Thursday, 13 June 2013

A breakthrough in understanding creativity - the primacy of Long Term Memory


This morning I seem to have experienced a breakthrough in my understanding of creativity, and its links to the mode of thinking associated with dreaming sleep and psychosis.


I have been puzzling over the nature of dream logic - that is to say, the principles by which dream association works.

I had got as far as recognizing that the strange nature of dreams (which I take it are selective and partial samples of a mostly unconscious and fundamental brain process going-on especially during REM sleep), and the creativity of dreaming (such that new phenomena are produced and not just a mosaic of our previous experiences) are both a reflection of the different principles of dream processing, compared with waking processing.


In other words, I had got so far as understanding that dreams are not just a quantitative variation on the logic of the awake mind, dreams are not merely a matter of 'looser associations' in which the associations are of the same sort as waking associations, nor are strange and unreal dream contents wholly explicable in terms of errors in memory - but rather, the association of ideas and meanings which is going-on in dreaming sleep is qualitatively different from the associations of the awake state, and operating according to a different set of rules than during the waking state.


However, my attempts to understand dream logic were getting nowhere - except that I recognized that dreaming was something to do with Long Term Memory (LTM) being autonomous from the Short Term Memory (STM - and equivalent to Working Memory) which dominates the waking state; and dream logic had something to do with associations via emotions or feelings which formed some degree of contrast with waking logic which was at least relatively (or potentially) more-independent of emotions and feelings.


The breakthrough came, as so often, when I un-asked the question - when I recognized that I was asking for an explanation of that which was primary, and taking for granted that which was secondary.

In other words, I suddenly recognized (and remembered) that Long Term Memory was primary and Short Term Memory (Waking Memory) was a secondary phenomenon - a tiny sample of the content of perception and of Long Term Memory which was represented as patterns of neurons activated for a matter of seconds (this is what are aware of and attend to, and can manipulate by will/ executive function).


Therefore the associative principles or logic of Long Term Memory (which is also dream logic, and also the logic of creativity) is actually the full range of associative processes of which the human brain is capable - that is to say, all humanly-possible associations. 

But this is implicit; it is the hidden part of the iceberg of which Short Term Memory is the only part that is explicitly available to introspection (becoming explicit by being activated in Short Term Memory).


By contrast, waking logic is a tightly-constrained, partial, distorted and tiny sub-set of the vast amount of information and vast richness of associations which are located in Long Term Memory.

So, creativity is the business of becoming aware of the vast richness of information and associations in Long Term Memory - and making these explicit and available to introspection in Short Term Memory.


Creativity deploys the enormous knowledge and densely rich associations of Long Term Memory - and brings the results into Short Term Memory.

Thus (to emphasize the point) creativity does not interfere with the processes of LTM; in particualr creativity does not impose STM processing onto LTM contents - it only takes the outcomes of LTM processing. 


But how does creativity access the contents of Long Term memory, when these contents are mostly inexplicit and inaccessible to introspection?

This is where emotions and feelings come in: Creativity is the means by which STM accesses LTM through emotions and feelings.


Let us suppose that the processes of LTM have led to certain insights or conclusions, then this will in turn lead to an emotion; and that emotion may be experienced consciously - which is what we call a feeling. 

Therefore, creativity is about the feelings we have in response to the goings-on in LTM - the feelings serve as evaluations, and these evaluations derive from the enormously complex and mysterious processes of Long Term Memory - that embody all the knowledge and associations (interconnection) of which we are capable.


Creativity works by feelings. For example there are positive (happy or pleasurable) and negative (uncomfortable, maybe painful) feelings that may provide an evaluation of ideas and experiences.

There are hunches which point us toward doing this, rather than that; there are felt-links between what superficially appear to be diverse and unrelated facts and domains; there is the sense of knowing when we are right (or on the right lines) and conversely the dissatisfaction and irritation when we are wrong (or going down a blind alley, or following a red herring).

This is the stuff of creativity! And it is a matter of feelings.


But of course these creative feelings are ultimately dependent on the knowledge and experience stored in Long Term Memory. these feelings can be no better a guide than the LTM stores which sustain and generate them.

And this conception explains how creativity becomes linked to a specific problem or domain in which the individual becomes 'expert'.

What is happening is that, by focusing their experiences and their thinking over a prolonged period of time, the creative person is orientating their LTM towards a particular problem or domain - such that Long Term Memory begins to deploy its vast informational and processing resources upon that problem or domain.


The creative person has a LTM which is, in the first place, well-filled with relevant knowledge to a theme, and in the second place orientated towards that theme so that during dreaming sleep (plus other times) LTM is working-on that theme.

If or when Long Term Memory comes up with answers or insights, then the creative person becomes aware of this fact during the waking state by becoming aware of the emotions which are engendered in relation to that theme - and then it is a matter of STM discovering and making-explicit the implicit and not-directly accessible associations of LTM that underlay those answers or insights.


More to follow, no doubt... Interestingly this breakthrough, as it seems, followed a discussion with my daughter in which we tried to understand the associations of her dream last night. Afterwards I realized that we were trying as to make explicit the primary and actual associations of the dream - we were using awake STM to explain dreaming LTM... 


The Crow said...

My creativity grows like a tree, out of the earth.
I start with no plan, only the vaguest of ideas.
I finish the start. Then start whatever follows, and finish that. But there is no actual finish. One action leads to the next, and at some point it is finished enough.
In fact, whatever I create, is an ongoing exercise in problem-solving, on the fly.
In terms of construction, I can see the lines of force involved, and add what is needed to keep things strong and upright.
There seems no memory of anything, involved in any of this, because I never create anything like anything previously created. All my creations are one-offs.
Then again, very little of anything I do, resembles anything anybody else does.
Often, upon completion of a project, I will regard it in wonderment, unsure as to how I even did it, and know it would be impossible to do it twice.

dearieme said...

Could your notion relate in any way to the belief (by some) that their creativity is stimulated by booze or drugs?

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - I haven't yet worked through the implications. Drug effects would depend on which drug in which dose. For example stimulants - including nicotine - might improve creative output (by effects on energy and motivation) but not 'raw creativity' as such.

Low dose alcohol (not at intoxicating levels) might enhance emotions and thereby access to LTM content.