The great myth of the left brain versus right brain personality types has been popular for years. Even comedian Bo Burnham has turned this classic cliché into a successful song for his tour. As the story goes, the left brain is reserved for logic, analytics, and other brow-furrowing things, while the right brain is all about being creative. So a person who was very creative would say, oh, I’m right-brained, while someone who is more into scheduling would say, I’m left-brained.
Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D. and scientific director of the Imagination Institute, has put his foot down on the myth, and called it just that. In fact, he claims you can’t harness one side without enlisting the help of the other. It takes creativity to invent, and make something new, and it takes a certain calculated-ness to schedule long hours, trying to figure out how to make the invention work. For example, Leonardo da Vinci, one of the most famous artists in the world was also a brilliant inventor. His sketches of his flying machines, and fetuses developing in the womb are beautiful to look at, with expressive detail, but they’re also brilliantly designed.
The brain is interwoven, with no committed left side or right side usage. Parts are connected through various brain networks that criss-cross the brain to communicate and get the best function of the brain in various situations. One of these is the Executive Attention Network. This is what allows you to hold onto many pieces of information at once. When a person is studying for a test, this network allows them to remember what they’re studying, why they’re studying, the methods used to study, and when they need to finish. When it comes to creativity, the Executive Attention Network is also responsible for inhibiting the most obvious ideas that spring to mind, and instead it digs deeper to see what a second or third idea might bring – these are usually the more creatively developed versions of an idea, and it’s something improv artists are usually very good at.
Then there’s the Default Mode Network, which Kaufman prefers to call the Imagination Network, because it’s the inwardly focused network that kicks in when the immediate environment surrounding us is not stimulating or engaging enough. This is the network responsible for daydreaming, tuning out, and also a lot of creative musing.
Furthermore, it takes creativity to be sympathetic for another person. The ability to imagine oneself in another person’s shoes is important to interpersonal relations, and allows us to be empathetic. This is imagination and creativity. While schools tend to prize science and math over creative skills, these things are important. It’s how we daydream, and how we improvise. Perhaps it’s time to invest in our imagination networks.
Scott Barry Kaufman’s book is Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind.