I have no idea whose bill she held or why she found it where she did. Regardless, I didn’t let her keep the bill. I said Thank you, darling, and mumbled something about $20 being a lot of money. Still, my daughter’s open-faced honesty and hope impressed me. Her stance showed she had no real expectations of keeping the money– but she’d try anyhow. Just in case. As she handed me the bill and walked away, my 11 month old, sitting on the carpet two feet away, coughed several times. I bolted off the couch to her, swept the inside of her mouth with my index finger and removed a flat, juicy piece of wicker. My baby crawls fast enough now we’ve nicknamed her “speedy”. She’s more than just speedy though, she’s efficient too. She constantly collects stuff from the floor to investigate. She even has a method. Here’s how it goes: pick up object, move it from right hand to left. Turn it about in various directions and angles. Then, either drop it or continue research and taste the thing. Chew and swallow if possible.
Through all this excitement my two-year old stayed kneeling in front of and using the couch as her desk. She spread a stack of index cards haphazardly except for her “done” pile. The “done” cards, stacked together, exhibited various slashes, circles and more of color. One blue. One red. She kept enlarging that “done” pile oblivious to the rest of us. Focused but just following whims.
Babies and young children constantly try things out on a whim. Cognitive psychologist Alison Gopnick says in her fascinating book, The Philosophical Baby,
Children are the R&D department of the human species– the blue-sky guys, the brainstormers.
[Their] brains seem to have special qualities that make them especially well suited for imagination and learning.
Each try a child makes and each whim she chases ever-so-slightly changes the physical map of her very plastic brain. New information connects loosely to other (less new) bits to form networks of thought. We all have a zillion (OK, that’s not a true number, but it fits) connections running throughout our brains– more complex than the Los Angeles highway system. The younger you are the looser (bumpier and sub-developed) your connections and also the more varied. Again, Gopnik says,
Babies brains are actually more highly connected than adult brains; more neural pathways are available to babies than adults.
All these connections are loose, tentative and will fade with time and lack of use. They’re also jumbled about in a disorganized mess. But disorganized minds, whether attached to a baby, a teenager or a 40 yr. old, are more likely to come up with original ideas. Hyper-organized minds think in patterns and already know outcomes from the get-go. Disorganized minds catch novel patterns but are open-wide about outcomes. Original thoughts have no precedents.
Louis Pasteur said,
Chance favors the prepared mind.
As it turns out chance favors a mind prepared on more than one dimension. First, you need kick-butt skills– virtuosity. The 10,000 hours of sweat put in. Second, your brain needs a zillion loose neuronal connections with plenty of Glia for juice. Entire sections of your brain need beautifully bumpy, tentative and divergent mental pathways– like a map of old Paris.
My three little girls’ minds work just like that. Yet, neuroscientists think my girls are less likely to keep disorganized (divergent-thinking) minds into adulthood than their brother. Men keep their childhood R&D capacities but women lose them in favor of more organized, predictable mental pathways. That’s right folks, women’s thinking tends toward predictability and away from originality. Since originality is a crucial part of creativity, I must ask: Could this all be true?
Well. It’s hard to swallow. But read on. Neuroscientist Kenneth M. Heilman found men store the bulk of verbal capacities in one hemisphere (the left), leaving the other hemisphere (the right) free for disorganized mental pathways. Women use both hemispheres for verbal communication and so have less mental space left for wild chance. Heilman also points out scientists, inventors and mathematicians need top-notch spatial skills to shine. And in test after test, men take the prize over women, in all spatial abilities. And even in fields requiring rich language networks, men outperform women. Why? Remember those darned language networks taking up so much mental space in both hemispheres.
I am a thinker, so I will plod on without screaming or pulling my hair or crying into this evening.
Think about all the women you know and all the men you’ve ever met. Make yourself a little mental chart and place each person into one of two categories: dependable/predictable thinker or unreliable/original thinker. How many women make your unreliable/original thinker? And of those who made it, how many have the education to rocket to the top of their field? Still have some women on this list? I hope you do. This is the twenty-first century, after all.
Still, I’m hot and bothered. Fortunately, I’m not the only one. Ten years ago, researcher Rebecca Jordan-Young began questioning neuroscientific gender studies. Eventually, she could stand it no longer. So many studies she read simply did not jive with reality. So Jordan-Young spent 10,000 hours going over studies dated back to the 1950′s (actually even earlier). Then she wrote Brainstorm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences, to peel the layers of untruth within the field.
Note: If you are a Neuroscientist studying sex differences, please read this book. It’s solid.
On my end, I’ll make sure my daughters get the education they need. I’ll also urge disorganized thought patterns. I may even require (I’m still wishy-washy on this one) mega-time mastering video games (the spatial/visual– super-challenging kind) starting tomorrow.
I’ve had enough of organized thought-patterns for now. I’m hyped to feed my inner-disorganized thinker. I’ll start with fish. Hay. Egypt. Schools for Girls. Sleepy limbs. Boston. Charles River. MIT. Dream interpretation. Palm-readers and medical office-types named Kathy, Parkinson’s disease, oligarchies. I’m gone….. lost in my own old-Paris-map of a brain.
How about you? Do you think more men naturally tend toward originality than women?
Filed under: Biology, Complexity, Divergent thinking, Must Haves of Creativity, Neuroscience, The Brain, The Child, The Scientist | Tagged: Brainstorm, divergent thinking, female brain, male brain, Rebecca Jordan-Young, Research and Development, sex differences in the brain, the biology of originality | 2 Comments »