The Creative Process
What are the underlying cognitive mechanisms for the creative process?
Gabora explains what happens to our minds when we’re doing creative work.
Stages of the Creative Process
Preparation: Becomes obsessed with the problem, collects relevant data and attempts traditional approaches.
Incubation: Does not actively attempt to solve the problem, but unconsciously continues to work on it.
Taking a shower is my most common incubation step. Programming bugs seem to reveal themselves when I’m lathering up in there.
Illumination: Possibilities surface to the consciousness in a vague and unpolished form.
Verification: The idea is worked into a form that can be proven and communicated to others.
Architecture of the Mind
Since the human mind can sense and store any of the combinations of sound, color, etc., the number of memory locations is much less than the number of possible experiences. The mind can therefore be represented as a sparse matrix.
During the initial, intuitive phase, each thought activates, and potentially retrieves information from, a large region containing many memory locations. Because of the distributed, content-addressable structure of memory, the diverse contents of these many locations merge to generate the next thought. Novel associations often result. As one focuses on an idea, the region searched and retrieved from narrows, such that the next thought is the product of fewer memory locations. This enables a shift from association-based to causation-based thinking, which facilitates the fine-tuning and manifestation of the creative work.
This association-based seems to be the main reason why brainstorming works. Jotting down everything you can think of about a topic lets you visualize the associations between concepts.
Gabora, L. (2002). Cognitive Mechanisms Underlying the Creative Process. Proceedings from C&C ’02: Creativity and Cognition, 126-133. [HTML]