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About Creativity from Jonah Lehrer

Jonah Lehrer
Jonah Lehrer

We hurried back from Cullowhee Thursday so that I could see Jonah Lehrer talk about his new book, Imagine, at the Quail Ridge Bookstore in Raleigh.  We’d been in Cullowhee for events leading up to the installation of Western Carolina University’s new chancellor, Dr. David Belcher.  Brenda and I both graduated from WCU more than 35 years ago — “GO CATAMOUNTS.”

But I had seen some buzz about Lehrer’s new book, and I wanted to hear more.  His background is neuroscience, but he also studied 20th century literature and philosophy at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.  He blogs at Frontal Cortex.  Evidenty, one of Jonah’s passions is “healing the rift between sciences and humanities.” ((Wikipedia contributors. “Jonah Lehrer.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 25 Mar. 2012. Web. 30 Mar. 2012.)).  Also, he looks to be only a bit more than 17 years old.  But that’s OK.

He was not able to share much during his 30 minute lecture and what he did share had little to do with the buzz I’d gotten (You have to suffer in order to create – link).  Jonah did describe two sources of creativity.  He talked about those sudden insights that we have when struggling with a problem.  There are two features of these insights, that they seem to come from nowhere and that we intuitively know they’re right when they come. They also seem to come from a brain that is relaxed and emanating alpha waves.

Creativity is the residue of wasted time! — Einstein

My notes from the lecture

The other source was not such good news for those of us in the standing-room audience who were looking for a shortcut to creativity.  It is the GRIT factor.  He said that creativity is hard work and that it comes to people who stick with a problem long enough to combine the pieced of the non-obvious solution.  ”If creativity was easy, we wouldn’t have a Bob Dylan.”  Angela Duckworth was the researcher he quoted with regards to the grit trait.

While he signed my copy of his book, I expressed some frustration with efforts in the education world to try to teach creativity.  He told me that kids are naturally creative.  The best thing we can do is just get out of the way and encourage them to express their creativity.


  • Jude

    Cool. Thanks for the summary of the talk. I’ve been reading his blog for awhile, and much like yours, it’s one of the first blogs I read if I see that there’s a new post. Since I won’t be able to make it to either of his appearances in my state, this is especially useful. Thanks.

  • http://mossfreestone.com Randy Rodgers

    I’ve been listening to this book while I commute. It has been quite fascinating so far. Among the additional points he makes, a couple that stand out to me are the importance of being able to turn off the parts of our brains that inhibit us through our hyper-self-consciousness, and the need to be able to focus on the ideas as they arise. The self-consciousness really kicks in around 4th grade, according to Lehrer, and that’s about the time most kids just drop the crayons and shun their creative selves. School doesn’t help in the slightest, of course. We embrace creativity in kindergarten, then push it farther and farther aside every subsequent year. Some big implications for those of us in education–at least those who are still naive enough to believe that our purpose is bigger than the tests.

  • Cherrie

    Hi David,

    Long time no communicate. :) I finally have time to roam your blog again.

    I thought this talk about creativity is somewhat related to something I feel a little sad about – the state of scientific research and how the current system is stifling creativity/new advances. I know this is the realm of higher education (university) and of interest maybe only to people with higher degrees (PhDs and the like), but it should worry everybody. If the problem is so for the group of people who are supposed to be at the frontiers of knowledge, i.e. the group of people who were supposed to have been successful/enthused by what they learned at school (or in the natural world, etc., etc.), then why do we even bother at all?

    Please take a few minutes to read this and perhaps you’ll come across people in higher education/funding bodies to talk to…


Photo taken by Ewan McIntosh in a Taxi in Shanghai

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Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network
2nd Edition (2012)

Redefining Literacy 2.0 (2008)
Classroom Blogging
(2007) • Lulu
• Amazon
Raw Materials for the Mind

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