Monday, July 13, 2009

Not unfocussed but bored






















In lieu of writing today, I’ll quote from Margaret Talbot’s article in the New Yorker, “Brain Gain.” It appeared in the April 27 issue and discusses “concentration pills” like Ritalin, etc.

This is what popped out for me:
Both Chatterjee and Farah have wondered whether drugs that heighten users’ focus might dampen their creativity. After all, some of our best ideas come to us not when we sit down at a desk but, rather, when we’re in the shower or walking the dog—letting our minds roam. Jimi Hendrix reported that the inspiration for “Purple Haze” came to him in a dream; the chemist Friedrich August Kekule claimed that he discovered the ring structure of benzene during a reverie in which he saw the image of a snake biting its tail. Farah told me, “Cognitive psychologists have found that there is a trade-off between attentional focus and creativity. And there is some evidence that suggests that individuals who are better able to focus on one thing and filter out distractions tend to be less creative.”
[…]
“…I’m a little concerned that we could be raising a generation of very focussed accountants.”
[…]
The experience that neuroenhancement offers is not, for the most part, about opening the doors of perception, or about breaking the bonds of the self, or about experiencing a surge of genius. It’s about squeezing out an extra few hours to finish those sales figures when you’d really rather collapse into bed; getting a B instead of a B-minus on the final exam in a lecture class where you spent half your time texting; cramming for the G.R.E.s at night, because the information-industry job you got after college turned out to be deadening. Neuroenhancers don’t offer freedom. Rather, they facilitate a pinched, unromantic, grindingly efficient form of productivity.

4 comments:

Max Stevens said...

I don't buy it. I always felt massively creative when I was flying on Ritalin. ...Sartre wrote his massive philosophical opus, Being and Nothingness, almost entirely on amphetamine. I would still take Ritalin today if it weren't habit forming and bad for blood pressure...

Molly Stevens said...

Oh really? I never applied it to creative pursuits, just boring homework, which I became very, very dutiful about. I just wonder if I hadn't taken it, would my creative side been given more room, because there was no choice?

Max Stevens said...

That's a good question. The other interesting thing is how interesting boring homework becomes when you're on Ritalin. I remember just getting really into conjugating verbs...

Molly Stevens said...

Yes. I got As in Labor History in college. Not a boring subject, but not THAT exciting.

But what if we were given free reign with music or drawing at an early age?