Plato once noted that “creativity is a divine madness, a gift from gods.” Romantic notions of the link between mental illness and creativity still appear prominently in popular culture. But ever since scientists started formally investigating the link, there has been intense debate. Some of the most highly cited studies on the topic have been criticized on the grounds that they involve highly specialized samples with weak and inconsistent methodologies and a strong dependence on subjective and anecdotal accounts. What has become much clearer, however, is that there is a real link between creativity and a number of traits and characteristics that are associated with mental illness. Once we leave the narrowed confines of the clinical setting and enter the larger general population, we see that mental disorders are far from categorical. Every single healthy human being lies somewhere on every psychopathology spectrum (e.g., schizophrenia, autism, mood disorders). What’s more, we each show substantial fluctuations on each of these dimensions each day, and across our lifespan. A major issue in attempting to scientifically study the link between the various dimensions of psychopathology and creativity is the outcome measure. What should we be predicting? Because here’s the thing: Creativity also lies on a spectrum, ranging from the everyday creative cognition that allows us to generate new ideas, possibilities, and solutions to a problem, to the real-world creative achievement seen in publicly recognized domains across the arts, humanities, and sciences. Therefore, the link to psychopathology spectrum disorders may differ depending on the outcome.
Enter a new study by Darya Zabelina, David Condon, and Mark Beeman. They examined whether levels of psychopathology in a healthy non-clinical sample are associated with creative cognition and real-world creative achievement among a group of 100 participants, aged 18-30. None had been hospitalized for psychiatric or neurological reasons, and none abused alcohol or drugs.
“Diversity is not only about bringing different perspectives to the table. Simply adding social diversity to a group makes people believe that differences of perspective might exist among them and that belief makes people change their behavior. Members of a homogeneous group rest somewhat assured that they will agree with one another; that they will understand one another’s perspectives and beliefs; that they will be able to easily come to a consensus. But when members of a group notice that they are socially different from one another, they change their expectations. They anticipate differences of opinion and perspective. They assume they will need to work harder to come to a consensus. This logic helps to explain both the upside and the downside of social diversity: people work harder in diverse environments both cognitively and socially. They might not like it, but the hard work can lead to better outcomes.”—How Diversity Makes Us Smarter - Scientific American
“The key to understanding the positive influence of diversity is the concept of informational diversity. When people are brought together to solve problems in groups, they bring different information, opinions and perspectives. This makes obvious sense when we talk about diversity of disciplinary backgrounds—think again of the interdisciplinary team building a car. The same logic applies to social diversity. People who are different from one another in race, gender and other dimensions bring unique information and experiences to bear on the task at hand. A male and a female engineer might have perspectives as different from one another as an engineer and a physicist—and that is a good thing.”—How Diversity Makes Us Smarter - Scientific American
Being around people who are different from us makes us more creative, more diligent and harder-working
The first thing to acknowledge about diversity is that it can be difficult. In the U.S., where the dialogue of inclusion is relatively advanced, even the mention of the word “diversity” can lead to anxiety and conflict. Supreme Court justices disagree on the virtues of diversity and the means for achieving it. Corporations spend billions of dollars to attract and manage diversity both internally and externally, yet they still face discrimination lawsuits, and the leadership ranks of the business world remain predominantly white and male.It is reasonable to ask what good diversity does us. Diversity of expertise confers benefits that are obvious—you would not think of building a new car without engineers, designers and quality-control experts—but what about social diversity? What good comes from diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation? Research has shown that social diversity in a group can cause discomfort, rougher interactions, a lack of trust, greater perceived interpersonal conflict, lower communication, less cohesion, more concern about disrespect, and other problems. So what is the upside?The fact is that if you want to build teams or organizations capable of innovating, you need diversity. Diversity enhances creativity. It encourages the search for novel information and perspectives, leading to better decision making and problem solving. Diversity can improve the bottom line of companies and lead to unfettered discoveries and breakthrough innovations. Even simply being exposed to diversity can change the way you think. This is not just wishful thinking: it is the conclusion I draw from decades of research from organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers.
The activity of a “sleep node” in the mammalian brain appears to be both necessary and sufficient to produce deep sleep, say researchers.
Scientists have identified a second “sleep node” in the mammalian brain whose activity appears to be both necessary and sufficient to produce deep sleep. The sleep-promoting circuit located deep in the primitive brainstem reveals how we fall into deep sleep. Published online in Nature Neuroscience, the study demonstrates that fully half of all of the brain’s sleep-promoting activity originates from the parafacial zone (PZ) in the brainstem. The brainstem is a primordial part of the brain that regulates basic functions necessary for survival, such as breathing, blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature. “The close association of a sleep center with other regions that are critical for life highlights the evolutionary importance of sleep in the brain,” says study coauthor Caroline E. Bass, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology in the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. See on futurity.org
“There’s the old Carlin bit about when you drive on the road: anyone going faster than me is a maniac and anyone going slower than me is a jerk. That that’s the way we live our lives. We’re always going the right speed, and everybody else is missing the boat. We don’t take into account that I’m going fast today because I’ve got to get to the hospital, or I’m going slow today because I know I had something to drink, and I shouldn’t have, so I’m going to drive real slow. We don’t take those things into account. We just think whatever I’m doing is the right thing, and we have to recognize there’s this space around those, and if we can find that overlap we can get some movement. And so that’s not a nudge idea, per se. It’s really about finding when people are in a mental space where they’re more open to other ideas, and what is often going on there is you’re trying on identities.”—h\t http://wanderingwanderingstar.tumblr.com/
“For human enhancement, advances in robotics will also be important, as I found during a visit to Silicon Valley. These can provide much-needed physical and mechanical support in the case of the handicapped. If your best friend’s son was paraplegic, and you had the means to help, wouldn’t you? This is how Willow Garage, one of the biggest robot developers in Silicon Valley, got his inspiration. I was reminded of how Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone: he was originally attempting to find a hearing aid for his wife and daughter, who were deaf. In Willow Garage’s case, the friend’s child was entering adulthood without being able to care for himself. An institution loomed in his near future. Now, a humanlike robot stays at his side, allowing him to live a seminormal life; with the aid of his humanoid friend, the young man can manage on his own. Using a two-way video, he can also direct the mobile robot to navigate around another physical space and interact with other humans at the user’s behest.”—We Are Playing God with a Declassified Future [Excerpt] - Scientific American
The U.S. liver organ wait list has grown rapidly, while the number of organ donors has stagnated —- but the true need is almost 10x larger than the official
Organ-a collective initiative for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine — announced today (Oct. 16) the initial six teams competing for the $1 million New Organ Liver Prize, a global prize competition launched in December 2013 and sponsored by the Methuselah Foundation, a biomedical charity.
The award will go to “the first team that creates a regenerative or bioengineered solution that keeps a large animal alive for 90 days without native liver function,” with a deadline of the end of 2018. Future challenge prizes will cover additional whole organs.
The six teams represent scientists* from Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Northwick Park Institute for Medical Research, University College of London, University of Florida, University of Oxford, University of Pittsburgh, and Yokohama City University. More teams will be announced in the future.
“We need to make people as valuable as cars,” New Organ Founder and Methuselah CEO David Gobel told KurzweilAI. “Right now, there are no parts for people except from ‘junk yards’ from crash victims.” He said the choice of the liver makes sense because it’s “most likely to regenerate itself; it’s relatively homogenous; and it’s a key item in toxicity studies, extremely well characterized.
“This is an engineering problem. The more people who try, the more solutions.” Gobel mentioned vascularization (forming and maintaining blood vessels while preventing clotting) as a key problem (a solution for kidneys was mentioned on KurzweilAI last week).
In a world where economy-class seats are getting thinner and lavatories are shrinking, any flight longer than an hour can feel like a traveling prison. Aircraft manufacturer Airbus is abetting the shift, but a recent patent filing shows it hasn’t forgotten about you, the passenger who actually has to sit in these miserable flying cells. It’s considering helmets that will let you forget you’re in an airplane at all.
Flying can be boring or stressful, which is why airlines provide music, movies and bad TV. The next step appears to be thoroughly immersing passengers in what they’re watching. “The helmet in which the passenger houses his/her head offers him/her sensorial isolation with regard to the external environment,” reads the patent filing.
The helmets feature headphones to provide music. You can watch movies (perhaps in 3D) on the “opto-electronic” screen or possibly through “image diffusion glasses.” If you want to get some work done, turn on the virtual keyboard, which appears on your tray, don a pair of motion capture gloves, and type away. The helmet could even pipe in different odors for an olfactory treat, and the whole thing would be nicely ventilated.
Squid and other cephalopods control their skin displays by contracting color-filled cells. A team of engineers attempted the same using elastomer and electrical pulses.
Displays are becoming flatter and flexible, so why not stretchable as well? A study published today in Nature Communications describes a paper-thin, elastic film that lights up when stimulated by an electric pulse. It’s a technology that could some day be used to make fold-up light sources, on-demand camouflage, or possibly even the Tron jumpsuit you’ve always wanted.
The engineers of the film were inspired by the skin of octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish, which can change color using tiny, ring-shaped structures called chromatophores. Each chromatophore is pigment-filled and ringed with tiny muscles. By contracting or expanding the chromatophores in different patterns, the cephalopods can create dazzling displays, or camouflage themselves from sight.
The new soft, stretchable elastomer is chemically combined with artificial, fluorescent-color versions of chromatophores, called mechanophores. Electrical pulses activate the mechanophores and create flourescant patterns. Different pulse strengths change the colors, and once the pulse is shut off the pattern instantly clears.
The fact that we are all so steeped in the same shorthand of the future (intelligent robots; warp drive; retinal displays) is a hint that we’ve become complacent about our dreams. The stories we tell about the near future have become homogeneous and standardized. There are a handful of persistent narratives in Hollywood films and genre fiction about what the world will look like, much like the futuristic guns, helmets, and other props that get recycled from set to set. We all know the most popular of these stories: Inequality, social collapse, and chaos have been spilling into pop culture from Mad Max to Elysium. Sure, there are variations: climate change or aliens, Soylent Green or The Matrix. But they share a common aesthetic and cynicism. Then there are the flawed utopias (Logan’s Run, The Truman Show, Minority Report), the Frankenstein stories (Robocop, Her, Alien), and a handful of others. The optimistic visions might even be more consistent, like the sleek Jetsons future with those long-awaited flying cars. The most successful one is Star Trek (leotards!), which by this point has inspired generations of engineers and scientists.
Gizmag recently caught up with Team Aezon members Krzysztof Sitko and Neil Rens for an in-depth discussion of their finalist entry to the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE. The competition aims to stimulate advances in the field of diagnostic equipment, with the incentive of a US$10 million prize purse. Such technology has the potential to revolutionize the speed and accuracy with which a diagnosis can be made outside of a hospital environment.
Earlier this month, 10 of the most promising teams were chosen to advance to the November 2015 final of the Tricorder XPRIZE. Criteria for the competition requires that the team’s tricorder be capable of monitoring key health metrics such as blood pressure and respiratory rate, and have the ability to accurately diagnose 15 core conditions. Just to make this a little tougher on the competitors, the winning tricorder must be simple enough to be used unaided by the average consumer. Team Aezon’s tricorder is comprised of three key elements: the Arc, the Lab Box and a smartphone app through which the information captured by the diagnostic equipment is presented.
Team Aezon intends to collect the health metrics needed for the competition through an unobtrusive piece of wearable tech known as the Arc.
"We were experimenting with different places to measure vital signs because we thought that people wouldn’t want to have multiple devices," explains Sitko, co-founder of Aegle, the startup responsible for designing the sleek vitals-monitoring device. "We found ourselves gravitating towards the neck as the best compromise of the different requirements."
“Metaphor is the mind’s great swerve. Creativity don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that clinamactic swing”—Excerpt From: Geary, James. “I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World.
Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 at the age of 122, remains the oldest person on record. One might assume that she led a faultless, healthy lifestyle. Not at all. Every year on her birthday, as her celebrity grew, journalists flocked to her house in the south of France to ask her for the secret to a long life. One year she reportedly replied that it was because she stopped smoking when she turned 100.
In addition to smoking for most of her life, Madame Calment was also fond of Port wine and chocolate (more than two pounds of chocolate a week). She’s not the only one. Studies have failed to find healthy lifestyle choices to be the common thing between centenarians. As Nir Barzilai, who studies healthy Jewish centenarians, put it: “It’s not the yogurt.”
Instead, scientists have discovered that longevity is prevalent in certain families and the focus is now on discovering the genes, or the DNA instructions, that favour a long, healthy life.
In animals like mice, flies and roundworms, scientists have discovered a remarkable impact of genes on the ageing process. Hundreds of tiny instructions in the genome have been found to regulate longevity. In nematode worms, a mutation on the daf-2 gene can lead to a doubled, but still healthy lifespan. In tiny roundworms, the current record is a subtle change in the age-1 gene that extends lifespan ten-fold. If this could be applied to humans, it would mean people living more than 1,000 years.
Life-extension effects from genetic engineering, however, tend to be more modest in mammals, though there is still evidence of health benefits. In mice, mutating the growth hormone receptor gene, which is crucial for regulating growth and cell proliferation, results in dwarf animals that not only live 40% longer than normal but are protected from age-related diseases, like cancer, and exhibit a later onset of degenerative changes. In this example, it’s like the whole mammalian ageing process is retarded by changing a single gene.
Ed writes, “Here’s an ambitious short film I made for the Royal Institution with evolutionary psychologist Nicholas Humphrey — it explores the problems in understanding human consciousness particularly in explaining how its seemingly magical qualities arise from the physical matter of the brain.”
“When the internet arrived, it seemed to promise a liberation from the boredom of industrial society, a psychedelic jet-spray of information into every otherwise tedious corner of our lives. In fact, at its best, it is something else: a remarkable helper in the search for meaningful connections. But if the deep roots of boredom are in a lack of meaning, rather than a shortage of stimuli, and if there is a subtle, multilayered process by which information can give rise to meaning, then the constant flow of information to which we are becoming habituated cannot deliver on such a promise. At best, it allows us to distract ourselves with the potentially endless deferral of clicking from one link to another. Yet sooner or later we wash up downstream in some far corner of the web, wondering where the time went. The experience of being carried on these currents is quite different to the patient, unpredictable process that leads towards meaning.”—The problem with too much information – Dougald Hine – Aeon
“Boredom is not an inherent quality of the human condition, but rather it has a history, which began around the 18th century and embraced the whole Western world, and which presents an evolution from the 18th to the 21st century.”—
As the philosophers Barbara Dalle Pezze and Carlo Salzani put it in their essay ‘The Delicate Monster’ (2009):
“Information is perhaps the rawest material in the process out of which we arrive at meaning: an undifferentiated stream of sense and nonsense in which we go fishing for facts. But the journey from information to meaning involves more than simply filtering the signal from the noise. It is an alchemical transformation, always surprising. It takes skill, time and effort, practice and patience. No matter how experienced we become, success cannot be guaranteed. In most human societies, there have been specialists in this skill, yet it can never be the monopoly of experts, for it is also a very basic, deeply human activity, essential to our survival. If boredom has become a sickness in modern societies, this is because the knack of finding meaning is harder to come by.”—The problem with too much information – Dougald Hine – Aeon
“Knowledge has a point when we start to find and make connections, to weave stories out of it, stories through which we make sense of the world and our place within it. It is the difference between memorising the bus timetable for a city you will never visit, and using that timetable to explore a city in which you have just arrived. When we follow the connections – when we allow the experience of knowing to take us somewhere, accepting the risk that we will be changed along the way – knowledge can give rise to meaning. And if there is an antidote to boredom, it is not information but meaning.”—The problem with too much information – Dougald Hine – Aeon
I wrote a story recently about a cool technique called optogenetics, developed by bioengineering professor Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD. He won the Keio Prize in Medicine, and I thought it might be interesting to talk with some other neuroscientists at Stanford to get their take on the importance of the technology. You know something is truly groundbreaking when each and every person you interview uses the word “revolutionary” to describe it.
Optogenetics is a technique that allows scientists to use light to turn particular nerves on or off. In the process, they’re learning new things about how the brain works and about diseases and mental health conditions like Parkinson’s disease, addiction and depression.
In describing the award, the Keio Prize committee wrote:
By making optogenetics a reality and leading this new field, Dr. Deisseroth has made enormous contributions towards the fundamental understanding of brain functions in health and disease.
One of the things I found most interesting when writing the story came from a piece Deisseroth wrote several years ago in Scientific American in which he stressed the importance of basic research. Optogenetics would not have been a reality without discoveries made in the lowly algae that makes up pond scum.
“The more directed and targeted research becomes, the more likely we are to slow our progress, and the more certain it is that the distant and untraveled realms, where truly disruptive ideas can arise, will be utterly cut off from our common scientific journey,” Deisseroth wrote.
Deisseroth told me that we need to be funding basic, curiosity-driven research along with efforts to make those discoveries relevant. He said that kind of translation is part of the value of programs like Stanford Bio-X – an interdisciplinary institute founded in 1998 – which puts diverse faculty members side by side to enable that translation from basic science to medical discovery.
Humans are curious creatures, and our curiosity drives a search for explanations. So while this search may fit squarely in the realm of science, it is hardly confined to the pursuits of scientists and intellectuals. Even preschoolers ask why, and indeed may do so to the exasperation of adults. Yet adults seek to understand things, too. They want to know why their partner responded angrily to their request, why the train was late, or why the weather changed so suddenly. By helping us understand our environment, explanations give us some control over our lives. I interviewed psychologist Tania Lombrozo at the University of California at Berkeley to find out more about the types of explanations people want, why we value these, and which types of human reasoning bring us closer to the truth.
Steve Ayan: Do people prefer some explanations of the world to others?
Dr. Lombrozo: Absolutely – there’s good evidence that people have strong and systematic preferences for some types of explanations over others. In my work, for example, I’ve found that people prefer explanations that provide a function or purpose, called “teleological explanations.” If I ask, for instance, “why does your cup have a handle?” a teleological explanations might be, “The cup has a handle so that you can lift it without burning your fingers.” In many cases, we’re more attracted to teleological explanations than to “mechanistic” alternatives, such as explaining the cup’s handle by going through the process that was used to manufacture that shape. Not everything has a function or purpose, however, so not everything has a teleological explanation. Why are there mountains? Why are there rivers? Such entities simply won’t support teleological explanations, unless you’re committed to an underlying designer, such as God, who designed then for some purpose.
Do we ever look for teleological explanations where none exist?
Yes. The urge to find teleological explanations arguably lies at the root of some religious beliefs like creationism, but it can also fuel secular notions, such as the idea of fate or that everything happens for a reason. Young children prefer teleological explanations in cases where adult would reject them. For example kids might ask, “Why are there mountains? So we can climb them!” or “Why do I have a nose? For holding glasses.” These types of explanations seem pretty silly, but adults indulge in them too, under the right conditions.
Conveying science to lay people often involves the translation of complex terms into simpler ones, the use of metaphors, and the removal of some details. In the process, information is lost. Is this the price we pay for simple explanations?
Often it is, but strangely enough, people sometimes seem to value complicated explanations. One study showed that when you add completely irrelevant math to the abstract of a scientific paper, non-experts judge the work as better. In another study, adding irrelevant neuroscientific information to psychological explanations made non-experts less effective at differentiating circular from non-circular explanations. But in general, we do need explanations to be presented in terms we can understand, and for non-experts that will often involve leaving things out. The challenge for science educators is doing so in a way that isn’t misleading.