Notebooks of the Mind: Explorations of Thinking

Notebooks of the Mind: Explorations of Thinking

Notebooks of the Mind: Explorations of Thinking

Notebooks of the Mind: Explorations of Thinking

Synopsis

How do creative people think? Do great works of the imagination originate in words or in images? Is there a rational explanation for the sudden appearance of geniuses like Mozart or Einstein? Such questions have fascinated people for centuries; only in recent years, however, has cognitive psychology been able to provide some clues to the mysterious process of creativity. In this revised edition of Notebooks of the Mind, Vera John-Steiner combines imaginative insight with scientific precision to produce a startling account of the human mind working at its highest potential. To approach her subject John-Steiner goes directly to the source, assembling the thoughts of "experienced thinkers"--artists, philosophers, writers, and scientists able to reflect on their own imaginative patterns. More than fifty interviews (with figures ranging from Jessica Mitford to Aaron Copland), along with excerpts from the diaries, letters, and autobiographies of such gifted giants as Leo Tolstoy, Marie Curie, and Diego Rivera, among others, provide illuminating insights into creative activity. We read, for example, of Darwin's preoccupation with the image of nature as a branched tree while working on his concept of evolution. Mozart testifies to the vital influence on his mature art of the wondrous "bag of memories" he retained from childhood. Anais Nin describes her sense of words as oppressive, explaining how imagistic free association freed her as a writer. Adding these personal accounts to laboratory studies of thought process, John-Steiner takes a refreshingly holistic approach to the question of creativity. What emerges is an intriguing demonstration of how specific sociocultural circumstances interact with certain personality traits to encourage the creative mind. Among the topics examined here are the importance of childhood mentor figures; the lengthy apprenticeship of the talented person; and the development of self- expression through highly individualistic languages, whether in images, movement or inner speech. Now, with a new introduction, this award-winning book provides an uniquely broad-based study of the origins, development and fruits of human inspiration.

Excerpt

Reading Notebooks of the Mind recalled an incident, a peaceful moment in World War II. During a long voyage on a troopship, a few people who liked poetry somehow met each other and found in the ship's library Edna St.Vincent Millay Conversations at Midnight. We read it aloud, taking turns with the different voices. the long poem presents a fascinating and varied array of people gathered in Millay's mind to reflect upon the great questions of life.

This memory was awakened by Vera John-Steiner's book. For she has assembled a company of "experienced thinkers" (to use her wise and modest phrase) as conversationalists in a quiet and comfortable, yet disciplined reflection on the creative process. of course, these conversationalists, numbering over fifty, do not ever gather together in the flesh. These are dialogues orchestrated by the author of the book, bringing out certain features of the creative process: the long apprenticeships, the continuous interaction of person and society, the varied languages or modalities of creative thought, and the importance of character in sustaining patient, disciplined hard work.

The author's idea of uniting these reflections differs from anthologies on creativity in which each contributor takes his or her turn and disappears, a rapidly fading memory quickly outshone by the next luminary. in Notebooks of the Mind, speakers appear and reappear, as the author reorganizes their reflections into a serious and many-sided examination of a set of unifying themes. It becomes clear that being creative is a self-reflective process. This is almost self-evident in the case of scientific creativity, because scientific thought must justify itself and . . .

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