Our brain can develop completely new ideas

Creativity: Enthusiasm shapes our brain

At this year's Alpbach Technology Talks, scientists and experts from all over Europe discussed whether creativity can be learned, defined or even measured.

We need a completely new culture! ”Says Gerald Hüther, neurobiologist from Göttingen. “So far, our society has been out to exploit resources. But at some point it will be over. ”It is time to replace the old“ resource utilization culture ”with a new“ potential development culture ”. But what was right in the old culture will be wrong in the new culture. Wherever people's creative potential is to develop, pressure and fear must not be used to force efficient work. Even stuck ideas have to be thrown overboard. Because: “Otherwise there isn't much going on in the brain,” says Hüther and shows pictures of functional magnetic resonance imaging: hardly any neurons fire in the brain when test subjects pursue fixed ideas. In his example, men were put on video glasses and had to virtually drive down a racetrack. The measured brain activity was low because everyone tried hard to be first. Only when the men repeated the attempt as “co-drivers” did their neurons fire. "Then they let their thoughts wander and saw what was happening off the track."

Edward de Bono, British author (“Serious Creativity”, 1992), also says: “Creativity means branching off from a given path. Unfortunately, our culture is not geared towards that. We are taught to think in order to find the truth. But nobody teaches thinking for the sake of thinking. ”For de Bono, creativity is not something mysterious that is given to some as a hidden talent. “Creativity can be learned. It's about asymmetries in the train of thought, about unexpected twists and turns. In this way, creativity works like humor. "

The brain researcher Hüther does not simply define creativity in terms of the fact that “something new comes to mind”. Rather, it is creative to suddenly find solutions from the existing pool of knowledge as to how things connect in ways that were previously thought to be impossible. As soon as a person starts doing something new, their brain changes. But only on condition that the person is enthusiastic about it. "It has to get under your skin, then something happens in the brain," says Hüther. He also sees the reason the brain is much more malleable in children is that they can be very enthusiastic. In contrast to “the old ones”, who are no longer enthusiastic about anything and therefore do not encourage changes in the neural networks of the brain. “You get the brain you make,” says Hüther. Example: Young people today have a much larger area of ​​the brain in which the movement of the thumb is located than young people ten years ago. If you click around on your cell phone, you change your brain in this way. "The culture in which we move is part of the brain."

De Bono also emphasizes that unexpected challenges and provocations are part of it in order to foster creativity. “Otherwise you don't try to deviate from the well-trodden path. The brain needs provocation in order to establish new pathways, ”he says. Because the great thing about the brain is that it can think in lines and not like a computer calculating millions of possible answers to a question.

It is clear to the speakers in Alpbach that people do not learn to rethink their culture overnight. Christiane Spiel, head of educational psychology at the University of Vienna, criticizes the fact that in our school system students do not learn to find new solutions to problems. Instead, you teach old solutions. There is no room for creativity. De Bono goes further and says that the universities are also “out of date”: “Anyone can get information quickly via the Internet. Now universities should teach students skills that will further their creative potential: personal development, management and teaching skills, social skills, etc. ”. Transdisciplinarity is also necessary - thinking outside the box. And: “You really have to expect new ideas. Otherwise innovation cannot develop. "

Give trust. Christiane Spiel shows that creativity has recently become more important as a catchphrase with the number of psychology publications that were published last year on the topic of “creativity”: namely 585. In 1950 there were only 15 publications. It is still not clear how “creativity” should be defined. There are different approaches: A person can be creative, this can be recognized by certain characteristics. Or a product can be creative, which results from the interaction with the environment.

In the case of personal characteristics, training institutions should in any case encourage their pupils and students in such a way that their creativity has real opportunities for development. “To do this, you have to create qualified learning environments, set tasks with open solutions and create a school climate in which there is mutual trust,” explains Spiel. That is exactly the principle to which the Alpbach Forum is dedicated this year: trust. Or as the brain researcher Hüther put his main statement: "Trust is the prerequisite for the development of creative potential."

("Die Presse", print edition, 08/30/2009)