Have some clay in the head
is an important measure of creative thinking, according to J P Guilford, the
famous creativity expert. To think creatively implies to think flexibly. Creative
thinkers are seldom adamant, rigid or frozen in their concepts. They are open to
new realities and allow them to modify their world-views. They are not
convicted to their convictions. Their convictions are regularly updated. They
are tried and tested against the realities of life; those which stand the test
of time are upheld and others are forsaken. They continuously calibrate their
world-views against the emerging facts and evidences. They enrich the tenets of
their faith through creative dialogue with those of other faith systems. They
do not just compromise; rather they relinquish half-truths in the quest for absolute
truth. They do not just adapt to the times; rather they acknowledge the limitations
of their minds and keep them open to full revelation of the truth.
Creative people have “clay in their heads”!
That one has “full of clay in the head” is considered to be an abusive expression. It generally connotes the dullness of mind one possesses. However, it need not be the case. Creative people are those who have lots of “clay in their heads”, which allows them to think flexibly! Their minds are not elastic; rather they are plastic. Plastic materials are sensitive to the external forces acting on them.
They are shaped by the forces acting on them. Plastic minds are open to the winds and waves. They respond to the zeitgeist, the spirit of the time. They sense the signs of time. They read the writings on the walls. They do not consider adaptation as a crime and they do adapt accordingly. They adapt and survive! Plastic minds allow newness to touch their core. They are prepared to be transformed by the new realities. They allow their substance to be touched by the circumstances they are in. They are ready to rewrite their texts according to the context.
Plastic minds are like reeds. They bend and adapt to the tornado and survive it. Elastic materials rebel against any deformation to it. It is difficult to shape elastic materials. They develop restoring force which acts against any deformation. Elastic minds are rebellious. They resist change. They are not capable of learning or unlearning. They hold on to what they have learned. They easily turn fanatic. They are already “matured” and fully developed. They are fully scripted and nothing new could be added to those scripts.
Elastic minds are insensitive. They close their eyes towards newness. They are adamant. They do not turn around. They naturally develop resistance against any change. On this account, they will be a thorn in the eyes for the prophets, who want society to change. Elastic minds are like oak trees. They do not oblige the tornado. They do not care to bend or adapt. Tornadoes will tear them apart.
Stephen Hawking is an awesome example of creative but plastic thinkers of modern times. Confined to his wheel-chair he started making history with his brave efforts to unify macro-physics with micro-physics. The physics of very large scales (cosmic levels) is governed by the General Theory of Relativity of Albert Einstein; whereas the physics of the subatomic scales is governed by the Quantum Mechanics of Niels Bohr. Hawking radiation, which allows a black hole to leak energy and gradually fades away to nothing, is Hawking’s path-breaking contribution, which emerged from his efforts in this direction. In a recent paper called “Information preservation and weather forecasting for Black Holes” Stephen Hawking, however, denies the existence of Back Holes, which is the corner-stone of Einstein’s Cosmology. He writes: “...There are no black holes—in the sense of regimes from which light can’t escape to infinity”. He substitutes “Black Holes” for so-called “Gray Holes” in a manoeuvre to accommodate the current theories better into the framework of a phenomenon, which many believes to be a “persistent mystery” of modern physics. Plasticity of mind is required in the quest for truth. It applies equally to the physical and metaphysical truths.
Rigid thinking is seldom effective
People who think radical and rigid often trigger revolutions. However, an honest evaluation of revolutions would identify rigidity of thoughts at the root of their failure. Rigorous implementation of rigid concepts is fatal to human freedom. They suppress human freedom, which gives birth to the very revolution. Thus it triggers a process of gradual self-destruction.
This part of history is found to be self-repeating. The champions of such revolutions resort to brute force in the course of time to implement rigid rules of frozen thoughts. They attempt to nip the emerging opposition in the bud and unknowingly set a fresh revolution into motion.
A thinking style which accommodates diversity of ideas could prove to be more effective. A democratic fabric of mind has to be cultivated to suit this purpose. For a democratic mind, a multitude of different ideas is not a threat, rather they posit new possibilities. A democratic mind functions as the loci of synergy of differing ideas. Leaders who have a natural sense of synergy of ideas are the need of the hour for democracies of the world. Such leaders would churn out a host of ideas, creative concepts for the future. Such leaders would successfully change the course of history. They would steer the destiny of nations.
True revolutionaries are the prophets, who consider themselves as the “voice of the voiceless”. They represent the voice of the Divine, on whose behalf they are supposed to speak. The revolutionary vision of prophets regarding the future of a land represents the dreams of the “poor” of the land. That dream is born out of suppressed wishes of the multitudes of people who internally cry for liberation.
Flexible thinking always leaves room for synergy. It lends itself to be cross-fertilized with other similar and dissimilar ideas developing into formidable concepts with great power and effectiveness. Flexibility of thinking generates synergy and the synergy renders it with effectiveness. Thus flexible thinking acts as the key to effectiveness.
Take for example the case of water: Water droplets are extremely weak and powerless. They are rarely effective to bring about a change. They resemble flexible thoughts. When billions of water droplets coalesce to form a water body, it preserves tremendous force in its chest. It is powerful to draw and redraw the boundaries of cities and of world civilizations. A water wave in the form of a tsunami possesses devastating powers that rewrite the destiny of a land.
The power of water bodies is the power of synergy. They are effective to dismantle old structures paving ways for new ones. Similarly can flexible thinking synergize ideas and bring about critical changes. Flexible thinking is much more effective and sustainable than rigid thinking.
Rigid thinking exposes unripe minds.
A mature mind prefers flexible, democratic and synergetic thinking to rigid thinking. It is much more open and receptive. Children are observed to be strikingly inflexible in their thinking as shown by the tests of cognitive flexibility. Up to mid-twenties development of cognitive flexibility is observed. This development is associated with maturing synaptic connections, formation of a myelin sheath around a nerve fibre (which protect and insulate neurons) and enhancement of regional gray matter volume.
Diminished cognitive flexibility has been observed in a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders such as anorexia nervosa, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia and autism, and in a subset of people with ADHD. Similarly, people with addictions are also found to be limited in cognitive flexibility. Further, aging brains often experience deficits in cognitive flexibility. They undergo physical and functional changes including a decline in processing speed, central sensory functioning, white matter integrity and brain volume.
Taking these factors into consideration, one needs to keep the brain regularly fit for flexible thinking.
Implications for educational policy
A plastic mind is but a prerequisite for effective educational processes. Children with better receptivity are counted as successful students. Those students who are prepared to form their minds could be equipped to face the challenges of life in a creative manner.
Education aims at enabling students to acquire the necessary skills to suitably apply them to changing environments. They should learn the art of adapting what they learn to fit into new life situations. They should be able to think fluently and flexibly to arrive at novel solutions to the fresh tasks and challenges on hand.
An appropriate educational policy should take flexible thinking skills seriously. Teaching styles should be attuned to the requirements of flexible thinking. It should avoid over-simplification which prevents students from applying the attained knowledge to new domains and contexts. Teaching styles should incorporate group problem-solving activities, and demand higher-level thoughts. Students should learn to solve the same problem in a flexible manner in different ways. Such educational policies are already under development in many countries.
There is general awareness today of the need to keep one’s mental fitness. At all times and at all ages, people want to be mentally fit and agile. There mushroom training techniques for brain fitness. Such techniques generally focus on the training of cognitive flexibility. Cognitive flexibility is one of the important prerequisites for creative thinking.