Think with your entire brain and you’ll be as creative as Albert Einstein.
That is perhaps an oversimplification of the latest scientific research on the brain of one of the greatest minds of the Twentieth Century. But as The Washington Post reported on Sunday, the developer of the theory of relativity did in fact physically embody whole-brain thinking. According to a new study published in the journal Brain, Einstein’s corpus colossum–the network of neural fibers that connects the left and right hemispheres–was in fact colossal.
One could look at this fact, drawn from direct study of Einstein’s brain as it was preserved after death, and say he was predestined for genius. We’ve debated here before at The Artist’s Road to what extent creative genius is inherent or learned. Some people are given an edge in life based on genes or physical differences, it’s true. But what scientists concluded after examining Einstein’s corpus colossum was that at his death it was in size comparable to that of a typical young man. “That might reflect the fact that Einstein continued to exercise his brain strenuously,” reporter Melissa Healy wrote, “forestalling much of the atrophy that comes with age.”
We’ve also debated here at The Artist’s Road the notion of left-brain vs. right-brain thinking. Artists love to boast of their right-brain minds, and sure enough, evidence of Einstein’s passion for violin playing–a right-brain activity–is visible in his brain scan in the form of a large knob on the surface of his primary motor cortex. But it is clear to me Einstein’s creativity stemmed from his ability to apply both left-brain and right-brain thinking, as I’ve advocated here on The Artist’s Road. I don’t write this simply to justify my love of mapping my creative projects. I write it because it is increasingly self-evident.
A few years ago I read Walter Isaacson’s remarkable biography of Albert Einstein. One thing that stuck with me was that Einstein hated doing math. Many scientists of his age solved problems by working mathematical problems until an answer emerged. His preferred approach to problem-solving began in a rather right-brain way, with big-picture thoughts about how it seemed to him the universe should work. Then, once he had worked out the abstract parameters, he would sit down and look to prove his theory with mathematics.
Two lessons here: 1) He had sufficient grasp of mathematics–a heavily left-brain activity–to conduct necessary proofs after his right-brain brainstorming. 2) His big-picture thinking surely was advanced because he had that foundational understanding of mathematics.
I do not aspire to solve the mysteries of the universe. I’ve worked on and around Washington, D.C.’s, Capitol Hill for a quarter-century and I still can’t fathom the mysteries of that dysfunctional branch of the U.S. government, so advancing relativity theory is not in the cards for me. But I am always hungry to learn from creative success stories. Here are some takeaways for me:
- Creativity truly flourishes when we incorporate both left-brain and right-brain thinking, but we can begin the process by favoring whichever comes easier to us.
- Regular and repeated use of whole-brain thinking will help us stay creative and alert as we age.
To what extent do you find your creative process incorporates both left-brain and right-brain thinking?