Brainjo Bite: The Creator Vs. The Critic (Brainjo Bite)

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As you may know, humans have the longest childhood in all of the animal kingdom, and we have the most complex brain. And those two things aren’t coincidences. The reason we have such a long childhood is so that we can grow a really big brain and the human brain isn’t considered to have reached full maturity until we’re in our early twenties. And during that period of time of development, we are acquiring all of the cognitive capabilities that, uh, we need to become independent functioning adults. And the last area of the brain to reach full maturity is the frontal lobe. Uh, the frontal lobe is involved with things like planning and goal directed behaviors and impulse control. It’s a part of the brain that is essential for being able to live independently. In fact, um, I consider the main job of us parents to be, to function as our child, our children’s frontal lobes until that part of their brain has developed one of the most useful phenomenon that neurologists use to diagnose problems.

And the nervous system are release signs and lease sign is something that emerges because it has been released from suppression. Uh, you can think of it like a dam. So when a dam is up and water, isn’t flowing downstream, it’s because the dam is blocking the flow. If you open the dam water flows and the dam releases the water from obstruction. So in the brain, for example, when we’re born, we all possess a set of rudimentary reflexes and behaviors that are wired into our nervous system. A baby will reflexively suck on something placed in its mouth, for example, which is reflex. That’s there to support its ability to nurse, or if you press a fee anger into a baby’s hand, it will automatically grab hold. And there are many examples here, and they range from very simple reflexes to complex behaviors like hoarding as the brain matures, these reflexes and behaviors disappear, but they don’t disappear because they’re not there anymore.

They D superior because they’re suppressed by other parts of the brain. And the reason as adults, we don’t have these reflexes anymore is that our frontal lobe is suppressing them like the dam blocking the water. However, if there’s damage or disease to the frontal lobe, then those things may reemerge. And this idea is a design principle that is fundamental to how the brain works and is organized the brain. Isn’t a series of, uh, on and off switches, but rather this dynamic balance of activation and inhibition or suppression of all of its part. And so the output of the brain, including our thoughts and ideas and actions are a reflection of that balance or a reflection of what networks are winning that balance of suppression and activation at any given point in time. And the ones that aren’t winning are those that’ll be that are silenced and suppressed, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there at all.

And part of that suppression, as I mentioned happens naturally as a scripted part of the brain’s development, part of the maturation process of the brain involves creating networks that suppress those UN unwanted circuits and behaviors. But again, what’s important to remember is that they don’t turn off altogether, but rather that their operation is held in, checked by other parts of the brain, which means that if the suppression is weakened or removed those reflexes and behaviors will reemerge. Now, one thing you may have noticed is that children are immensely creative. If you give them a crayon or some scissors and glue Lou or some sticks they’re off and running, right. Or if you teach them just a few words, they’re jabbering on and on now many of their creations aren’t of great quality yet they don’t really care, right? A four year old will bang away at the piano, uh, without any care in the world and smile proudly at their efforts, begging their parents to listen to the wonderful music that they’re making.

Um, I remember as a kid for many years, I loved every single movie that I saw. I couldn’t even understand the concept of a bad movie. So childhood is this time of incredible creativity. Our brain is raging with ideas and impulses and those ideas and impulses aren’t subjected to judgment of any kind. Everything is great. It’s this time of fearless exploration. And then at some point in every person’s life, the critic starts to emerge. And it happens again as a normal part of brain development, as the frontal lobes continue to mature. Again, one of their primary functions is to regulate other parts of the brain. And so they are a influential part of the adult brain, given their ability to control the flow of information. Some of you may be familiar with the story of fines, gage, uh, fines gage was a foreman for a railroad crew, um, in the mid 19th century, when an explosion sent a tamping rod into his head all the way through his skull.

And at first, uh, he seemed remarkably okay. He was conscious, uh, and he could talk, uh, but it became clear over time that his personality was affected. He was different. He was more impulsive. He could no longer, uh, hold a job. And in many ways he returned to a childlike state because this, uh, injury had occurred in his frontal lobe. And that part of the brain could no longer hold these other areas in check. And this story, this case of finish gauge was, was the first real window into the, a function of the frontal lobe. So again, when the critic emerges as it does, or it starts to do during childhood, we stop acting on every impulse. And we start judging our creative efforts, as well as the creative efforts of others. As I got older, I did understand what others meant by a bad movie.

And in many ways, this is a good thing. I, again, it’s crucially important for allowing us to make good decisions, especially ones that weigh our present interests, uh, against our future interests. Um, otherwise we would always be at the mercy of our impulses and would never be able to prolong gratification. And of course the critic roofs, the quality of our creative efforts, um, if everything we produce is judged equally, well, we don’t really have a mechanism for progress. And yet the critic’s voice and influence can sometimes grow too loud. A few years ago, a study was done, uh, that involved a competition where groups of four people were challenged to build the tallest structure they could using 20 pieces of uncooked spaghetti, a yard of tape, a yard of string and a marshmallow. And the only rule was that the marshmallow had to end up on top.

And the participants in this study were, uh, business students. So, uh, students get an MBA degree in kindergartners. And who do you think did the best? Well in multiple trials trials, the kindergartners destroyed the competition. They built towers, uh, that averaged 26 inches in height while the height of the business students towers averaged less than 10 inches. And of course, the way these groups went about, uh, building these towers was totally different. The business students first tossed around some ideas, analyzing their strengths and weaknesses, and then selected the best approach and divided and conquered. Whereas the kindergartners just started building, right, just trying a bunch of stuff together. Now, there are several things you’ve could potentially take away from this, uh, study, but one of them is clearly that there are times when it’s best to be all creator and no critic. Um, the kindergartners in this case are all creator.

The, the creator or the creative part of their brain is free to explore the entire space of possible ideas. And none of the, those ideas are subject to being vetoed by the critic while the business students on the other hand were trying to balance the creator and the critic, those two parts of the brain, right outta the gate. And that virtually guarantees that you’re going to constrain the space of potential ideas. So the ideal scenario here is to let each of these parts do its thing unconstrained by the other part, which for adults means allowing the creator times to act freely free from influence or suppression by the critic. Now easier said than done, figuring out how to strike the right balance between the creator and the critic is something that virtually everyone struggles with every adult struggles with. But what I want to make clear, uh, is that creativity doesn’t diminish because our capacity for it diminishes, it’s not that we lose the ability it’s that the critic dominates the cognitive networks, responsible for creative output are suppressed by the networks that support the critic they’re being held up by the metaphorical dam and can only emerge if that dam is opened up.

And again, this competition between network is a fundamental principle of brain design, um, occurring in every level of organiz the organization of the nervous system at the scales tip too far in the direction of the critic. He or she will be running the show all the time. So from a practical standpoint, we need to learn how to silence the critic in certain situations in order to release the creator. So how can you do this? Uh, how, how can we restore this balance and why do we care? Well, creativity which comes in many forms is a big part of being a musician, right? Music is a creative act and a form of creative expression. And part of finding your own voice as a musician requires bring out your creative side. Also free unconstrained exploration is very important for developing musicianship. Um, I think you’ll find that every great musician spent ample time noodling around on their instrument.

Even the fact that we call this quote noodling around kind of, uh, illustrates how dominant the voice of the critic is in our lives. Noodling around. Sounds like we’re wasting our time, right? We could just, just as well, call it creative exploration, which sounds like a very good use of your time. Uh, and in fact, we could use that term to describe all kinds of play, um, play as how the childhood brain learns about the world. Yet people are often inclined to dismiss it as frivolous. It’s almost baked into the, into the word. Now, again, it would just be just as appropriate to call, play creative exploration writers struggle with this same tension between the creator and the critic, and every great writer will reiterate the importance of separating the writing or creation process from the editing process. In other words, the importance of having times where you’re only in creative mode and then separate from times where you’re in critic or editor mode, so that you’re not suppressing the creator in any way and are able to fully explore the space of ideas as a writer myself.

I can, can’t tell you how important this is. In fact, I went through a pretty long stretch where I did hardly any writing, uh, and it wasn’t until I kind of figured out this piece that I began do doing so again, and enjoying it for that period of time where I wasn’t, the, the voice of the critic was too loud. Um, and in fact, many writers have a regular practice of something, uh, sometimes referred to as morning pages or some variant of it. And in that particular exercise, uh, you just write and the pin, uh, must be in constant motion and can’t come off the page. And the idea essentially is that by not stopping to think at all, you don’t give the critic an opportunity to weigh in on what you’re writing, but we need to have similar periods like this with our own, with our music, where we have free form exploration without a goal and without judgment.

And this is very different from the kind of practice you’d engage in when you’re trying to improve your technical skills, where you must listen critically to what you’re playing in order to know, you know, if you need to make corrections. And this of course is a reason why musicians and writers and other artists have turned to substances like alcohol, alcohol presses, the frontal lobes, which is precisely why we say and do things under the influence that we normally wouldn’t. But it’s also why it can enhance creativity because it releases the creative parts of us from suppression. Again, illustrating the idea that these parts are always there. Now, the point here is not to resort to alcohol, to silence the critic, because I think there are better and safer means available first and foremost, I think it’s important just to be aware that it’s a good idea, uh, to be doing this sort of thing on a regular basis, that you just take time to play around and explore your instrument.

Um, but again, it’s important when doing so to silence the critic. And this can also double as a mindfulness practice in all likelihood, the critic will still rear his or her head when you’re doing this sort of thing. Um, still try to judge the quality of what you’re doing, but the key is do to ignore those words. Uh, you can make note of them and observe them, but it’s remember that the critic isn’t you, uh, the creator isn’t you, you are the one who are observing both the creator and the critic in action and taking and cultivating that distanced objective position is key to being able to remove the constraints of the critic and open those creative floodgate. All right, that’s it for this brain Jo bite. If you enjoy these episodes, then you will likely enjoy the book. The laws of brain Jo, which is available at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Thanks so much for listening to this episode of brain Joe bites, to make sure you catch future episodes. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your podcast player and consider leaving a rating interview in iTunes, which helps other folks to find it as well, to learn more about music courses based on the brain Joe method of instruction, head over to brain