The Frontal Cortex

Lehrer Squared

I was on the Brian Lehrer show (no relation) this morning talking about insight, firefighters and the right hemisphere. Give it a listen. And I’m curious how readers engineer their own insights. Warm showers? Long walks? Richard Feynman preferred strip clubs, a cognitive strategy I have yet to test.


  1. #1 Luci
    August 7, 2008

    The Star Wars intro was tacky and they didn’t give you much time, so the NY article is essential reading. Seed of your next book?

    I wonder if the researchers at Jung-Beeman’s lab found gamma spikes during other moments without the puzzle solving as the focus. Are the spikes popping up from a background of those calm right hem alpha wave patterns or some other states.

    The neurochemistry link reminded me of all kinds of sleep/dream observations from J. Allan Hobson. Amines losing their grip and cholines being set loose for the waking periods of wandering, imagining and free association – the dreamier bits of the day. The warm showers, getting lost in certain music, manual tasks that don’t demand moment to moment concentration. Maybe any repetitive activity that invokes the expression – I could do that with my eyes closed. Relaxed but not so zoned out that when an answer springs to life, the left brain has a fair chance to catch it.

    And aren’t strippers supposed to be invigorating?

  2. #2 selva
    August 8, 2008

    Showers work. I tell myself it’s the sense of freedom that a shower affords – from all social etiquette – that frees the mind.

    Coincidentally, I just listened to you at NPR:

    Shame it’s such a short seven minutes programme.

  3. #3 sericmarr
    August 8, 2008

    I am trying to develop as a writer and visual artist. I have adopted a regimen that seems to be working. I do Chinese stretching exercises then an hour of walking meditation. I just walk loosely and freely in a circular pattern with reduced light. Ideas for writing come to me during this time. They just sort of float into my mental space ( Is Wernicke’s Area being stimulated). I then sit down and write for three hours developing upon what came to me during the meditation.

    My art work seems to have been vivified as well. I blend and freely associate mental images which I then draw. Some really interesting work is being generated in this manner.

  4. #4 OftenWrongTed
    August 12, 2008

    Insight for Virginia Woolf: “Then one day walking round Tavistock Square I made up, as I sometimes make up my books, To The Lighthouse; in a great, involuntary rush.” ( 52 Tavistock Square was the London home of the Woolf’s from 1924 to 1939).
    from: Moments of Being, A Sketch of the Past, isbn: 0151620342.

  5. #5 Alvaro
    August 13, 2008

    Jonah, what a great article you wrote for the New Yorker. Thanks!

    In terms of what I do to facilitate the appearance of insights, I’d say two main things, depending on the type of insight. If we are talking about something “external” (solving a complex problem of the type you described with the firefighter example), my best approach is to focus on the real end objective and let hyphotesis naturally appear. The key skill here is to really focus on the outcome (survive) instead of some intermediary step (run away from the fire) that can bias thinking.

    If we are talking about something “internal” (i.e, when I proposed to my now wife), I need to let my emotions participate in the decision-making, which I help do by “quieting my voice of judgement” through meditation, staring at art or a beautiful landscape, going dancing…

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