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See Inside June/July 2008

Out of the Box

Writer’s block is not an affliction that I have ever suffered. So I was a little surprised at myself when I put off writing this column several times. I mulled a few options, but nothing seemed good enough to merit typing. Then it hit me: I was letting my unacknowledged fears and negativity squash my thinking. Why? Because the topic was how to tap the sources of inspiration itself—the subject of our cover story, “Let Your Creativity Soar.”

My self-editing mistake was just one way we block our inner muse. But as you’ll learn from our creativity experts—psychologist and contributing editor Robert Epstein, psychologist John Houtz, and poet, playwright and filmmaker Julia Cameron—everyone can cultivate new ideas, using a variety of techniques. Read our feature to get their time-tested tips from our panel discussion.

Switching on a lightbulb is a visual cliché for creativity. But a different kind of switch, made of molecules, affects a number of other critical mental processes. Life’s experiences add chemicals to the genes that control brain activity, dialing up or down the expression of various features. A special two-article section explores how these molecular mechanisms change our brains. “The New Genetics of Mental Illness,” by psychiatrist Edmund S. Higgins, looks at how the environment influences our susceptibility to depression, anxiety and drug addiction. “Unmasking Memory Genes,” by neuroscientist Amir Levine, explains how such molecules shape memory and learning.

How does our unified conscious experience emerge from the activity of billions of brain cells and numerous processing “modules” (brain regions associated with certain types of thought)? The mystery has long tantalized researchers. In “Spheres of Influence,” neuroscientist Michael S. Gazzaniga finds some clues from his studies of split-brain patients, whose connective tissue between their two hemispheres has been separated. Are two brains better than one for learning about consciousness? Find out in this month's issue.

This article was originally published with the title "From the Editor."

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