Part III

How can we harness creativity and inventiveness that really last? (3 of 6)

The dual nature of THINKING and the untapped potential of the human brain.

This is part 3 of a 6-part series, where I share accounts of a journey I have embarked on to understand the true ingredients of ‘inventiveness’ and ‘sustainability’. To build my argument, I have looked at patterns from history, concepts of neuropsychology, the philosophy of science, and anything that has resonated with me to find a reasonable explanation. Follow this link to go to the first chapter.

Chapter 3 | The genesis of inventiveness

Be it the invention of the wheel (~ 5,500 years ago) or the feat that led to the first-ever Black Hole Image(2019), it would not have been possible without our ability to THINK. There should not be any dispute of the fact that the human brain and its extraordinary cognitive abilities have transformed every aspect of our lives today. It sparks imagination and gives birth to inventiveness. Having said that, each one of us is already equipped with the most powerful tool for innovation- the Mighty Human Brain. If there is an ‘x’ factor that helps one to be innovative, we must look nowhere but the human brain. After all, the brain is the place where all kinds of thinking skills arise, and it has taken its current shape and form after millions of years of constant flux.

“Homo sapiens rules the world because it is the only animal that can believe in things that exist purely in its own imagination, such as gods, states, money and human rights.” — Yuval Norah Harhari, (Historian, Philosopher, and the bestselling author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind)

Evolutionary evidence from the past

True credit for the earliest known traces of innovation should probably go to the primitive hominin groups who lived between~500,000 to 320,000 years ago, long before the Sapiens — “the wise humans” — walked the earth. Evidence shows that our human ancestors had very sophisticated and carefully crafted tools much more specialized than the early Stone Age variety. Many were tiny stone points but designed to be attached to a stick as projectile weapons, while others were shaped as scrapers or awls.

Traces of some early innovations from ~ 320,000 years ago

In effect, these were no lesser innovations compared with our modern-day technology breakthroughs. These events indicate the beginning of a real change of gear in the evolution toward modern man’s ability to think and innovate. However, studies suggest that their cognitive abilities may have developed a great deal later, between 30,000 to 70,000 years ago. During this period, known as the Cognitive Revolution, the human brain achieved incredible growth, making humans the most superior animal on earth. It would certainly be worth looking into how the human brain (which constitutes just 2 percent of the body mass of the comparatively small-sized mammals that we are) might have helped us dominate the world like never before.

Left to right: orangutan, gorilla, chimpanzee, Neanderthal, and human skulls overlaid with an illustration of the corresponding brain, Courtesy: Ian T. Fiddes

Understanding the dual nature of the human brain: a modern perspective

The amazing potential of the human brain has certainly grabbed the attention of modern-day scholars and scientists. Yet there are many aspects of the human mind that we still do not understand. One of the early concepts in modern times was proposed by the psychologist, William James (1842–1910, known as the father of American psychology). He placed an emphasis on the dual nature of thinking- the associative (Creative) and the true reasoning (Analytical)- two main prominent categories with multiple sub-categories within each. Each of the sub-categories proposed by James has a complementary opposite, showcasing symmetry. For example, Subjective vs Objective, Divergent vs Convergent, Outward vs inward, Intuitive vs Logical, Emotional vs Rational, and Imagination vs Sequence.

‘The Thinker’ sculpture by Auguste Rodin, Photo by Valentin B. Kremer

Studies by Nobel prize winners like Daniel Kahneman (a psychologist), and Roger Wolcott Sperry (a neurobiologist) have also demonstrated the dual nature of thinking and its evolutionary value. In his book, “Thinking Fast and Slow”, Kahneman explains the two distinct systems of thought: a Fast system and a Slow system.

The fast system is reflexive, intuitive, and automatic. It has evolved from a primitive mode of thinking to allow us to make rapid assessments and reactions to any threatening situations. The slow system is more advanced, rational, and deliberative — a system through which we consciously “observe” and do analysis or use logical reasoning to make conscious decisions. Essentially, Daniel Kahneman’s Fast system is similar to William James’s Associative, whereas the Slow system is comparable to True reasoning.

If the wisdom of the universe (refer to the previous chapter for details) and the credibility of these top modern researchers on the dual nature of our brain suggest symmetry in our thinking skill set, developed over millennia, it cannot be a mistake in the evolutionary path, making humans the most intelligent and creative animal alive. We have already looked at enough examples in the previous chapter to understand the concept of “balance” as a fundamental law of nature that supports sustainability. Now it only strengthens the opinion that the human brain is naturally built to balance both creative and analytical qualities to be sustainable. After all, without the finest ability to think and invent, we would probably not have survived the big, wild, savage world out there.

The concept of Harmony as an essential element for achieving sustainability

Asymmetric balance. Image courtesy: David Clode

Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory states that It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change. This speaks volumes about sustainability. I have already explored the concept of “balance” as a key to sustainability in the previous chapter and in this one, we learn how the human brain has evolved over millennia into an almost symmetric dual-hemisphere structure with complementary cognitive skills exhibiting a sense of balance. Connecting the dots and given the complexity of the human brain — which has no parallel in the universe we know — one can understand why its evolution presents an incredible metaphor of sustainability.

One might ask, is it humanly possible to strike a perfect balance at the individual level with our thinking abilities in this increasingly complex world in which we are living?. I doubt it! Nature has a different sense of time and space in achieving such perfection such that we cannot ever compare ourselves with it. Even if we count millennia as years, a human lifetime would be over in a fraction of a millisecond. However, at a more sophisticated level, modern humans have explored the concept of asymmetric balance, called Harmony, through art, literature, philosophy, etc. It is harder to master, but the core principle stays the same — BALANCE for sustainability.

Harmony brings a sense of balance or symmetry through the integration of different qualities and need not be the exact middle ground between excess and a lack of any qualities.

Nature has its ways of finding balance through “symmetry” for its own sustainability, but it took a colossal amount of time to achieve such perfection. At the same time, not everything in this world is symmetric as consistent asymmetries between the left and right sides of animal bodies are common. For humans, be it at an individual or collective level (organizations/ community), achieving balance through harmony in our ability to think seems like a more practical approach to maximizing a kind of creativity and inventiveness that really last.

The good news, the bad news, and the call for action

Sustainability doesn’t mean the ability to survive forever. Eventually, everything comes to an end. The idea of sustainability is to delay it or keep going by reinventing/ regenerating oneself. The concept of procreation is an example from nature, where all species ensure their survival through their DNA.

The good news is that over their evolutionary timeline, humans have become interdependent creatures, and we have already learned to cooperate with a large and complex network of strangers to make faster and collective progress. At the same time, the bad news is, within all possibilities, we have shown some serious cognitive biases in building this modern world. In the last two hundred years, if we examine the period since the Industrial Revolution, there has been a clear divide in the way we have been encouraged to think. As a result, many people still have a very narrow and incorrect notion of our human abilities. For example, take the concept of a single IQ against the idea of multiple intelligences like visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, musical-rhythmic, logical-mathematical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and bodily-kinesthetic.

By no means am I saying that creativity or inventiveness come only from being imaginative and not through analytical thinking; Creativity is the ability to stretch our imaginations and thinking skills beyond the edge of previously-defined conventions. A mathematician can be equally creative as a visual artist. Albert Einstein is an exceptional example of striking harmony with the dual nature of thinking. Most of his theories are still standing strong even with more sophisticated studies accepted by modern scientists. Along with being a philosophical scientist, Einstein was also a musician. In one of his late journals he wrote, “I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music”. The notion of physically attributing the left brain and right brain to certain human skillsets is just a myth.

A deeper look into the pervasive myth that the left brain controls logic and the right brain controls creativity

The next chapter will delve into how we have ended up making such cognitive biases. It might be the result of the suboptimal use of our brains and failing to strike a harmony in our abilities to think. In fact, this might have contributed heavily to a sudden dent in the sustainability of the modern world. Now is the right time to retrospect on it as the COVID-19 pandemic literally brings the entire world to its knees. As we move to the next part, an old African proverb really sets the tone, “If you want to walk fast walk alone if you want to walk far walk together.” The central argument remains the same: how to be innovative and yet sustainable in the long run. In today’s highly competitive business environment being innovative is not an option, but a matter of survival.

Keep reading…

Upcoming Chapters…

PART IV. | The signals from the past: The world after the industrial revolution- An era of imbalanced thinking with irreversible consequences.<to be published>

PART V. | The golden age of technology: A new world order of corporate leadership and the rise of hyper-growth.<to be published>

PART VI. | Conclusion: It’s time to unlearn, and reawaken the true human potential to build better sustainable systems.<to be published>

Previous Chapters

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