A couple of
years ago researchers, led by Martin Lotze of the University of Greifswald in
Germany, ran an experiment which monitored, using an fMRI machine, what happens
in the brain when someone is composing a work of fiction. The subjects being
tested were given the opening sentences of a story and asked to come up with
what happened next. They first had one minute to brainstorm ideas and then two
minutes to write down what they came up with.
What they found
was that the areas of the brain that came alive during the brainstorming part
of the experiment were associated with vision, as though the subjects were
“seeing” the story in their mind’s eye. The hippocampus, which deals with
retrieving factual information, also came into play during this period.
However, Dr. Lotze was not satisfied, mainly because the people being tested in
the experiment had no previous experience of creative writing. So he ran a second
experiment on a group of experienced writers and found that a completely
different area of the brain was activated, to do with speech, as though the
subjects were forming words in their mind. The two groups also differed when it
came to the actual writing part of the experiment, the more experienced group
activating a region related to practice and repetitive action.
has received some criticism because some think that the type of activities
tested were not focused enough. It should have been testing the difference
between writing a story and writing a fact-based essay.
In a sense,
experiments like these can never really uncover the mystery of how someone can
sit down at a desk and come up with a story that no one else has ever written
before. We know this instinctively without having to conduct scientific
experiments. When you are “making stuff up” there are a huge number of
interrelated details held in your brain that you combine in a unique way to produce
story elements. And of course none of this even touches upon the skill involved
in retrieving the information you need to form words and write in complete
sentences with correct spelling and form those sentences using logical grammar.
It is clear to anyone who has ever made up a story and written it down that it
is a complex task involving multiple skills that have been learned and new
images and ideas that are the product of combinations of information in your
something mystical about creative writing. We could even go so far as to say
there is something godlike about it, in that the writer appears to create a
whole world and peoples it out of more or less nothing. It is a strange but happy
thought that in some way we can come closer to God by participating in creation
through creative writing.
Labels: Adam, creation, creative writing, fMRI, Martin Lotze, Michelangelo, University of Greifswald