The Neuroscience of STEM Creativity

During Museum Open House Day on Tuesday, October 22, Dr. Rex E. Jung from the University of New Mexico gave a very informative presentation called The Neuroscience of STEM Creativity at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. Dr. Jung has been studying creativity for the past four years but has recently started examining scientific creativity in particular.

Dr. Jung stressed the importance of the distinction between novelty and usefulness when discussing creativity. Something that is truly creative, like what many scientists and innovators produce, is both novel and useful, though the term creativity is used for many things. He then moved on to discuss the phases of scientific revolution: pre-paradigm, folk psychology, theory testing, consensus/normal science, anomalies, revolutionary science, and finally, paradigm shift.

Dr. Jung mixed pop culture references and scientific data to present the steps of cognitive creativity: Preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. He also stressed the importance of downtime for the brain to allow for ideas to assemble and for “eureka!” moments. This research, he says, can have big implications for the structure of education. Dr. Jung is also a proponent of art and science collaboration. He believes that art and science are not so different that we should expect to find that the creativity behind them originates in different areas of the brain.

Dr. Jung also spent time debunking common folk psychologies, such as the left-brained/right-brained traits, and that creativity is produced by geniuses or chemicals. Another interesting discussion was on the subject of brainstorming. Dr. Jung discussed that some research suggests that brainstorming is not the most effective way to produce creative results, due to social conformity and social pressures.

Questions were permitted throughout the presentation and led to very interesting tangents with attendees falling on both sides of the arguments.