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Dionysian and Apollonean Creativity [Creativity
Posted on May 6, 2013 @ 07:34:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I'm about a third of the way into book "Imagine: How Creativity Works" by Johnathan Lehrer (2012, Canongate: Edinburgh, London). It is a good read so far and I'm learning some useful ideas about creativity. I liked his comparison of Dionysian and Apollonean creativity to divergent and convergent thinking (p. 64-65):

Fredrich Nietzche, in The Birth of Tragedy, distinguished between two archetypes of creativity, both borrored from Greek mythology. There was the Dionysian drive - Dionysus was the god of wine and intoxication - which led people to embrace their unconscious and create redically new forms of art. (As Dylan one said, "I accept the chaos. I hope it accepts me.") The Apollonian artist, by contrast, attempted to resolve the messiness and impose a sober order onto the disorder of reality. Like Auden, creators in the spirit of Apollo distrust the rumors of the right hemisphere. Instead, they insist on paying careful attention, scrutinizing their thoughts until they make sense. Auden put it best: "All genuine poetry is in a sense the formaton of private spheres out of public chaos."

Modern science has given Nietzshe's categories a new set of names. The Dionysian innnovator, trusting all those spontaneious epiphanies, is a perfect example of divergent thinking. He needs these unexpected thoughts when logic won't help, when working memory has hit the wall. In such instances, the right hemisphere helps expand the internal search. This is the kind of thinking that's essential when struggling with a remote associate problemm, or trying to invent a new kind of pop song, or figuring out what to do with a weak glue. It's the thought process of warm showers and blue rooms, paradign shifts and radical restructures.

The Apollonian artist, by comparison, relies on convergent thinking. This mode of thought is all about analysis and attention. It's the ideal approach, when trying to refine a poem, or solve an algrebra equation, or perfect a symphony. In these instances, we don't want lots of stray associations - such thoughts are errant distractions. Instead, we want to focus on the necessary information, filling our minds with relevant thoughts. And so we slowly converge on the ideal answer, chiseling away at our errors. This process is a struggle, a long labor of attention but that's the point. It takes time to find the perfect line.

Currently, I'm reading a chapter ("The Unconcealing") on the brain basis of creativity. Two primary areas that especially light up during experiments in creativity are the nucleus acumbens/domamine reward pathway (pleasure) and the prefrontal cortex (working memory). The two areas are connected by a highway of nerves suggesting that creativity is a joint function of pleasure and working memory processes. Attentional processes appear to hover between the two cortical areas. One could try to relate the activity of pleasure centers with Dionysian creativity, and the activity in prefrontal centers with Apollonean creativity. Creative output could be viewed as always consisting of Dionysian and Apollonean elements, with the relative contribution changing at different stages in the creative effort.

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