Practical Tools and Wise Quotes on All Matters Creative
7.3.2. How We Think: Thought Patterns
Thoughts, then, are simply long sequences of synaptic connection across chains of neurons, as each firing either excites or inhibits further connections. If you could attach little light bulbs to each neuron, you would see a non-stop thunderstorm of lightning flashing and flickering across the surface of the brain.
So with all this connecting, how do we learn? How do we remember things? Very simply because once a terminal button has fired against a second neuron, it becomes more likely that it will fire next time. Think of it like hot ink sloshing over a gently tilted waxen surface. The first time the ink runs, it takes a random course, leaving a little bit of a depression behind from the path that it took. Next time, different routes may be taken, but maybe a little more of the ink runs down the shallow path that has been eroded. When you repeatedly think about the same thing, the channel gets deeper and deeper each time it is used.
Fig. 7.4 Repeated thoughts are like channels in the mind
Before long you have a repeatable thought that is easier and easier to make. This is what learning and memory is. Virtual grooves in the brain from patterns of thought and perception are what enables us to repeat experiences, using the things that have worked best for us in the past.
In practice, the landscape of the brain is more complex than the wax example as multiple pathways can pass through a single neuron and one neuron can fire more than one subsequent neurons. A single neuron can thus take part in many thoughts, resulting in an almost infinite number of possible thoughts and memories.
A new thought, then, is quite a significant event, as it is too easy to fall into pre-formed mental patterns. Being creative and inventing things is about thinking differently, of forging patterns where there was none before. As biochemist Albert von Szent-Gyorgy put it, "Discovery consists in seeing what everyone else has seen and thinking what no-one else has thought."
An important point to remember from this is that the brain works by patterns. Whether it is patterns of recognition or patterns of behaviour, the past pathways tend to lead future responses, which is a critically important reason why creativity and innovation can be so difficult.
Other parts of this section:
The other sections in this chapter: