Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Hunt for Eureka

Tyler Cowen excerpts from this New Yorker article:
Many stimulants, like caffeine, Adderall, and Ritalin, are taken to increase focus -- one recent poll found that nearly twenty percent of scientists and researchers regularly took prescription drugs to "enhance concentration" -- but, accordingly to Jung-Beeman and Kounios, drugs may actually make insights less likely, by sharpening the spotlight of attention and discouraging mental rambles. Concentration, it seems, comes with the hidden cost of diminished creativity. "There's a good reason Google puts Ping-Pong tables in their headquarters," Kounios said. "If you want to encourage insights, then you've got to also encourage people to relax." Jung-Beeman's latest paper investigates why people who are in a good mood are so much better at solving insight puzzles. (On average, they solve nearly twenty percent more C.R.A. problems.)
To which Will Wilkinson writes:

I agree with one of Tyler’s commenters. I am prone to near constant free associative reverie and find it very difficult to do anything else. What I need is to identify my best ideas, pull myself out of the infinite pool of combinatorial possibility, dry myself off, take a seat and buckle down on embodying my best ideas in some medium intelligble to someone other than me. Which is why I would be screwed without stimulants. Or blogs. If uppers keep me from going off on creative tangents while I’m trying to work, that’s a feature, not a bug, because then I might possibly get something done.

When I was a teenager, I had a fanstasy that I could get paid or famous simply from having interesting ideas. It turns out people won’t pay you for interesting ideas unless you show up at a certain place and at a certain time to express them verbally in an entertaining format, or unless you write them down. It’s hard for me and not at all as nice as doing the backstroke through Platonic heaven.

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