The Flying DrumThe Flying Drum by Bradford P. Keeney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Keeney is a therapist who used systems theory and cybernetics and had a national reputation with several publications in the 80’s. He was a student of Gregory Bateson and Heinz von Foerster. He has developed a radical approach to therapy which is deeply informed and shaped by shamanism.

If you are interested in this, there is an engaging podcast available that I would recommend with an interview with Keeney by Tami Simon of Sounds True. Here is a link to this podcast.

“The Flying Drum” book is a fast read. He tells his personal story of his own “professional” development and describes his way he met with shamans from all around the world, received initiations and instructions, and brings what he learned to the world. It is literally fantastic, operating in that domain of what seems unbelievable and yet here in direct experience.

While the book has similarities to New Age books like those of Lynn Andrews, etc., it feels to have more substance and is more grounded in ordinary reality while not shy of stories of the seeming impossible. It is also a bit like Carlos Casteneda’s books with many descriptions of encounters and personal experiences but without going into as much of the detail of the stories of his contact with the shamans.

I found this book to be validating and inspiring.

Here is a provocative article from the web site of the BBC based on some current research. But don't jump to any conclusions before reading the article. Does it suggest that creativity is based on a deficit of brain function? Or that schizophrenia is creativity run amok? Is this another example of scientific research performing its necessarily highly focused tasks of discovery and then relying too heavily on the resulting reduced variables to draw conclusions? What do you think?


Salvadore Dali B&W
Artist Salvador Dali is known for his surreal paintings and eccentric personality 


By Michelle Roberts, Health reporter, BBC News


Creativity is akin to insanity, say scientists who have been studying how the mind works.

Brain scans reveal striking similarities in the thought pathways of highly creative people and those with schizophrenia.

Both groups lack important receptors used to filter and direct thought.

It could be this uninhibited processing that allows creative people to "think outside the box", say experts from Sweden's Karolinska Institute.

In some people, it leads to mental illness.

But rather than a clear division, experts suspect a continuum, with some people having psychotic traits but few negative symptoms.

Art and suffering

Some of the world's leading artists, writers and theorists have also had mental illnesses – the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh and American mathematician John Nash (portrayed by Russell Crowe in the film A Beautiful Mind) to name just two.

Creativity is known to be associated with an increased risk of depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Similarly, people who have mental illness in their family have a higher chance of being creative.

Thalamus
The thalamus channels thoughts 

Associate Professor Fredrik Ullen believes his findings could help explain why.

He looked at the brain's dopamine (D2) receptor genes which experts believe govern divergent thought.

He found highly creative people who did well on tests of divergent thought had a lower than expected density of D2 receptors in the thalamus – as do people with schizophrenia.

The thalamus serves as a relay centre, filtering information before it reaches areas of the cortex, which is responsible, amongst other things, for cognition and reasoning.

"Fewer D2 receptors in the thalamus probably means a lower degree of signal filtering, and thus a higher flow of information from the thalamus," said Professor Ullen.

He believes it is this barrage of uncensored information that ignites the creative spark.

This would explain how highly creative people manage to see unusual connections in problem-solving situations that other people miss.

Schizophrenics share this same ability to make novel associations. But in schizophrenia, it results in bizarre and disturbing thoughts.

UK psychologist and member of the British Psychological Society Mark Millard said the overlap with mental illness might explain the motivation and determination creative people share.

"Creativity is uncomfortable. It is their dissatisfaction with the present that drives them on to make changes.

"Creative people, like those with psychotic illnesses, tend to see the world differently to most. It's like looking at a shattered mirror. They see the world in a fractured way.

"There is no sense of conventional limitations and you can see this in their work. Take Salvador Dali, for example. He certainly saw the world differently and behaved in a way that some people perceived as very odd."

He said businesses have already recognised and capitalised on this knowledge.

Some companies have "skunk works" – secure, secret laboratories for their highly creative staff where they can freely experiment without disrupting the daily business.

Chartered psychologist Gary Fitzgibbon says an ability to "suspend disbelief" is one way of looking at creativity.

"When you suspend disbelief you are prepared to believe anything and this opens up the scope for seeing more possibilities.

"Creativity is certainly about not being constrained by rules or accepting the restrictions that society places on us. Of course the more people break the rules, the more likely they are to be perceived as 'mentally ill'."

He works as an executive coach helping people to be more creative in their problem solving behaviour and thinking styles.

"The result is typically a significant rise in their well being, so as opposed to creativity being associated with mental illness it becomes associated with good mental health."

Lying and Creativity

December 16, 2009

It appears that there is a link between lying and creativity. Jonah Lehrer, in his blog, The Frontal Cortex, writes about this and links it as well to the ability of jazz musicians to improvise. Interesting subject. Looks like a blog worth following.

Brick

 

A new study has shown evidence that creativity is boosted by an intervention of bi-lateral eye movement designed to increase hemispheric cross-talk. Some of you may be familiar with the use of Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) which also uses bi-lateral eye movements. This article from the Research Digest blog of the British Psychological Society discusses eye movements for increasing creativity. Interestingly, the outcomes are affected by which hand is the stronger- as in right- or left-handed.

Are you wondering why the picture is of a brick for this post? So did I when I saw the original. The article will reveal all.

Cartoon

August 15, 2009

Picture 2

 

This is a cartoon by Stuart McMillan about George Orwell and Aldous Huxley and the different ways they saw the future. Interesting. (Thanks to kottke.org)

Mind_play_thumb

Imaginative and rambunctious “free play,” in childhood is crucial for social, emotional and cognitive development to help avoiding growing into anxious, socially maladjusted adults. Psychiatrist Stuart Brown's research has shown that unstructured, imaginative play can keep children from growing into happy, well-adjusted adults. “Free play,” as scientists call it, is critical for becoming socially adept, coping with stress and building cognitive skills such as problem solving. This article in Scientific American Mind magazine tells all about it.


Depression is a widespread problem in our society, although open discussion of it is uncommon. We stigmatize those who exhibit mental disorders and so ordinary discussion about a disease as common as depression is uncomfortable, at least. Sufferers often fear that others might find out about their disease and think less of them as a result- or worse, they could lose jobs and friends. There needs to be more open discussion about depression and the other mental disorders so that sufferers do not have bear the additional load of the negative judgements.

Dick_Cavett

In regard to this, the great talk show host of past decades, Dick Cavett, has lately been writing a column for the New York Times. In his piece, “Smiling Through”, from June 27, 2008 he writes with personal eloquence about his experience addressing an audience about his own struggles with depression. In his follow-up piece, “Smiling Through Part 2 from July 11, he says that he was surprised at the “outpouring” of response he got from the first article- nearly 500 at this date and over 300 so far to the more recent piece.

These are quite worth reading to get a perspective on depression, not just from Cavett’s experience, but from some of the celebrities he interviewed on his show, like the great playwrite Tennessee Williams, for example, with whom Cavett is shown in a video from the show. The selected quotes from some of the responders to his original column are also worth reading.