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Creative thinking as the solution to internal and external problems

Share Synopsis While the neural basis for problem-solving, creativity and insight have been studied extensively in the past, there is still a lack of understanding of the role of the environment in informing the problem-solving process. Real world problem-solving RWPS is what we do every day. It requires flexibility, resilience, resourcefulness, and a certain degree of creativity. A crucial feature of RWPS is that it involves continuous interaction with the environment during the problem-solving process.

In this process, the environment can be seen as not only a source of inspiration for new ideas but also as a tool to facilitate creative thinking. In this paper, I attempt to combine the relevant literature on creativity and problem-solving with the scattered and nascent work in perceptually-driven learning from the environment. I present my synthesis as a potential new theory for real world problem-solving and map out its hypothesized neural basis.

Real World Problem-Solving

I outline some testable predictions made by the model and provide some considerations and ideas for experimental paradigms that could be used to evaluate the model more thoroughly.

Introduction In the Apollo 13 space mission, astronauts together with ground control had to overcome several challenges to bring the team safely back to Earth Lovell and Kluger, 2006.

One of these challenges was controlling carbon dioxide levels onboard the space craft: Now, using materials known to be available onboard the spacecraft—a sock, a plastic bag, the cover of a flight manual, lots of duct tape, and so on—the crew assembled a strange contraption and taped it into place. The success of Apollo 13's recovery from failure is often cited as a glowing example of human resourcefulness and inventiveness alongside more well-known inventions and innovations over the course of human history.

However, this sort of inventive capability is not restricted to a few creative geniuses, but an ability present in all of us, and exemplified in the following mundane example. Consider a situation when your only suit is covered in lint and you do not own a lint remover. You see a roll of duct tape, and creative thinking as the solution to internal and external problems resourceful you reason that it might be a good substitute.

You then solve the problem of lint removal by peeling a full turn's worth of tape and re-attaching it backwards onto the roll to expose the sticky side all around the roll.

By rolling it over your suit, you can now pick up all the lint. In both these examples historic as well as everydaywe see evidence for our innate ability to problem-solve in the real world. Solving real world problems in real time given constraints posed by one's environment are crucial for survival.

Putting flexons to work

But, what are the cognitive processes that enable a problem solver to overcome such impasses and arrive at a solution, or at least a set of promising next steps? A central aspect of this type of real world problem solving, is the role played by the solver's surrounding environment during the problem-solving process.

Is it possible that interaction with one's environment can facilitate creative thinking? The answer to this question seems somewhat obvious when one considers the most famous anecdotal account of creative problem solving, namely that of Archimedes of Syracuse. During a bath, he found a novel way to check if the King's crown contained non-gold impurities. The bath was not only a passive, relaxing environment for Archimedes, but also a specific source of inspiration.

Indeed it was his noticing the displacement of water that gave him a specific methodology for measuring the purity of the crown; by comparing how much water a solid gold bar of the same weight would displace as compared with the crown.

  • Making physical inferences to acquire novel information The agent might also be able to learn novel facts about their environment through passive observation as well as active experimentation;
  • Thus, it is crucial to be able to establish that there exists of class of such events and they have a shared effect on RWPS, which is to switch attentional modes.

This sort of continuous environmental interaction was present when the Apollo 13 engineers discovered their life-saving solution, and when you solved the suit-lint-removal problem with duct tape. The neural mechanisms underlying problem-solving have been extensively studied in the literature, and there is general agreement about the key functional networks and nodes involved in various stages of problem-solving.

In addition, there has been a great deal of work in studying the neural basis for creativity and insight problem solving, which is associated with the sudden emergence of solutions. However, in the context of problem-solving, creativity, and insight have been researched as largely an internal process without much interaction with and influence from the external environment Wegbreit et al. Thus, there are open questions of what role the environment plays during real world problem-solving RWPS and how the brain enables the assimilation of novel items during these external interactions.

In this paper, I synthesize the literature on problem-solving, creativity and insight, and particularly focus on how the environment can inform RWPS.

  • They found that attentional use is associated in different ways for each of the two notions of creativity;
  • Impasse When solving certain types of problems, the agent might encounter an impasse, i;
  • For instance, how do instructors respond when a student gives the wrong answer;;;
  • Working memory An important aspect of problem representation is the engagement and use of working memory WM;
  • What is real world problem-solving?

I explore three environmentally-informed mechanisms that could play a critical role: I begin first with some intuitions about real world problem solving, that might help ground this discussion and providing some key distinctions from more traditional problem solving research. Then, I turn to a review of the relevant literature on problem-solving, creativity, and insight first, before discussing the three above-mentioned environmentally-driven mechanisms.

I conclude with a potential new model and map out its hypothesized neural basis. Problem Solving, Creativity, and Insight 2. What is Real World Problem-Solving? Archimedes was embodied in the real world when he found his solution. In fact, the real world helped him solve the problem. They are often dynamic and discontinuous, accompanied by many starts and stops. Solvers are never working on just one problem.

Instead, they are simultaneously juggling several problems of varying difficulties and alternating their attention between them. Real world problems are typically ill-defined, and even when they are well-defined, often have open-ended solutions. Coupled with that is the added aspect of uncertainty associated with the solver's problem solving strategies. As introduced earlier, an important dimension of RWPS is the continuous interaction between the solver and their environment.

Like discovery events, there's typically never one singular impasse or distraction event. The solver must iterate through the problem solving process experiencing and managing these sorts of intervening events including impasses and discoveries. In summary, RWPS is quite messy and involves a tight interplay between problem solving, creativity, and insight. Next, I explore each of these processes in more detail and explicate a possible role of memory, attention, conflict management and perception.

The agent does not immediately know how this goal can be reached and must perform some mental operations i. The problem solving literature divides problems based on clarity well-defined vs.

While memory retrieval is an important process, I consider it as a sub-process to problem solving more generally. I first focus on analytical problem-solving process, which typically involves problem-representation and encoding, and the process of forming and executing a solution plan Robertson, 2016. Problem Definition and Representation An important initial phase of problem-solving involves defining the problem and forming a representation in the working memory.

If the problem is familiar and well-structured, top-down executive control mechanisms are engaged and the left prefrontal cortex including the frontopolar, dorso-lateral dlPFCand ventro-lateral vlPFC are activated Barbey and Barsalou, 2009. The DMN along with the various structures in the medial temporal lobe MTL including the hippocampus HFparahippocampal cortex, perirhinal and entorhinal cortices are also believed to have limited involvement, especially in episodic memory retrieval activities during this phase Beaty et al.

Working memory An important aspect of problem representation creative thinking as the solution to internal and external problems the engagement and use of working memory WM. The WM allows for the maintenance of relevant problem information and description in the mind Gazzaley and Nobre, 2012.

One theory for how events are represented in the PFC is the structured event complex theory SECin which components of the event knowledge are represented by increasingly higher-order convergence zones localized within the PFC, akin to the convergence zones from posterior to anterior that integrate sensory information in the brain Barbey et al. Under this theory, different zones in the PFC left vs. Other studies have also suggested the CEN's role in tasks requiring cognitive flexibility, and functions to switch thinking modes, levels of abstraction of thought and consider multiple concepts simultaneously Miyake et al.

Thus, when the problem is well-structured, problem representation is largely an executive control activity coordinated by the PFC in which problem information from memory populates WM in a potentially structured representation. Once the problem is defined and encoded, planning and execution of a solution can begin.

  • In this paper, I attempt to combine the relevant literature on creativity and problem-solving with the scattered and nascent work in perceptually-driven learning from the environment;
  • For instance, how do instructors respond when a student gives the wrong answer;;;
  • In addition to studying how hints can help problem solving, researchers have also looked at how directed action can influence subsequent problem solving—e;
  • Alternatively, impasses can occur when suitable solution strategies cannot be retrieved from memory or fail on execution.

Planning is the process of generating a strategy to advance from the current state to a goal state. This in turn involves retrieving a suitable solution strategy from memory and then coordinating its execution. Plan formation The dlPFC supports sequential planning and plan formation, which includes the generation of hypothesis and construction of plan steps Barbey and Barsalou, 2009. Interestingly, the vlPFC and the angular gyrus AGimplicated in a variety of functions including memory retrieval, are also involved in plan formation Anderson et al.

The core network is believed to be activated when recalling past experiences, imagining fictitious, and future events and navigating large-scale spaces Summerfield et al. A recent study suggests that the AG is critical to both episodic simulation, representation, and episodic memory Thakral et al. One possibility for how plans are formulated could involve a dynamic process of retrieving an optimal strategy from memory. Different types of problems require different sets of specialized knowledge.

For example, the knowledge needed to solve mathematical problems might be quite different albeit overlapping from the knowledge needed to select appropriate tools in the environment.

Five routes to more innovative problem solving

Thus far, I have discussed planning and problem representation as being domain-independent, which has allowed me to outline key areas of the PFC, MTL, and other regions relevant to all problem-solving.

However, some types of problems require domain-specific knowledge for which other regions might need to be recruited.

For example, when planning for tool-use, the superior parietal lobe SPLsupramarginal gyrus SMGanterior inferior parietal lobe AIPLand certain portions of the temporal and occipital lobe involved in visual and spatial integration have been found to be recruited Brandi et al.

It is believed that domain-specific information stored in these regions is recovered and used for planning. Plan execution Once a solution plan has been recruited from memory and suitably tuned for the problem on hand, the left-rostral PFC, caudate nucleus CNand bilateral posterior parietal cortices PPC are responsible for translating the plan into executable form Stocco et al.

Hemispherical division of labor is particularly relevant in planning where it was shown that when planning to solve a Tower of Hanoi block creative thinking as the solution to internal and external problems problem, the right PFC is involved in plan construction whereas the left PFC is involved in controlling processes necessary to supervise the execution of the plan Newman and Green, 2015.

On a separate note and not the focus of this paper, plan execution and problem-solving can require the recruitment of affective and motivational processing in order to supply the agent with the resolve to solve problems, and the vmPFC has been found to be involved in coordinating this process Barbey and Barsalou, 2009.

Maier performed several experiments to study mental fixation and insight problem solving. This close tie between insight and creativity continues to be a recurring theme, one that will be central to the current discussion. If creativity and insight are linked to RWPS as noted by Maier, creative thinking as the solution to internal and external problems it is reasonable to turn to the creativity and insight literature for understanding the role played by the environment.

A large portion of the creativity literature has focused on viewing creativity as an internal process, one in which the solvers attention is directed inwards, and toward internal stimuli, to facilitate the generation of novel ideas and associations in memory Beaty et al. Focusing on imagination, a number of researchers have looked at blinking, eye fixation, closing eyes, and looking nowhere behavior and suggested that there is a shift of attention from external to internal stimuli during creative problem solving Salvi and Bowden, 2016.

The idea is that shutting down external stimuli reduces cognitive load and focuses attention internally. Other experiments studying sleep behavior have also noted the beneficial role of internal stimuli in problem solving. The notion of ideas popping into ones consciousness, suddenly, during a shower is highly intuitive for many and researchers have attempted to study this phenomena through the lens of incubation, and unconscious thought that is internally-driven. From a problem-solving perspective, it has been found that unlike well-structured problems, ill-structured problems activate the right dlPFC.

Most of the past work on creativity and creative problem-solving has focused on exploring memory structures and performing internally-directed searches. Creative idea generation has primarily been viewed as internally directed attention Jauk et al. One psychological model of creative cognition is the Geneplore model that considers two major phases of generation memory retrieval and mental synthesis and exploration conceptual interpretation and functional inference Finke et al. That said, the creativity literature is not completely devoid of acknowledging the role of the environment.

In fact, it is quite the opposite. In addition to studying how hints can help problem solving, researchers have also looked at how directed action can influence subsequent problem solving—e.

There have also been numerous studies looking at how certain external perceptual cues are correlated with creativity measures. Certain colors such as blue have been shown to help with creativity and attention to detail Mehta and Zhu, 2009. Even environmental illumination, or lack thereof, have been shown to promote creativity Steidle and Werth, 2013.

However, it is important to note that while these and the substantial body of similar literature show the relationship of the environment to creative problem solving, they do not specifically account for the cognitive processes underlying the RWPS when external stimuli are received.