In a recent interview for a position in the highly competitive NBC page program, one of my students was asked for a list of five things he could do with a pencil. I had him share the encounter with the rest of his class – including his list of five very creative answers – to help them understand that job interviews provide an opportunity to show a potential employer things that cannot be captured in a resume or through a grade point average. 

This morning I came across an article in the NY Times article titled, “Charting Creativity: Signposts of a Hazy Territory” that offered some context for the pencil question. Patricia Cohen writes:

Grab a timer and set it for one minute. Now list as many creative uses for a brick as you can imagine. Go.

The question is part of a classic test for creativity, a quality that scientists are trying for the first time to track in the brain.

They hope to figure out precisely which biochemicals, electrical impulses and regions were used when, say,Picasso painted “Guernica,” or Louise Nevelson assembled her wooden sculptures. Using M.R.I. technology, researchers are monitoring what goes on inside a person’s brain while he or she engages in a creative task.

It is an interesting article that goes on to discuss what it takes to observe and measure creativity at its presumed source – the brain. And yet I could not help but wonder whether science is attempting to put a box around something that is boundless: The creative potential of a human being which, I believe, evolves through a lifetime and is rooted in mind, body and soul. 

I am torn, of course. At once fascinated by the studies and repelled by what appears to be a human need to observe, categorize and explain things that are likely beyond our capacity to know. A question resulted…

Why do we have so little tolerance for mystery and wonder?
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