Your Brain in Action

Larry Getlen at Splitsider just posted an excerpt of a never-before-released interview with the brilliant comedian George Carlin. Carlin describes something about the brain that I think most people have experienced and recognized in themselves. But his description of how it affects his creative process may be the best I’ve ever read:

[M]y mind has trained itself to have a very sensitive system of radar about certain words, expressions, topics, and areas of discussion that come up. There are things that interest me more than others, and then there are things that jump out. There’s one thing I learned about the mind as a young man, when I quit school. I read a book – half of it, anyway – called Psycho-Cybernetics. The author said that the brain is a goal-seeking and problem-solving machine, and if you put into it the parameters of what it is you need or want or expect, and you feed it, it will do a lot of work without you even noticing. Because the brain does that. It forms neural networks. There are areas in your brain that communicate with one another because of a need they perceive that they have – if you have trained yourself passively or actively, which I have – to look for certain kinds of things to say, and certain kinds of things to compare. Because a lot of comedy is comparing – the things that are cultural or social or language-oriented, or just plain silly. My brain got used to the fact that that made it feel good – that I liked finding those things. So the brain does networking on its own where those connections get made, and pretty soon there’s an automatic process going on all the time that leaves out a lot of unimportant or less interesting areas, and concentrates on areas it has trained itself to passively look for. Because it knows that when it finds one of them, you’re going to feel good! Oh, boy, I found another one! Let’s go back to work and find some more of these for him.

Fascinating! And not just for comedians looking for absurdities in life, but for writers too – whether it’s seeking metaphors to describe physical qualities of things, or bits of conversation that remind us of what we really talk about when we talk about x.

And for non-writers too. What do you need to spot? Business opportunities? Inefficiencies in the workplace? Ways to reduce clutter in your life? Places where you can compliment others and strengthen your relationships?

Don’t struggle in solitude. It may be too much to say that you should think of your brain as your friend, but it doesn’t have to be your enemy either. (Or, I guess, a stranger.)

Make it like Carlin’s description: a loyal servant, well-trained and eager to find things that make you feel good.

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Author-Narcissism Theory Confirmed!

Aha! It was as we suspected after all. Recent research has confirmed it:

 A new British study finds people with narcissistic tendencies are more likely than others to think of themselves as creative, and to engage in creative activities. If your opinion of yourself is unusually high, there’s a good chance you long to share your brilliance with the rest of the world…

There’s no evidence at this point that narcissists are more creative than the rest of us. But there is evidence that they think they are, and that that belief drives them to try their hand at various creative pursuits.

Yet another secret raging narcissist…

What’s especially interesting is that the study also took on the question of introversion and extroversion I posed. It would seem that my hunch was correct that narcissism is fundamental to a desire for creativity, no matter whether the narcissism expresses itself in shyness and introversion or a loud, outgoing personality.

“Narcissism others” was calculated by measuring their response to statements such as “People always recognize my authority” and “I really like to be the center of attention.” “Narcissism self” was based on their reaction to such self-aggrandizing statements as “I am more capable than other people.”

When the scores were added up, “Narcissism self” was the variable that most strongly predicted not only self-assessed creativity (no surprise there), but also engagement in creative activities. “Narcissism others” was also correlated with both measures of creativity, as were the personality traits of openness and extraversion.

I guess this still doesn’t quite answer the question of whether all authors are narcissists. But it would seem to get us closer.

Photograph by Peter Morrison/AP