The Neuropsychological Connection Between Creativity and Meditation by Roy Horan

The Neuropsychological Connection Between Creativity and Meditation


Prior investigations into a creativity–meditation connection involving diverse meditation strategies, proficiency levels, and creativity measurement instruments presented mixed results. These results are explained through evidence (primarily from EEG studies) supporting the hypothesis that meditation training variously enhance creative incubation and illumination via transcendence and integration, neuropsychological mechanisms common to both processes. Transcendence surpasses informationallimits; integration transforms informational boundaries. In this respect, increased low-alpha power reflects reduced cortical activity and detached witnessing of multimo-dal information processing; theta indicates an implicit affect-based orientation toward satisfaction and encoding of new information; delta reflects neural silence, signalmatching and surprise, and gamma indicates heightened awareness, temporal-spatial binding, and salience. Cortical intra-interhemispheric synchronization, within these EEG spectral bands, is essential to effective creativity and meditation. The relative impact on creativity of various meditation strategies (mindfulness, concentrative and combined) is discussed.


Creativity has been defined as the capacity to generate novel, socially valued products and ideas (Mumford, Reiter-Palmon, & Redmond, 1994), or as the ability to produce work that is both novel (i.e., original, unexpected) and appropriate (i.e., useful, adaptive concerning task constraints) (Lubart, 1994, cited in Sternberg & Lubart, 1999; see also Ochse, 1990; Sternberg, 1988; Sternberg & Lubart, 1991, 1995, 1996). Whether creativity is perceived as problem solving (Weisberg, 2006), problem finding (Getzels &Czikszentmihalyi, 1976), or simply self expression, it generates new information that is often discrete and domain-specific, and that transcends informational boundaries, yet is integrated with existing information in a manner exhibiting value.


The psychological basis of creativity has been described variously as the need to be different (Joy, 2004), the decision to create (Sternberg, 2003), creative attitude (Maslow, 1967), and the intention to transcend informational boundaries (Horan, 2007). In each description, some form of conscious, or subconscious, volition is involved. James (1983) declared that ‘‘volition is nothing but attention’’ (p. 424). Attention appears at all levels of information processing, including consciously directed, sustained attention (Posner, 1994) and subconscious goal-directed attention, which is intertwined with perspectivalness (the sense of being someone with a point of view; Taylor, 2001). The volition, or intention, to transcend informational boundaries and integrate the transcendent experience, valuably, within empirical reality is not exclusive ton creativity. It is also the heart of meditation. The unique aspect of this article is to argue that the practice of meditation, as an attentional mechanism, supports creativity. A theoretical model is presented to explain diverse results arising from previous psychological studies on a creativity–meditation connection and to guide further investigations. Meditation, as the systematic study and practice of managing attention for self development, probably began in pre-Aryan civilizations prior to the Rig-Veda period (1500 BCE; Feuerstein, 1989). In order to better understand meditation, it is important to understand its theoretical, pre-scientific background as well as its modern implementation. Patanjali (second century AD), a renowned meditation master and ancient Indian ‘psychologist,’’ defined meditation in the Yoga Sutras (Iyengar, 1993) as an attentional strategy leading to yoga, or ‘‘the cessation of movements in the consciousness’’ (I.2., p. 46), which allows the practitioner to ‘‘dwell in his own true splendor’’ (I.3., p. 48). Patanjali used the Sanskrit word Cit to represent consciousness devoid of mental fluctuations, a transcendent state that can be imagined by abstracting from empirical consciousness all informational limitations with only pure consciousness remaining (Woodroffe, 1993). In the Zen meditative tradition, pure consciousness is considered ‘‘the very essence of human consciousness’’ (Harai, 1974, p. 113). According to Patanjali (Iyengar,1993), meditation has four primary phases: withdrawal of external sense awareness (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), unbroken concentration (dhyana), and absorption (samadhi).


Meditation involves the formulation of a conscious intention that carries into the unconscious, via absorption, until a state of pure consciousness is attained. The ultimate goal of meditation, however, is the psycho-physiological integration of pure consciousness, the transcendent state, with empirical consciousness (e.g., referred to as the union of Atman and jiva, the transcendent and immanent, etc.).Patanjali, in the Yoga Sutras (Iyengar, 1993), also described an advanced meditative process called sanyama (i.e., union of concentration–meditation– absorption), in which the transcendent state is integrated into all states of consciousness (i.e., waking, dreaming, and deep sleep) by experiencing various psycho-physiological phenomena at their unfettered source within the mind.


Sanyama, depending upon the phenomenon attended to, is said to elicit sidhis, or supranormal powers (SP), including knowledge of past and future, knowledge of other minds, psychic invisibility, and the ability to increase =decrease affects of gravitation on the body, as well as profound insight into the nature of reality (pratibha). Complete psychological integration in meditation is continuous, non-domain specific, and often described as a liberated, or enlightened, state of thought and action. Horan (2007, p.183) referred to this state as vacuous, the boundless source of both creativity and intelligence. In this sense, creative thinking, viewed as a process that overcomes informational limitations in a useful manner, can be construed as a restricted form of meditation.


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