Trying to nail jelly to the wall: where in the brain is creativity?

9 September 2010

Arne Dietrich, American University, Beirut, Visiting Scholar FADP
Introduction: Paul Murty, FADP

About the talk
Creativity is the fountainhead of human civilizations. All progress and innovation depend on our ability to change existing thinking patterns, break with the present, and build something new. Progress, however, in any field of science, depends on a clear conception of the topic under study and a toolkit of methods that enables researchers to tackle specific questions in an empirical manner. Since the pioneering work of Guilford half a century ago, the experimental study of creativity has been plagued by the lack of both. We know very little about the mechanisms, cognitive or neural, that give rise to creative thinking. What's more, when it comes to mechanistic explanations at the neurocognitive level, the field of creativity is riddled with examples of myopic theorizing. Open any source on the topic, academic or otherwise, and you will find creativity linked with, say, divergent thinking, low arousal, defocused attention, right brains, sleep, lateral thinking, intentional reasoning, the unconscious, altered states of consciousness, or mental illness, to name a few of the most popular duds. The present talk will show that (1) these ideas are theoretically incoherent and (2) data using neuroimaging paradigms do not bear them out. A new approach is presented that makes more serious contact with mainstream cognitive neuroscience and evolutionary psychology.

About the speaker
Arne Dietrich is Professor of Psychology at the American University of Beirut, in Lebanon. He holds a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience from the University of Georgia, USA. Professor Dietrich has done research on the higher cognitive functions supported by the prefrontal cortex, focusing on the neural mechanisms of (1) creativity, (2) altered states of consciousness, and (3) the psychological effects of exercise. Professor Dietrich's major publications include a theoretical framework for the neural basis of creativity, (Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 2004), a comprehensive review article of neuroscientific studies of creativity (Psychological Bulletin, 2010), a new, mechanistic theory of altered states of consciousness, the transient hypofrontality theory (Consciousness and Cognition, 2003, 2004), and the proposal of two new explanations for the effects of exercise on emotion and cognition. He is also the author of a textbook on consciousness (Macmillan, 2007). Professor Dietrich has given numerous invited lectures around the world and his research has been featured prominently in the international press.

Time: 6.30 to 8.00pm

Location: Lecture Theatre 1, Faculty of Architecture, Design & Planning, 148 City Rd

Cost: No charge, no bookings

Contact: Sue Lalor

Phone: 9114 0941

Email: 271a0c4339181c1836052b20055853307f102f1a602d3d