, they solve nearly twenty percent more C.R.A. problems.)

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Here is a pdf of the article:

http://web.mit.edu/ekmiller/Public/www/miller/Lehrer_Insight_New_Yorker.pdf

"Jung-Beeman's latest paper investigates why people who are in a good mood are so much better at solving insight puzzles."

But that's half the reason why coffee (I've never tried any controlled substances) greatly improves research--it puts you in a good mood.

(BTW, Tyler, you mistranscribed a couple words:
"like" should be "likely" in line 5 and "I" should be "If " in line 9.)

"I remember Carl Sagan writing that he would use marijuana as an insight generator, then go back over his notes when sober to see what was useful."

That's exactly how I invented the edible Slinky (patent pending).

Hm, does this mean slackers are more creative?

Do we really need more creativity, rather than follow-up on creative insights. Maybe our creative insights can far outpace our ability to work such insights into some useful form. (Didn't Robin Hanson suggest something along these lines?)

As an aside, there's a great folk song about Dodge and the Mann Gulch fire, "Cold Missouri Waters" by James Keelaghan (although I'm more familiar with the version by Cry Cry Cry sung by Richard Shindell).

Oh there's definitely a tradeoff here. For those of us who have no trouble getting zany ideas while flicking from never-completed task to never-completed task, we probably oughtta be on Ritalin.

For others the curve is located differently so the optimum is elsewhere. Marijuana is probably the better drug for them, and LSD for really severe cases. The interesting thing, though, is that lack of imagination is not seen as a disability while ADHD is.

It's important to remember that there's often not a single eureka moment. As I like to say, the lightbulb goes off, and then changes colors many times over the life of the idea. The eventual winning idea looks different than that original burst of inspiration.

I'm going to disagree a little with Mr. Casnocha. The insight doesn't change. What changes is how you express it to other people. Most of the time, if it's a good insight, nobody else is going to see it. You have to express it in multiple ways to get to the point where other people can have it with you.

Heh, well the commonality between the two is not directly focusing on the problem. This can be accomplished by relaxing or by focusing on something else, preferably a task that doesn't require too much analytical thinking.

And while running for your life apparently qualifies as such a task, creating office fires makes it kinda hard to keep turnover down. :)

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