Book review: The Eureka Factor: Aha Moments, Creative Insight, and the Brain, by John Kounios and Mark Beeman.
This book shows that insight and analysis are different modes of thought, and that small interventions can influence how insightful we are. It’s done in a clearly analytical (not insightful) style.
They devote a good deal of effort to demonstrating that the two modes of thought differ in more ways than simply how people report them. It’s unclear why that would surprise anyone now that behaviorism is unpopular. Nor is it clear what use we can make of evidence that different parts of the brain are involved in the two modes.
I’m mildly impressed that researchers are able to objectively measure insight at all. They mostly study word problems that can be solved on something like 30 seconds. They provide some hints that those experiments study the same patterns of thought that are used to solve big tasks that simmer in our subconscious for days. But there’s some risk that the research is overlooking something unique to those harder problems.
The “creativity crisis” could have been an important part of the book. But their brief explanation is to blame the obvious suspects: environments of constant stimulation due to social media, cellphones, games, etc.
One problem with that explanation is that the decline in creativity scores since 1990 is strongest in kindergartners through 3rd graders. I don’t find it very plausible that they’ve experienced a larger increase in those hyper-stimuli than older kids have.
It’s almost as if the authors got their understanding of the alleged crisis from a blog post rather than from the peer reviewed article that they cite.
The peer reviewed article suggests a better explanation: less time for free play.
Outdoor activity activity is valuable, according to the book, at least for short-term changes in whether our mood is creative. The “crisis” could be due to less recess time at school and a decline in free-range parenting. Were the tests taken shortly after a recess up through 1990, and taken after hours of lectures more recently? If so, the decline in measured creativity would reflect mostly short-term mood changes, leaving me uncertain whether I should worry about longer lasting effects.
The book provides some advice for being more insightful. It has caused me to schedule tasks that might require creativity after moderate hikes, or earlier in the day than I previously did.
The book has made me more likely to try applying ideas from the CFAR Againstness class to inducing creative moods.
The book hints at lots of room for computer games to promote a more insightful mood than the typical game does (e.g. via requiring players to expand their attention to fill the screen). But the authors aren’t very helpful at suggesting ways to identify games that are more insight-compatible. The closest I’ve come to practical ideas about games is that I ought to replace them when possible with fiction that promotes far-mode thinking(i.e. fantasy and science fiction).
My intuition says that insight research is still in its infancy, and that we should hope for better books in this category before long.