Friday, June 20, 2014

to be more creative, try becoming a more boring person?

first of all, apologies to my readers for the dearth of posts in the last few weeks months and especially the lack of posts with any personal depth in them. i won't go into detail about it today, but this change in my life from a "gun-for-hire" postdoc to a "lifer" prof has bent my mind awry and i'm still learning how to cope with the job. sometimes it just feels .. crippling.

more precisely, it's not the actual job that's hard, but the stress and overthinking of this faraway goal called tenure. the more i think about it, the more it feels like i'm getting my ph.d. again.

all of that said, i'm going to go the lazy route again: i'll pass someone else's well-written piece to you (instead of writing my own).

when i was younger and a newer hand at research, i'd make a startling insight in my work. immediately aftewards, i'd lament why it took me so long to figure it out .. especially when the outcome appeared very simple.

i've become less critical of myself over the years, but the question still remains:
what if there were ways to become better at solving problems?
is it more than just a pipe dream to improve oneself?
below are excerpts from an essay i found, through one social media engine or another. what struck me about it was how i've unconsciously kept some of these habits and gotten more insights, in the last few years.
"A 2004 study published in Naturε examined the role of sleep in the process of generating insight. They found that sleep, regardless of time of day, doubled the number of subjects who came up with the insight solution to a task. (Presented graphically above.) This effect was only evident in those who had struggled with the problem, so it was the unique combination of struggling followed by sleep and not sleep alone that boosted insight.
"There’s a good reason for this: mind-wandering fosters creativity. A 2012 study (results pictured below) found that any sort of mind-wandering will do, but the kind elicited during a low-effort task was more effective than even that of doing nothing .. This, too, is congruent with my experience. How much insight has been produced while taking a shower or mowing the lawn? Paul Dιrac, the Nobel Prize winning physicist, would take long hikes in the wood. I’d bet money that this was prime mind-wandering time."

~ from "The Science of Problem Solving"
of course, this could all just be a manifestation of confirmation bias (or if you will, the fallacy of the consequent). what i do recall, however, are periods of correlation: i was highly uncreative during those times when i was sleeping very little and had no time to exercise.

lastly, the tl;dr at the end of the essay is suggestively helpful. i'd recommend newcomers to research at least to try a few of the habits listed, if only to see what works (or not) for you.

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