Tracing the Spark of Creative Problem-Solving

By Benedict Carey

12/6/2010, The New York Times

The puzzles look easy, and mostly they are. Given three words — “trip,” “house” and “goal,” for example — find a fourth that will complete a compound word with each. A minute or so of mental trolling (housekeeper, goalkeeper, trip?) is all it usually takes.

The payoff of tackling a mental exercise: leaps of understanding that seem to come out of the blue, without the incremental drudgery of analysis.

But who wants to troll?

Let lightning strike. Let the clues suddenly coalesce in the brain — “field!” — as they do so often for young children solving a riddle. As they must have done, for that matter, in the minds of those early humans who outfoxed nature well before the advent of deduction, abstraction or SAT prep courses. Puzzle-solving is such an ancient, universal practice, scholars say, precisely because it depends on creative insight, on the primitive spark that ignited the first campfires.

And now, modern neuroscientists are beginning to tap its source.

Read the article.

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.



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