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Culture & Religion

The Neuroscience of Creativity and Insight

What’s the Big Idea?


The Internet has a terrible habit of misquoting Einstein on energy and creativity until he sounds like he’s the author of The Secret, not the theory of relativity. Here’s something he actually did say. Describing the effect of music on his inner life, he told a friend: “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come close to the conclusion that the gift of imagination has meant more to me than any talent for absorbing absolute knowledge.” At times, he explained, “I feel certain I am right while not knowing the reason.”

Today, what Einstein believed intuitively – that insight was essential to scientific discovery and to the arts – can be observed methodically in the lab. Thanks to the invention of fMRI imaging, neuroscientists are capable of peering into a living, thinking brain in a way that their predecessors never dreamed of, with the potential to test long-standing ideas about how we arrive at novel solutions. 

Eric Kandel is a pioneer in the field who worked alongside Harry Grundfest in the very first NYC-based laboratory devoted to the study of the brain. In 2000, he was awarded a Nobel Prize in physiology/medicine for showing that memory is encoded in the neural circuits of the brain. Kandel believes that we’re on the verge of reaching an understanding of the nature of creativity that is more than anecdotal. 

Watch our live interview with Eric Kandel, which originally aired 3/22/2012:


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