City Arts & Lectures ~ Thoughts on Jonah Lehrer In Conversation with Dan Schifrin

City Arts & Lectures Inc. presents Jonah Lehrer

The other night, I went to Herbst Theatre to check out the City Arts & Lectures: On Art & Politics series ~ Jonah Lehrer in conversation with Dan Schifrin. Aside from learning Jonah Lehrer is quite good-looking in person (he really does look like his photographs!), he told some really engaging stories about creativity in the post modern world. Here are some of the more interesting aspects of the evening (and based on his current book, Imagine: How Creativity Works):

  • Brainstorming is bunk! – I agree. I love the idea of good debate where folks challenge one another!
  • Alpha Waves help modulate the mind Keeping the balance between the two hemispheres
  • Swings of mental state – Being in a happy mood, we are able to solve puzzles BUT when sad/depressed, we tend to solve problems. It is definitely important to accept that there are times we’re going to feel sad and depressed. Quite Zen and Buddhist, I like it!

Below are some of the interesting questions Lehrer answered during the Q&A session followed by my interpretation and 2 cents on his answer.

Does the political process get in the way of creativity?

Ha ha. I loved that someone asked this question. I know when I think of creativity in politics, my view is quite biased and slanted. If there is any creativity, it probably has a lot to do with skewing perspectives and viewpoints and playing around with statistics to sway the public. Lehrer provided a much more robust answer, most definitely. He mentioned looking at “ages of excess genius” (i.e., Elizabethan England, Athens, etc.). He noted a primary theme during these times in history was this vast expansion of human capital through education. The 21st century genius is one of physicality. We reward this physical genius and encourage it while not encouraging other facets of human growth and development. Lehrer expressed a profound wish to see that type of investment and transfer of skills to the arts and sciences! YES! AGREED!!!

Lehrer addressed a question that involved his perceptions of the two traditions of therapy, 1) Psychoanalytic vs. 2) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

I liked that he answered the question stating that it wholly depends on the state of the patient and their need to know and wish to have or meet a specific stream of associations. Although many HMOs want people to go to psychotherapy, he believes that individuals have different needs. In regard to creativity and the different types of therapies, it all goes back to the patient, which is something I agree with. There definitely are instances where a specific type of personality requires an alternative therapeutic method. My take on his answer: the therapist would must engage in a creative approach when it comes to mental health and care of the patient.

Related to the question above, an audience member asked about anti-depressants and its impact on creativity?

Lehrer was honest and said he didn’t really know how to answer this specific question. However, he provided the insight that sadness is also a type of thinking! He reminded us that our culture has a tendency to ‘valorize positive emotions’ but there is value in sadness. Going on, he remarked that Aristotle and the Romantics (sounds like a great band name actually!) appreciated sadness and embraced it. When he said this, it totally reminded me of the Buddhist concept of 1000 Joys and 1000 Sorrows.

How has your creative process change after writing these three books?

He was rather enthusiastic in sharing that after writing these books, he is more likely to follow his gut. Whether it’s going for a hike, taking a break, “wasting” some time, it’s necessary to disconnect and not push it. He also noted that people with diverse social networks experience more creativity and innovation in their processes. One of my FAVORITE things he said, which is something I think I do pretty well ~ ask questions! Engaging in dialogue is IMPORTANT. THANK YOU JONAH LEHRER!!!

How do you feel about Information Overload?

One of my favorites from the evening: Struggle to daydream! He made mention of ‘punctuated daydreaming and plugging back into the network’ and how real world connections are STILL important to our growth and development as people, a society, and culture. Personally, this is what I’ve ALWAYS loved about the arts. Art ought to be experienced and discussed and although there are a variety of ways to experience art and look at it online (i.e., Google Art Project, s[edition], kapsul, etc.], people need to make an earnest effort at disconnecting in order to connect in the real (physical) world.

*          *          *          *

Now, as much as I enjoyed the evening and absolutely agreed with diversifying one’s network (this is pretty much common sense if you want to make it in the world, especially in this age, you NEED to connect and collaborate) and appreciated his examples on how different levels of creativity can influence and impact cognitive processes, I noticed something. I shouldn’t have been surprised by this but when the house lights were turned on for the Q&A portion of the talk, I looked around and the majority of people were white. I BARELY see people of color at events like this. I’m hoping we can instill the need for narratives and experiences across cultures and people to younger generations.

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Author: Dorothy R. Santos

Dorothy R. Santos is a writer, editor, curator, and educator whose research areas and interests include new media and digital art, activism, artificial intelligence, networked culture, and biotechnology. Born and raised in San Francisco, California, she holds Bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Psychology from the University of San Francisco, and received her Master’s degree in Visual and Critical Studies at the California College of the Arts. She is currently the managing editor for Hyphen magazine. Her work appears in art21, Art Practical, Daily Serving, Rhizome, Hyperallergic, and Public Art Dialogue. She has lectured and spoken at the De Young museum, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Stanford University, School of Visual Arts, and more. Her essay “Materiality to Machines: Manufacturing the Organic and Hypotheses for Future Imaginings,” has been published to The Routledge Companion to Biology in Art and Architecture in 2016. She serves as executive staff for the Bay Area Society for Art & Activism, board member for the SOMArts Cultural Center, and teaches at the University of California, Santa Cruz in the Digital Art and New Media department.

2 thoughts on “City Arts & Lectures ~ Thoughts on Jonah Lehrer In Conversation with Dan Schifrin”

  1. If I knew what the content of this blog would be, I would have read it sooner. I briefly visited their sites and to say it was impressive would be an understatement.

    (Reminder to be kind; the following comments come from a simple person who likes to sell pet clothing, not from one with the same level of intellect. I say that as an apology in advance just in case you don’t know what the heck I’m saying.)

    Anyway, overall what I liked about the conversations is that I didn’t disagree with any of the points either of them made. For example, how creativity or a creative approach to address any issue (like for example how Albert Einstein was able to introduce time and space as one fabric, etc. couldn’t have been done without creativity, and imagination besides mere speculation) especially one of mental health, and physical health as well, is crucial.

    As regards Brainstorming, I don’t know how it’s done in the corporate setting, or anywhere for that matter. But I’m inclined to believe that, yes, it’s bunk. I think the objective is creative, but the involvement is static.

    I favor question and answer formats in discussions, and that argumentation and conflict are also other aspects of the creative process that lets rise truth. To us a metaphor, like making ghee.

    I think it also takes a lot of compassion and humility to understand and deliver those ideas; for example, the value of sorrow, and how it would contribute understanding and well-being. It takes a certain humility and courage to accept things. It’s funny, though, how he says sorrow is a type of thinking. THAT takes some chutzpah as well. I mean, what is thinking?

    I like how organized everything was, how astute and generous he was in answering questions like, How do you feel about Information Overload? Well, for him it was a piece of cake. I think he’s saying that one not be overwhelmed by it and can maintain a sense of control by stepping aside now and then.

    There is so much that could be said because in that short time a lot transpired; the sharing and tackling of various interesting and provocative topics; like neuroscience, comparing the two spin-offs, so to speak, of psychology, psychotherapy, etc. I wasn’t there, I haven’t read the books. Nevertheless, they seem to be walking the walk and talking the talk, if you know what I mean. (It’s possible, I think, for speakers and writers to be bloated.)

    What I didn’t fully grasp is “the 21st century genius is one of physicality.” It’s a shame I missed something there. It’s me, being out of the loop. (Those are heavyweight soul-stirring discussions, even though that was only the ‘skin off the top’, in a manner of speaking.

    I’ll stop blabbering now and finish off by paraphrasing the value of your 2-cents:
    Common sense IS genius.

    1. Brainstorming certainly has its value (maybe) for some people but when Lehrer mentioned the notion of ‘Debate and Descent’, I thought to myself, “Hey, that’s how I engage with folks when I’m in meetings (both at work at outside of work)”. There’s also the Socratic Method of questioning, which I really love as well. Either way, that was one of the more interesting points Lehrer touched upon.

      The idea of Information Overload is certainly a great topic for discussion in this this post/meta modern age. Lately, I’ve been engaged with this one project by Eric Slatkin called ‘icheckafter’. He wants folks to make a pledge of NOT checking their laptops and mobile phones FIRST thing in the morning, which is something I’ve been doing for the past few days and I already feel a bit more at ease. My mind is still going 1000 mph BUT I’m way better at giving myself and my mind a break. In any case, Lehrer reminding us to disconnect from the wired world is also how we can stay creative.

      To address your question/inquiry about the 21st century genius is on of physicality, when Lehrer was asked about creative minds in contemporary times, he noted that the US is great at producing and rewarding physicality (i.e., athletes!). I agree with that particular sentiment actually. In any case, I’m hoping that makes a bit more sense. I probably need to re-edit my post to provide a bit more clarity.

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