MAKE LOVE NOT WAR
Hey! Guess what? New research suggests that going to war is bad for your brain.
At the 47th annual meeting of the Society of Neuroscience 2017, Deborah Whitmer, commander of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research chaired a press conference called “How Military Service Changes the Brain.” Here are some of the highlights.
Blast Exposure - Soldiers are exposed to multiple blast exposures not only in war zones, but also during training. Even though many of these blasts are mild the exposures add up over time. Alaa Kamnaksh, a researcher at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences says that” Repeated mild blast exposure can permanently change the brain’s structural organization, resulting in lasting functional and behavioral consequences.” That’s not good. Kamnaksh hopes that future research will lead to better forms of treatment.
Gulf War Syndrome – Nearly 30% of veterans (250,000 people) who served in Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War suffer from Gulf War Illness of Gulf War Syndrome. This mysterious set of symptoms includes mood swings, chronic pain, difficulties with language and complex motor tasks, inability to concentrate, and loss of memory. That’s not good. The common denominator is damage to the brain. Kaundinya Gopinath, a researcher at Emory University says that ongoing research “may be helpful in helping us find a way to treat this illness.”
Statin Exposure – Sarin gas, which was used as a chemical weapon during the Gulf War, is a volatile nerve agent. Exposure to nerve agents like sarin can result in vast neurological impairments. Definitely not good! Ankita Patel, a researcher at the Drexel School of Medicine is doing work to pinpoint compounds that might reverse these neurological impairments.
Wait a minute. All of this research is devoted to limiting the damage done by the ravages of war. Here’s a radical idea. Rather than treat the symptoms let’s eliminate the cause of all this pain and suffering. Let’s not send our brothers and sisters out to kill each other.
Just a thought.
A number of studies on stress were introduced at The Society of Neuroscience Conference in 2017.
Sins of The Father – Jennifer Chan, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania reported on several studies that found that a father’s lifetime experience have a measurable effect on the development and health of future offspring. Environmental factors experienced by the father create epigenetic markers that reprogram his sperm. These defects in the father’s reproductive tract then get passed along to the offspring.
Childhood Trauma – Survivors of childhood trauma have a much greater risk of developing mental and physical health issues in adulthood. According to Briana Mulligan, a researcher at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, “Long-term stress conditions can alter the DNA methylation profile of brain regions that regulate hormonal, immunological and neural genes.” Again, epigenetic changes are the mechanism of change.
Neurogenesis and Stress – Christoph Anacker, a neuroscientist at Columbia University, reported that genetically modified mice responded differently to stress depending upon how many new cells we found in their hippocampus. Mice with fewer new cells experienced more stress. Those with more new cells in the hippocampus had a lower stress level. So, of course, researchers are looking for new medications that will help increase neurogenesis in the hippocampus. I guess they forgot that physical exercise stimulates hippocampal neurogenesis. No need for expensive medications with possible side effects.
I recently chanced upon a YouTube video featuring a 27-minute talk by Matthieu Ricard on the art of meditation. Ricard is a French biochemist who left science to move to the Himalayas and become a Buddhist monk. His 27-minute talk is the clearest and most compelling argument for meditation that I have ever heard. I highly recommend it. the first few minutes are a little disjointed, so hang in there.
In the video, Ricard references the Buddhist concept of the monkey mind. Buddha described the human mind as being filled with drunken monkeys, jumping around, screeching, chattering and carrying on endlessly. Ricard takes this idea and crafts a monkey mind metaphor to describe why meditation is a fundamental aspect of mental training.
One of the vulnerabilities of the monkey brain is that it becomes enslaved by negative and destructive impulses, such as anger, fear, jealousy, greed and envy. So, imagine a drunken monkey who is restrained by strong ropes. Each rope represents one of the destructive impulses that make our lives miserable. The monkey, understandably, is frantic to escape, but the more he struggles the tighter he pulls the knots that bind him.
This frantic reaction, Ricard suggest, is how our undisciplined mind usually works. It flails aimlessly against misery but just makes matters worse. To escape from pain and suffering the monkey mind needs to calm down. It needs to become still and serene so that it can look around and figure out what is really going on. The monkey mind needs to quiet its worst impulses and find a quiet space where its rational, civilized abilities have a chance to do their work.
The monkey mind needs to calm down and focus its attention on the root cause of its suffering. It needs to recognize that it is imprisoned by greed and envy. To free itself it needs to get to work undoing the knots that bind it to negative behaviors and must start cultivating positive behaviors that nurture happiness.
So, how do we find the mental discipline to behave in this calm and rational manner? It takes training and practice. That is what meditation is for. Meditation trains the mind to make use of its more evolved and civilized capabilities. It trains the mind to be aware and respectful of primitive impulses, but to keep them in check. Meditation trains our mind to slow down and give our recently evolved executive brain a chance to moderate primitive impulsive behaviors. Meditation trains our mind to modulate our emotional response. Rather than respond to impulses, we learn to engage our working memory, to think creatively and to make sensible choices.
THE END OF ALZHEIMER’S?
We have known how to use lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia for some time now. But, we have not figured out how to reverse the symptoms of dementia once they appear. Until now!
In a new book, written for a general audience, Dr. Dale E. Bredesen describes a protocol that, for the first time, is able to reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Over a hundred patients have undergone the Bredesen Protocol, or ReCODE (reversal of cognitive decline) and have experienced varying degrees of sustained remission of Alzheimer’s symptoms. These are limited results that need to be replicated. Nevertheless, they are extraordinary. There is finally a ray of hope in a field that has seen decades of dark disappointments.
Why does the Bredesen approach work, while all other attempts to treat Alzheimer’s have failed? It works because Bredesen has shaken free from the dogma of the so-called “amyloid hypothesis” that regards the presence of amyloid as the singular cause of the disease. Rather than follow the herd, he has followed the science.
Bredesen has recognized that Alzheimer’s is a complex disease with multiple causes. He has spent 30+ years analyzing the multiple causes and has developed a multi-factorial approach that addresses each one of them. He has combines a strong background in mainstream medicine and research with innovative insights from functional and integrative medicine.
THE BREDESEN PROTOCOL
In very stark terms, cognitive decline and dementia occur when synapses die faster than they can be replaced. Negative plastic change at the synaptic level outpaces positive plastic change. When the damage reaches a critical tipping point, the brain is unable to function properly and begins to decline. A negative spiral of self-reinforcing damage is initiated. The Bredesen Protocol pinpoints the sources of the damage and, one-by-one, works to correct them.
Bredesen’s interventions include lifestyle changes that parallel MINDRAMP’s CogWheels of Brain Health. But his protocols go farther to include specialized testing and analysis that can only be done by a trained clinician. To date Bredesen and his collaborators have identified 36 unique factors that contribute to cognitive decline and dementia. Each of Bredesen’s patients is tested to determine his or her genetic, chemical, hormonal, metabolic and toxic profiles, searching for abnormal levels. Each protocol then creates targeted interventions to rebalance and then optimize the identified abnormalities. This is the essence of precision medicine (see below).
Bredesen has identified three sub-types of Alzheimer’s that behave in different ways and, therefore, need different types of protocols.
Currently, 450 physicians have been trained to conduct the protocol. Bredesen’s approach incorporates many of the innovations being developed in the emerging fields of Functional Medicine and Precision Medicine. (See below)
* Norman Doidge, author of The Brain That Changes Itself and The Brain’s Way of Healing, has a terrific review of the Bredesen Protocol on his blog. Doidge uses this term “atrophic” to describe Bredesen’s Type 2 Alzheimer’s. I don’t think Bredesen uses the term, but I like it. http://www.normandoidge.com/?page_id=702
FUNCTIONAL & PRECISION MEDICINE
Functional Medicine is based on systems biology (see below). It is an individualized, patient-centered, science-based approach that empowers patients and practitioners to work together to address the underlying causes of disease and promote optimal wellness.
Functional medicine requires a detailed understanding of each patient’s genetic, biochemical, and lifestyle factors and leverages that data to direct personalized treatment plans that lead to improved patient outcomes.
For more see the website for the Institute for Functional Medicine at: https://www.ifm.org/
Precision Medicine – This approach was popularized when President Obama announced the Precision Medicine Initiative in his State of the Union Address in 2015.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health defines precision medicine as “en emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment and lifestyle for each person.” The term describes the ability to precisely tailor diagnosis, prognosis and treatment to each individual patient.
THE NEW VOCABULARY OF PRECISION MEDICINE
Precision medicine seems to have developed its own unique vocabulary, using words and phrases that reveal the unique characteristics of the approach. I discovered the following in a publication called “Advancing Precision Medicine,” produced by Science/AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) and sponsored by Olink Proetomics.
Systems medicine – Systems medicine is an interdisciplinary field of study that looks at the systems of the human body as part of an integrated whole, incorporating biochemical, physiological, and environment interactions. The defining feature of systems medicine is the collection of diverse longitudinal data (biomarkers) for each individual. Systems medicine believes that all body systems work together synergistically and the whole (full body) is greater than the sum of the parts (individual organs or systems).
Biomarkers - According to the WHO, a biomarker is “any substance, structure or process that can be measured in the body or its products and influence or predict the incidence of outcome or disease.” [This sentence is odd, but I think you get the idea.] Precision medicine is most interested in “circulating biomarkers,” such as hormones, cytokines and metabolites that can be assessed in blood, urine and other bodily fluids, using minimally invasive methods. Biomarkers make it possible to diagnose, treat and monitor illness.
’omics – This is a suffix that suggests the study of a broad array of factors. For example, genomics is the study of the full range of genes in an organism. The suffix is now being used to describe arrays of other biomarkers besides genes. For example, the study of RNA transcription factors (transcriptomics), of proteins (proteomics), or metabolites (metabolomics).
“Personal dense, dynamic data clouds” of data – Lee Hood, who is considered by many to be the father of systems biology, says that systems medicine seeks to unravel the complexities of human biology and disease by examining as broad an array of information as possible about the biomarkers that determine health and illness.
He collects “personal, dense, dynamic data clouds:” Personal because each set of data is unique to each individual, dense because of the high number of measurements taken, dynamic because the data and patient are monitored across time. “These clouds are like the Hubble Telescope,” says Hood, “they give us a resolution we haven’t seen before of the multi-‘omic statistical correlations that are the determinants of wellness and disease.”
The Quantified Self – When a data cloud is developed for an individual, the status of each of their biomarkers can be quantified and evaluated. This goes way beyond the standard blood tests now give. This vast quantification of biomarkers enables practitioners to make precise diagnoses and prescribe highly targeted interventions that address the root causes of disease.
Predictive, Preventive, Personal, Participatory – Hood sees precision medicine as having these four key qualities.
AMYLOID IS NOT THE VILLAIN
Mainstream medical researchers and funders have mistakenly fixated on amyloid as the villain and have sought to find a single intervention – a magic bullet – that will rid the body of amyloid and, thereby cure dementia.
The amyloid approach has two fundamental problems.
First, amyloid is not the cause of Alzheimer’s. Amyloid is, in fact, the brain’s way of protecting itself from infection. Researchers Rudolph Tansy and Robert Moor have published research showing that amyloid plagues form a net around pathogens that invade the brain that keep them from doing harm. Efforts to remove amyloid can put the brain at greater risk. In a severely compromised brain, amyloid production gets out of control and adds to the problem. But this is a symptom of the disease, not the cause.
The second problem with the amyloid approach is that it suggests a monotherapeutic solution – the magic bullet. But, decades of work and billions of dollars have demonstrated that monotherapies don’t work. Why? They fail because neurodegenerative diseases are complex, multi-factorial conditions. Dementia is caused by a broad array of problems that confront the brain and the body. And, these conditions vary from patient to patient.
AWAKENING FROM ALZHEIMER’S
I have just finished watching a well-produced series of 14 videos called Awakening From Alzheimer’s. The series is hosted by Peggy Sarlin. Sarlin conducted hour-long interviews with a range of neuroscientists, nutritionist and experts in natural and alternative medicines. The series promotes her book and related information. Nevertheless, the video interviews contained a wealth of great information.
The primary theme of the series is consistent with the MINDRAMP message. We already know how to prevent, slow or even reverse cognitive decline and dementia. I’ll use this edition of the Synapse newsletter to give you some of the highlights of the Awakening From Alzheimer’s book and videos.
TWENTY FIRST CENTURY MEDICINE – TREATABLE DEMENTIA
Dale Bredesen, of UCLA and the Buck Institute, stated that we are entering a very exciting era in terms of prevention and treatment of cognitive decline and dementia. He calls it the “dawn of the era of treatable dementia.” That’s right, treatable. Beyond being able to prevent or slow the development of cognitive decline and dementia, Bredesen states – credibly - that we can now treat and reverse some dementias.
It is Bredesen’s research in particular, that makes this statement valid. Bredesen has developed and tested a personalized, multi-factorial protocol that, for the first time, has demonstrated that the symptoms of dementia can be reversed. People who stopped working because of memory loss and confusion have been able to resume their old jobs. Bredesen combines, exercise, nutrition, stress management, sleep and a total of 45 different factors in his treatment plan.
Bredesen’s approach, and the approach of the other scientists interviewed can be characterized as 21st Century medicine. The older 20th Century medicine uses small data-sets for diagnosis and seeks one-size-fits-all interventions – an approach that has been unable to address the complex nature of neurodegenerative diseases.
The modern approach uses large data sets (lifestyle behaviors and metabolic profiles) to diagnose the multiple root causes of chronic illness. This approach integrates the best of both Western and Eastern approaches to medicine. 21st Century medicine creates comprehensive and pragmatic interventions that are personalized to each individual.
The new approach taken by Bredesen incorporates what MINDRAMP has characterized as the Rule of the C’s (Causes, Combinatorial, Customized and Continual). Evidence shows that successful interventions target root causes, combine multiple interventions, are customized and personalized to each individual
Here is a link to Bredesen’s website where he describes the protocol and offers a number of free research papers. https://www.drbredesen.com/thebredesenprotocol. Bredesen has also published a book called The End of Alzheimer’s.
ADDRESS THE CAUSES OF DEMENTIA, NOT THE SYMPTOMS
All of the scientists interviewed by Sarlin stressed that dementia is a complex, multi-factorial condition. Prevention and treatment of dementia, therefore, must focus on the root causes. Rather than try to disperse the smoke, put out the fire!
So, what causes cognitive decline and dementia? What causes neurodegenerative diseases?
It is increasingly clear that amyloid plagues do not cause Alzheimer’s. They are a response to disease and may even serve a protective function. Dementia is caused, instead, by a host of systemic, metabolic conditions that combine to wreak havoc on body and mind.
Dr. David Perlmutter points to chronic inflammation as being implicated in almost forms of cognitive decline and dementia.
Dr. David Katz is a specialist in integrative medicine. He runs the Yale Prevention Research Center. He claims, quite confidently, that we already know how to slash the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 80%. He cites three domains of evidence, two theoretical and one empirical.
Theoretical #1 – Cardiovascular problems are a major risk factor for dementia. Many dementias are called vascular dementia because they can be traced to strokes and mini-strokes. But any condition that robs the brain of blood and therefore, oxygen and fuel, does damage to brain cells. We know how to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease.
Theoretical #2 – Insulin resistance, metabolic disease and diabetes are closely associated with dementia, so much that some called Alzheimer’s Diabetes Type III. We know how to prevent and treat diabetes Type II. When we prevent insulin and blood sugar problems and we reduce the risk of dementia.
Empirical - We know that not all older adults get dementia. There are many examples of people who are healthy. Dan Beuttner, in his book The Blue Zones, identified five populations around the globe that live extraordinarily long and healthy lives. He has documented similarities in lifestyle that seem to clearly reduce the risk of dementia. These include eating wholesome foods, getting a lot of exercise, having cultural mechanisms to manage stress, having strong social support systems and getting enough sleep.
Katz points out that adopting healthy living practices, such as eating well, is easier when the culture supports these practices, as in the Blue Zone areas. Unfortunately, the American culture does the opposite since there is too much money to be made selling junk food. So healthy lifestyle practices take not only will power, but also skill power. We need master a variety of skills to support healthy eating and other healthy living choices.
Perlmutter is a neurologist and nutritionist. He has written two, excellent, best-selling books, Grain Brain and Brain Maker. Perlmutter has done as much as anyone to point out that our food choices have a profound effect on our overall health, and on our susceptibility to cognitive decline and dementia.
Perlmutter stresses the role of inflammation in dementia and a host of other chronic diseases. Much of this systemic inflammation can be linked back to leaky guts that occur when our gut bacteria becomes compromised. A permeable gut, caused by poor nutrition, leaks toxins into the blood stream that can cross the blood/brain barrier and get into the brain. Further, the toxins stimulate can systemic immune response which causes a whole host of problems.
Perlmutter’s major dietary recommendations are to eliminate sugar and drastically reduce our intake of simple carbohydrates. And, welcome fat back to the table. Fat has gotten a bad rap. Good fat (coconut oil, olive oil, avocados, nuts, fish oils) promote health and feed the brain, which is 70% fat. To keep our gut bacteria healthy we need to eat more fermented foods (kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi), more prebiotic foods high in fiber (onions, garlic, leeks, Jerusalem artichokes, apple cider vinegar, dandelion greens).
As you might expect, in addition to good dietary practices, Perlmutter also stresses the importance of what we characterize as the CogWheels of Brain Health. These are: physical exercise (aerobics, strength, flexibility), mental stimulation, positive social interaction, stress management and good sleep.
A majority of the Sarlin interviews feature folks who rely on supplementation as an important component of their overall approach to brain health. I will characterize this group as being members of new medical specialty called “personalized metabolic medicine.” They use increasingly sophisticated diagnostic tools to get individual metabolic profiles of their patients. They then use the information to rebalance hormonal systems that have been thrown out of whack, either by disease or by the aging process.
While I remain skeptical about supplementation in general, I am now convinced that targeted use of supplements can be an important component of a combinatorial approach to health care. I don’t think it a good idea to self-medicate, or self-supplement. What does make sense is to work with a professional metabolic specialist to help you get your personalized metabolic profile. The natural medicine professional can then prescribe and monitor specific supplements to target specific deficiencies that have been identified.
In case you want to learn more, the metabolic doctors featured in the series include: Dr. Dr. Richard Brown (Columbia Univ.) and his wife Patricia Garbarg (The Rhodiola Revolution); Dr. Jacob Tieltlebaum; Dr. Mary Newport (coconut oil advocate); Dr. Jay Faber of the Amen Clinics; Dr. Pamela Warthian Smith, who runs the Center for Personalized Medicine and Fred Pescatore a clinical nutritionist.
KETONES TO FEED THE BRAIN
One particularly interesting episode featured Dominic D’Agostino and Dr. Angela Poff of University of South Florida. They are doing some fascinating work on ketones and the ketogenic diet. They argue that ketones are an alternative source of fuel for aging brains.
One of the main points is that the human brain is metabolically demanding but also metabolically flexible. The brain uses 25% of the available energy and usually relies on glucose. But, in times of stress, such as starvation, fasting and advancing age, the brain can convert to utilization of ketones to get its energy. D’Agostino likened the human brain to a hybrid car that can use gasoline, or switch to electricity, or diesel.
Apparently, as we age, our tolerance for carbohydrates ebbs and the capacity to utilize glucose declines. The aging brain ends up getting less glucose (fuel) than normal. Less fuel = less functionality. The ability to use ketones for brain fuel, however, does not decline with age. D’Agostino recommends that older adults begin to transition from their normal diet to a low-carb or even ketogenic diet to make sure that their brains get the energy they need to function well. I find this a credible recommendation.
CREATIVITY – FINDING INTIMACY WITH OUR WORLD
I recently read an article called How Creativity Frees the Mind by Hugh Delehanty. I knew Hugh from my days at AARP. Hugh was the editor of AARP The Magazine when I was running Staying Sharp brain health program.
Hugh shares insights he gained while attending a retreat on creativity and mindfulness at the Spirit Rock meditation center in Northern California. The article is peppered with savvy perceptions about how to nurture authentic artistic creativity and, in so doing, enrich our lives. I suggest reading the entire article.
Hugh describes his big takeaway about creativity like this. “When I started this journey, I thought I was searching for a magical bag of tricks to help me turn dross into creative gold. But what I discovered was that creativity isn’t a fancy parlor game; it’s a more intimate way of relating to the world.”
Hugh discovered that we enhance artistic creativity not by collecting tricks and techniques, but by learning to use our mind differently. Artists have trained themselves to see and hear things differently. They use their sensory and perceptual functions in ways that depart from normal, every-day cognition. As Hugh suggests, artistic creativity involves a heightened intimacy with the world.
Hugh cites the wisdom of Ellen Langer, a Harvard psychologist who is often referred to as “the mother of mindfulness.” Langer taught herself to paint and in the process learned that “to be a true artist is to be mindful.”
What does mindfulness have to do with artistic creativity? I think it has to do with how our brain’s process information.
Sensory perception is a two-step process. First, our sensory organs pay collect specific and detailed sensory data. Second, our brain organizes the data into recognizable mental representations. So a collection of colors, shadows, edges and textures is pulled together to recognize “an apple.” Once the generic representation (“apple”) has been formulated, the brain forgets the details. It becomes mindless – at least about the details.
Authentic artists have learned to suppress the generic idea (an apple) and return their attention to the details (colors, shapes, edges, shadows). They are “mindful” of what they are really seeing. Rather than simply paint a red circle and call it an apple, they use their skill to reflect their intimate, sensual experience of this unique apple, mottled with greens and purples, distorted with lumps and bumps and strange shadows suggestive of rot.
The making, and taking, of authentic art gives us pleasure because it fulfills our developmental imperative, our innate drive to enhance our physical and mental capacities. Through art we stretch and refine our sensory acuity, we train our minds to be more mindful and intimate with the world. We broaden our understanding and appreciation of the myriad wonders of life that are available to us.
CREATIVITY AND AGING
Creativity and aging are two of my favorite topics and they combine to create a rather persistent myth – that creativity diminishes with age. I was pleased, therefore, to come across a wonderful article that nicely articulates the counter argument. The article, written by Pagan Kennedy, appeared in the NY Times and was titled “To Be a Genius, Think Like a 94-Year Old.”
The article revolves around physicist John Goodenough. When Goodenough was a 23-year-old Army veteran he entered the University of Chicago with the goal of becoming a physicist. A professor told him that he was already too old to succeed in the field. Physics, apparently, is a young man’s game (very young!).
Well, you will say, that’s an outdated attitude. No one thinks that way any more.
Think again! Silicon Valley still worships at the temple of youth. A 12-year-old inventor named Shubham Banerjee received venture capital funds to start his own company. When Mark Zuckerberg was the 22 year-old chief executive of Facebook he told an audience at Stanford University that, “Young people are just smarter” and more creative. The myth persists. Zuckerberg later apologized, when he was an older and wiser man.
Back to Goodenough, who ignored the professor’s warning and became a world-class physicist. The energy crisis in the 1970’s got him interested in the challenge of storing energy in small, efficient packages. In 1980, at the ripe old age of 57, Goodenough coinvented the lithium-ion battery that now runs our phones, laptops and electric cars.
But, Goodenough was still upset about our continued dependence upon fossil fuels and by the pollution caused by internal-combustion engines. So now, at age 94, Goodenough is still creating. He is confident that he is on the brink of developing a new kind of solid-state battery that would be low-cost, lightweight and could revolutionize the way we power automobiles. He has partnered with a Portuguese physicist, Maria Helena Braga who has created a kind of glass that can replace liquid electrolytes inside batteries.
Goodenough’s creative idea for revolutionizing energy may not work. But he will keep trying. “I’m old enough to know,” he says, “you can’t close your mind to new ideas. You have to test out every possibility if you want something new.” He likened himself to a slow, but steady turtle who may not have succeed early in life but just kept on meandering through different fields, picking up insights along the way. “You have to draw on a fair amount of experience,” he observed, “in order to be able to put ideas together.”
For the sake of the planet let’s hope that this old, old man manages to invent a battery that will free us from our dependence on fossil fuels.
THE MINDRAMP CreativeCycle©
Since we are talking about creativity I might as well mention the MINDRAMP analysis of the creative process.
The study of creativity generally proceeds along one of three routes. We can study creative people – what makes one person more creative than another? We can study creative products – aesthetic judgments about what makes one product more creative than another? And, we can study the creative process – what creative people do in order to come up with creative ideas and products? What makes on process more creative than another?
Learning about the creative process is often the easiest way to significantly improve our own creative productivity.
A key insight about creativity is that it is a complex process. It involves an array of different skills and progresses through a sequence of highly differentiated stages. Each stage requires different types of thinking. To be creative, therefore, you need to be fluent in a variety of thinking skills, and you need to know when and how to shift from one cognitive mode to another. This is why it is useful to have a schematic model of the full creative process.
Building on the work of others, MINDRAMP has developed a model of the creative process that has four major phases: Imagination, Idea Generation, Actualization and Evaluation. These four phases are further divided into eight discrete stages of creative development.
Imagination (Future Memory)
Creative cycles can play out across a matter of moments, over weeks and months, or can extend across a lifetime. As the stages above indicate, some aspects of creativity involve imagination and the generation of new ideas (novelty). Other stages involve the accumulation of knowledge and learning.
When you consider that the generation of ideas is often a process of combining bits of information in new ways, it becomes clear that the more bits of information you have in your brain, the more creative combinations you can make. As the 94 year-old Goodenough intimates (see above), years of experience, coupled with an open mind, provide the mind with a wealth of options.
The creative cycle also illustrates the importance of turning cool insights into actual products or systems that have practical application. Ideas need to be turned into routines that can be tested. It’s great when ideas backfire because failure leads to another, revised creative cycle that attempts to correct the mistake. If ideas succeed, great! Another creative cycle is needed to put the idea into production, to market it or to start working on it’s replacement.
All of this creating takes time, patience and perseverance.
I’ll make one last point about the engine of creativity. It is at its best when fueled by passion and guided by positive values. Goodenough, at age 57, could have rested on his laurels after inventing the lithium-ion battery. He could have decided to sit on his porch and coast through the rest of his life. But his concern for the welfare of his fellow human beings and his passion to preserve the health of planet earth inspired him to continue pursuing his creative quest.