If our best ideas come in the shower

I write this from my shower. In fact I decided to stay there forever. This is because I recently came to know about science of creativity and dopamine patterns in showers. Quoting none other than an eminent neuroscientist, a startup founder writes,

Alice Flaherty, one of the most renowned neuroscientists researching creativity has an answer for us. Another ingredient, that’s very important for us to be creative is dopamine: The more dopamine that is released, the more creative we are, she says.

And any lingering doubt I had was expunged when I saw the accompanying colorful brain imagery showing which areas of the brain are working hard while thinking big creative thoughts.

You likely are more skeptical than I am and you may not be convinced at this point. That is where Jonah Lehrer, eminent author and expert on creativity and Bob Dylan, comes.  The said article adds Lehrer’s findings,

‘.. a relaxed state of mind is absolutely important to be creative. That’s why so many insights happen during warm showers,’ Bhattacharya says. ‘For many people, it’s the most relaxing part of the day.’

I bet Lehrer found listening to Bob Dylan very relaxing.

There you have it. You we get our best ideas in the shower.

But then I was reading that article outside of shower and believed it. Clearly, it can’t be my best idea. Because the article says our best ideas are in the shower. Here is my idea from the shower. It is better than my idea to believe that piece on creativity, because it is the best.

Yes there is dopamine association. But to draw causation is another. Here is an evidence based research testing this causal link (the dopamine creativity causal link is based on another flawed study that found dopamine system in creative people is similar to that of schizophrenics)

Research on dopamine concentrations in postmortem brain tissue, on homovanillic acid concentrations, and on dopamine receptors has been negative or inconclusive. Therefore, the idea that the symptoms of psychosis or schizophrenia are caused by the overactivity of dopamine is not supported by current evidence.

But what about that colorful brain imagery? All that scans of people working on creative problem solving? Vaughan Bell, a neuropsychologist and researcher at King’s College London,  writes in Gaurdian

Brightly coloured brain scans are a media favourite as they are both attractive to the eye and apparently easy to understand but in reality they represent some of the most complex scientific information we have. They are not maps of activity but maps of the outcome of complex statistical comparisons of blood flow that unevenly relate to actual brain function. This is a problem that scientists are painfully aware of but it is often glossed over when the results get into the press.

This work and the previous one dismantling the dopamine hypothesis must be available to all those asking us to take shower for our best ideas, don’t you think? Well there is a problem for those looking for something to find in selective data. Dr. Bell adds,

You can see this selective reporting in how neuroscience is used in the media. Psychologist Cliodhna O’Connor and her colleagues investigated how brain science was reported across 10 years of newspaper coverage. Rather than reporting on evidence that most challenged pre-existing opinions, of which there is a great deal, neuroscience was typically cited as a form of “biological proof” to support the biases of the author.

Let us set aside all these dopamine hypothesis and the evidence that contradicts it. Let us ask common sense questions in some plain English.

  1. What makes an idea creative?
  2. What makes it the best? By whose and what measure?
  3. What results came out of those best ideas?

You can see the fallacy in such claims.

There is enough nonsense floating around just from the gurus. As chemist Derek Lowe wrote recently about such flawed science popular media articles,

nonsense does not obey any conservation law. It keeps on coming. It’s always been in long supply, and it looks like it always will be.

That doesn’t mean that we just have to sit back and let it wash over us, though.

Let us not add more nonsense from everyone fashioning themselves as guru. Let us call BS when we see it and stop spreading nonsense.

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