Alternating your time between two or more creative projects will definitely help your subconscious thinking on each of them!
Your brain is a magical box where once you put things into it and shake it around a bit you’ll be surprised at what comes out. Even if you’re not actively thinking about what you’ve put into it.
But wait a minute: aren’t YOU your brain?
How is it possible that your brain can possibly work on things without you consciously being aware it? What the hell is going on inside the brain to make thinking about something without actually thinking about it possible?
It turns out our brains are more than what we know them to be, or can even understand.
The brain is incredibly complex, almost unfathomably so. We don’t really know how exactly it works and shapes itself. We only know that the brain consists of millions of little biological connections that use biochemicals and electricity to interpret and give meaning to otherwise meaningless things. It’s theorized that more than 200 billion bits of information are processed in the brain every second.
That’s really all we know!
As David Eagleman states in his book Incognito:
“We are influenced by drives to which we have little access, and which we never would have believed had not the statistics laid them bare.”
When we ask questions about how the brain works or why certain things yield certain results, we’re really just saying: “We’ve seen this thing happen a few times before and it seems to make sense, so like physics: this must be how it works.”
So if we ask: does working on multiple, separate things at the same time benefit the work? We must look toward what we see out in the world relevant to this question.
Anecdotally we can say yes, jumping around on different projects benefits the work we do and the likelihood of a creative result. Taking a break to work on something else can help us avoid fixating on existing solutions. Albert Einstein is (not so) famously known for taking breaks from his scientific discoveries to practice the violin. Elon Musk has been busy not only inventing revolutionary space rockets over the past few years, but he’s also been working to innovate on battery cells, solar energy, and electronic vehicles.
We also see evidence of multiple, simultaneous endeavors being beneficial in lab studies. We’ve tapped into a better understanding how periods of cognitive incubation lead to insights. Research has found that setting unique goals for multiple tasks and jumping between each of them yields more creative output.
But how does this all happen without us knowing exactly? How can we solve problems without actually thinking about them?
The same questions could be asked about basic functions: how do we know to breathe when we’re asleep? How does our heart maintain a healthy beat when we go for a run? Why does our knee bounce when we’re anxious? How is it that I can safely commute home from work without really paying much attention?
That’s (partially) just the magic of the brain.
The answer as to why this all happens is, unfortunately: it just does. We aren’t completely certain how, but anecdotally and in labs it seems that working on one or two passions at the same time often yields benefits.
In creative circles this is known as incubation, the second stage of the idealized four or five stages of creativity (depending on who you ask: preparation, incubation, insight, evaluation).
Incubation is when an idea is able to sit in your mind without being tampered with. It means taking a break from your homework to go for a walk, or instead of working on an assignment at work focusing on a hobby, or (in this case) jumping from one project to another one.
We can assume that these things all work because when working on any one thing for a given amount of time will stress out the parts of the brain dealing with it.
It’s like when you constantly write or say the same word for five minutes, your brain burns out on it and suddenly the word doesn’t make sense. Working on the same specific problem or task for any amount of time means the neurons in your brain dealing with that work are firing constantly and other areas are unable to fire (which hinders our ability to “think differently”).
This also might help explain why our subconscious is still able to “work” on the task while our consciousness is elsewhere: the neural network has been activated so much that it’s still firing echoes, which may or may not interfere or combine with new stimulus for the other relevant task (or distraction).
The problem you may run into is knowing what to work on, when, and for how long.
Studies have shown that 90 minute chunks of focused work are beneficial, but again: this is anecdotal, so find your own balance.
Most importantly is knowing what to work on when.
Your best bet is, again, to find what works for you, but in terms of research it looks like jumping around unrelated tasks is best. So if you’re working on a logical, pragmatic problem where you know solution exists but you have to seek it out, consider jumping to a more creative or artistic problem where you can spend a chunk of time doing more exploratory and not-so-straightforward work.
The benefit should be clear: by jumping around different projects types you open yourself up to different modes of thinking, which enables creativity.
If you’re stuck on a logical problem, the best way forward is to come up with a creative process. And if you’re stuck on a creative challenge, a switch to logical thinking may help expose you to what you’re cognitively blind to.
This is making the rounds on Facebook at the moment (in response to another meme)…
But then most historical facts are unpleasant.
have never read anything from HP Lovecraft.
I probably should – after all, he contributed enormously to what is now
my favourite genre, but I’ve never felt the pull to pick up one of his books.
However, I’m not completely useless. I have done my research on him, and his
stories. His plotlines are fantastical.
Without Lovecraft’s contribution, we would not have the glory of Cthulhu
running for president in the US elections. He was creating science fiction
works before it was science fiction.
We have HP Lovecraft to thank for this existing on the Internet.
Lovecraft was a great contributor. Lovecraft was also racist. Pretty racist. Hectically racist. Practically everything I’ve read about Lovecraft the man and
the writer indicates that he had a less than friendly attitude towards people
who were not of his skin tone. And for a
scifi reader, it’s a bitter pill to swallow that someone who helped create the
genre would think of you as a lesser human.
Introducing la Valle
So how do I
navigate that space? Luckily enough,
someone had already thought of that question before I did. Tammy Oler explores this sticky situation
through the work of another scifi writer.
Victor la Valle takes one of Lovecraft’s stories, The Horror at Red Hook, and remixes the story, retelling it through
the eyes of one of its black characters. The
Ballad of Black Tom humanizes the character Tommy, and LaValle marries the
fictional setting to the reality of black people in 1920s New York (and modern
times too). It was interesting, reading about an author who looked at
Lovecraft’s work specifically with a racial angle.
SciFi and Racism
How does this
relate to science fiction in general? There are other instances of racism, or
the least, racial insensitivity, in well-known scifi books. The other example that comes to mind is Dune. Frank Herbert is the writer
responsible for launching me into the world of scifi. I love that book like
crazy. I am strongly considering getting a Litany against Fear tattoo. Yet the
White Saviour Complex in Dune grates
my brain. But that’s for another day.
If I had zero motivation to read Lovecraft now, my motivation is in negative numbers. Avoiding his work doesn’t solve the sticky situation of racism in scifi, but it does mean that I remove unnecessary feelings that will get in the way of me enjoying what is a wonderful universe of alternate futures and realities. And it motivates me to do, in my own small way, whatever I can to correct the racial imbalance.
Agnes Martin at LACMA
Now on view, Agnes Martin is the first retrospective of Martin’s work since 1994. A seminal artist of the twentieth century and a pioneer of abstraction, Agnes Martin’s visionary aesthetic and reclusive lifestyle have inspired artists and practitioners across all creative disciplines. See this exhibition through September 11, 2016 at LACMA. http://bit.ly/22CWr1W
By legitimizing the conduct that produces this double consciousness, this case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time. It says that your body is subject to an invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged. We must not pretend that the countless people who are targeted by police are “isolated.” They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere. They are the ones who recognize that unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives. Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.
In my research on originals, I’ve learned of people who have used dogs’ chew-toys as erasers in a pinch or reimagined rollerblades as ways to tell time. These are minor, isolated examples, but they illustrate a greater force at play,” says Grant. “The world is full of ordinary objects and ideas that are made extraordinary by people who have the capacity to repurpose and reapply them, MacGyver-style. It often starts with a slight recalibration in perspective followed by a small, but defiant act. It’s the originals who keep pulling on that thread — they instinctively know that that’s the difference between inspiration and innovation. Don’t you want those people building beside you?
Values over rules are key for encouraging originality.
(h/t to Brandon Donnelly)