Understanding the dynamics of the creative process and, more widely, the human imagination is what my work is all about. With regard to the question of how my neuroscience relates to art, three strands of ideas that I want to address in the near future are especially relevant in the context of the Salzburg 547 experience.
1. Conceptual expansion and the creative-receptive process
There are several ways to expand the mind and they usually involve the juxtaposition or merging of previously unlinked ideas or concepts in an original manner. Regardless of whether we are the active formulators of this creative combination as artists or merely its passive recipients as the audience, our conceptual structures are being fundamentally altered during the experience in both cases. Our incredibly plastic brains are continually rewired to accommodate new bridges that are being erected between concepts that were until that point unrelated or only weakly associated.
⇒ So, how are the processes of active conceptual expansion (creating art) versus passive conceptual expansion (experiencing art) differentially instantiated in the brain? What factors determine how one informs, influences, and/or impinges on the other?
2. In search of authenticity in reality and fantasy
Consider the following. You are waiting in an airport for your mother to arrive. The doors slide open. Strangers trickle out. Your wait continues. Suddenly you see her. Her familiar face darts out from the rest. But to say that you notice her merely because she is familiar does not fully capture what you experience. You feel some degree of excitement. Your cheeks are likely to be warm. You experience a combination of being alert yet relaxed. It is as though she feels more real to you than all the others there. Why is that? Is it is intensity of emotion evoked? Or your shared memories and histories? Something more? Something else?
⇒ Which factors determine our sense of reality? What allows us to believe and espouse some knowledge as truths and others as falsehoods? How do we establish authenticity in reality (our social world) and in fantasy (through the creative arts)?
3. The self-actualization drive: Creative opportunities and wellbeing
Maslow’s needs hierarchy is the well-known conceptual pyramid depicting the organization of human needs along a continuum with rudimentary needs at the bottom, comfort needs in the middle, and self-enlightenment needs on top. Evidence that we experience and cater to these needs in an ascending stepladder fashion is weak, but our consumption-driven world is nonetheless organized around meeting or aspiring to the bottom and middle rungs of the needs hierarchy. The top level is largely ignored, probably because is difficult to monetize. What is the impact, both individually and societally, of disregarding the drive to realize one’s unique potential?
⇒ In what ways are the existing systems (education, community, etc.) failing children and adults over the lifespan, and how can these be rectified? Should this be a public health concern given its impact on mental health and wellbeing?