When we launched Scientific American Mind as a new publication in 2004, it seemed like a great opportunity to give readers more stories about popular areas of mind and brain research—which, fortuitously, were also booming because of imaging and other advances. What I didn’t realize at the time, but probably should have, is how often the findings in our pages would shake loose what I thought I knew about how our gray matter works. In every way, editing this magazine over the years has been, well, mind-expanding.
Take creativity, the subject of our cover story, “The Unleashed Mind,” by Harvard University psychologist Shelley Carson. It is common for people to refer, with a knowing wink, to “creative types”—and we all know what that means. We think of someone a little … different from the rest of us workaday sorts. Someone who surprises us with spectacularly odd wardrobe choices but also with amazing insights into problems we are trying to solve.
How do they do that? As it turns out, the elements that spur those creative insights—as well as a tendency to eccentricity—spring from something called cognitive disinhibition, which is characterized by an impaired ability of the brain to filter out extraneous details. When that unfiltered flow reaches the cortex of someone who is highly intelligent and who can process the information without being overwhelmed, novel ideas can burst forth. Of course, not everybody who is creative is unconventional, and vice versa.
An essential way to nurture new notions often results from getting a different perspective on things. So after this issue, I will take a step back from Scientific American Mind’s day-to-day operations, the better to contribute to its long-term direction. Sandra Upson, who joins us as managing editor, will bring her own blend of insights, ideas and creative directions for the magazine. I can’t wait to see what the team does next.