I recently stumbled over this new Kris Moyes-directed Grizzly Bear video, which is pretty visually interesting and basically like a series of animated gifs. Some of the gifs from the video are even downloadable, in case you want to embed the one of the guy’s melting iris as he puts in a contact into your new message board signature. I couldn’t help but notice that it was littered with alt-med practices such as cupping, acupuncture, and ear-candling.
OK, all good and well, music videos are not platforms for science-based medicine generally. It also didn’t seem to me to necessarily be a clear endorsement of these things. There are plenty of other images, many of them mildly disgusting, squirm-inducing, or just plain weird (but also cool and oddly beautiful if you are not the squeamish type). We’re talking fungus, fingernail clippings, flakes of dead skin, blood doing various things, twitching veins, hair being tweezed out of a guy’s scalp, and what can be categorized as many odd things happening to eyes. So, I decided to look into why this video got made.
It turns out this was explained fully on Grizzly Bear’s Tumblr.
The idea came from a question:- if the creative energy of any living organism could be seen, what would it look like? Ed, Daniel, T and Bear demonstrate where their creative energy is located by extracting their hair, nails, skin, sweat, tears and blood. This is an invitation for a very rare glimpse of what creative energy could look like on a molecular level, if it could be seen.
In the filming of this clip we used various scientifically explainable methods known to the natural world, soap film interference, rapid crystallization, splitting of the light spectrum etc to create the impression that these visual phenomena actually comes from them.
Of course this hypothesis would not hold much weight in the various scientific circles, but, it is a good question to ask. Science has tried unsuccessfully to explain where creativity comes from. Why some humans have a creative drive and others do not, why this person can draw but does not have a musical ear, or why this person is better suited to the clarinet and not the guitar, and why some people can play every instrument they come into contact with.
Sigh. Talking about energy improperly, misuse of the word “hypothesis,” saying that science is unsuccessful when it just isn’t finished (to your level of satisfaction and understanding)…obviously, creative people latching on to alt-med, referring to everything as “energy,” and talking inarticulately about science are nothing new. This didn’t explain the cupping or the acupuncture, but let’s chalk it up to the fact that these are under the umbrella of “energy healing” perhaps (which I’d argue is an imaginary umbrella).
Also, in terms of actually trying to answer what makes some people creative (an important question, no doubt), this video is a little like Jack Skellington looking for the meaning of Christmas by dissecting teddy bears and squashing holly berries under a microscope. And I think most of us know how his attempt to take over Christmas went. Please, Grizzly Bear, come back off the Elizabeth Gilbert ledge.
Instead of dismissively saying science has been unsuccessful, why not look into what neuroscience research has to say about creativity? Look at how awesome all this research at the Tennenbaum Center for the Biology of Creativity at UCLA is! And here is Dr. Robert Bilder talking about it, and showing a funny video of a dog:
Here are some basic dimensions to creativity as he explained them:
- Novelty Generation – the ability to flexibly and adaptively generate products that are unique;
- Working Memory and Declarative Memory – the ability to maintain, and then use relevant information to guide goal-directed performance, along with the capacity to store and retrieve this information; and
- Response Inhibition – the ability to suppress habitual plans and substitute alternate actions in line with changing problem-solving demands.
As to why some people are this way and some aren’t, he mentions that there are genes for these things; but also that working memory circuits can be built upon. Once again, it’s an interaction of nature + nuture. That never gets old!
So, in sum:
- squirm-inducing and vaguely-sciencey music videos: good
- seeing an artist talk dismissively and inaccurately about science: bad
- using that as a moment to learn more about creativity: not too shabby