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Guest Lecture - Rex Jung

Stephanie Brunia

To quickly summarize Dr. Jung's talk will do it a bit of injustice, but I'll try to hit on the more salient points. Dr. Jung discussed studies that he has conducted of creativity functions in the brain. He began his talk addressing several myths that people commonly have about creativity. The first is that you have to be a frickin' (pretty certain that's the word he chose) genius to be creative. The second is that there is a link between creativity and madness. The last myth was that creativity is limited to right brain functions. This last point greatly pertains to Dr. Jung's clinical research and the differences in white matter versus grey matter functioning in the brain. Grey matter pertains to glial functions and white matter the interconnectedness of the two lobes (through channels of water that function similarly to straws). Dr. Jung showed a beautiful computer generated model of the white matter networks of his own brain. Lastly, Dr. Jung talked about his five 'P's for creativity: prepare, practice, play, produce, persevere. I agree with Dr. Jung's prediction that perseverance is the pivotal factor of the five 'P's.

A few other quick notes that I found interesting throughout the discussion. Dr. Jung's defined creativity as the production of something novel and useful in a social context. It's interesting to me that creativity should be defined by an outside source. It makes me wonder who is more creative in that definition the person doing something novel, or the society that recognizes his/her novel ideas. There's a fine balance between the two. Another point that a lot of people seemed interested in as well is the fact that studies have shown that creative people are more likely to tell social/white lies. Couldn't help but think of my graduate program and all of the gossip/rumors/drama--wondered if there was a link there. Lastly, Dr. Jung mentioned the New Yorker article about group brainstorming. I went online and read this article and found it fascinating to think about how groups can maximize their own creative potential. (I'll bring this article up in discussion).

I'm curious if Dr. Jung would ever do a study on MacArthur awardees--I think this particular group might be interesting to study based on his definition of creativity. Do their brains actually function with a higher level of white matter?

I'd also be curious to see a study of creativity in 'artistic' brains versus 'scientific' brains for individuals who are thought to be creative in their respective fields. I wonder if the connections happen in different ways and different locations--would the connections still be tied on some level to the notion of right brain vs. left brain? or would they be far more similar? Can we see the connections of people's personal tastes/interests with the structure of their brain? I also wonder how different the brain scans would look between the moment of conceptualizing a project versus the actual creation of the project/work of art--perhaps it wouldn't be any different, though I somehow picture a scan as having greater white matter activity during the physical creation mode.

I'm also curious if frontal lobe activity negates white matter connectivity, or if the absence of frontal lobe activity requires that the white matter work overtime. How does the frontal lobe regulate/control the white matter activity? Is there a way to exercise one's white matter connections the way various parts of the brain can be exercised? Would it be possible to learn how to naturally reach a state in which the frontal lobe activity is decreased so that white matter connectivity could be heightened? Dr. Jung mentioned meditation--would this really work? I wonder if there is a way to develop these exercises once the connection is better understood.

On a Raidolab podcast, I once heard about how memory is actually just pathways in the brain. Dr. Jung was talking about the white matter pathways/straws, but I wonder if that indicates that our brain follows certain chemical pathways during creativity--would it be possible to trick our brain to create new pathways? or is it a genetic pool--what we get is what we have--kind of deal? I keep imagining these straws as boxes and potentially ruts--maybe I'm picturing this incorrectly, but I would imagine that would limit our creative potential.

One major growth for me in undergrad occurred during my basic drawing course. Drawing, I learned, is far less about creating a record on paper, but rather forcing oneself to see differently--I wonder if that sort of change would be apparent in a scan (comparing pre- and post- drawing course brains). It somehow feels like a great exercise in creativity, especially since most people claim they can't draw. Would this merely be an acquisition of knowledge, or would it be a more developed pathway in the brain?

A question that I didn't ask during Dr. Jung's lecture, but am still curious about is how he became involved in Lupus studies. Lupus runs in my family, and I've always understood it as an autoimmune disorder--is it somehow linked to the brain?

I had an art prof in undergrad who used to talk to us about the materials we chose to use. Each student was drawn to certain notebooks/sketchbooks and certain pens or markers or colors. He always compared our desire to use certain materials as our internal love poem to them--I keep thinking about this with my manifesto and I feel like I've become increasingly curious about what things people find amazingly/inexplicably cool. I'd be curious to hear what it was about the brain that first drew Dr. Jung to study it--I have some guesses based on the lecture.