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  • So I am a surgeon who studies creativity,

  • and I have never had a patient tell me,

  • "I really want you to be creative during surgery,"

  • and so I guess there's a little bit of irony to it.

  • I will say though that, after having done surgery a lot,

  • it's similar to playing a musical instrument.

  • And for me, this deep and enduring fascination with sound

  • is what led me to both be a surgeon

  • and to study the science of sound, particularly music.

  • I'm going to talk over the next few minutes

  • about my career

  • in terms of how I'm able to study music

  • and try to grapple with all these questions

  • of how the brain is able to be creative.

  • I've done most of this work at Johns Hopkins University,

  • and at the National Institute of Health where I was previously.

  • I'll go over some science experiments and cover three musical experiments.

  • I will start off by playing a video for you.

  • This video is of Keith Jarrett, who's a well-known jazz improviser

  • and probably the most well-known, iconic example

  • of someone who takes improvisation to a higher level.

  • And he'll improvise entire concerts off the top of his head,

  • and he'll never play it exactly the same way again,

  • so as a form of intense creativity,

  • I think this is a great example.

  • And so why don't we go and click the video.

  • (Music)

  • (Music ends)

  • It's really a remarkable thing that happens there.

  • I've always as a listener, as a fan,

  • I listen to that, and I'm astounded.

  • I think -- how can this possibly be?

  • How can the brain generate that much information,

  • that much music, spontaneously?

  • And so I set out with this concept, scientifically,

  • that artistic creativity, it's magical, but it's not magic,

  • meaning that it's a product of the brain.

  • There's not too many brain-dead people creating art.

  • With this notion that artistic creativity is in fact a neurologic product,

  • I took this thesis that we could study it

  • just like we study any other complex neurologic process,

  • and there are subquestions that I put there.

  • Is it possible to study creativity scientifically?

  • And I think that's a good question.

  • And I'll tell you that most scientific studies of music,

  • they're very dense,

  • and when you go through them,

  • it's very hard to recognize the music in it.

  • In fact, they seem to be unmusical entirely

  • and to miss the point of the music.

  • This brings the second question:

  • Why should scientists study creativity?

  • Maybe we're not the right people to do it.

  • (Laughter)

  • Well it may be, but I will say that, from a scientific perspective,

  • we talked a lot about innovation today,

  • the science of innovation,

  • how much we understand about how the brain is able to innovate

  • is in its infancy,

  • and truly, we know very little about how we are able to be creative.

  • I think that we're going to see,

  • over the next 10, 20, 30 years,

  • a real science of creativity that's burgeoning

  • and is going to flourish,

  • Because we now have new methods that can enable us

  • to take this process like complex jazz improvisation,

  • and study it rigorously.

  • So it gets down to the brain.

  • All of us have this remarkable brain,

  • which is poorly understood, to say the least.

  • I think that neuroscientists have more questions than answers,

  • and I'm not going to give you answers today,

  • just ask a lot of questions.

  • And that's what I do in my lab.

  • I ask questions about what is the brain doing to enable us to do this.

  • This is the main method that I use. This is functional MRI.

  • If you've been in an MRI scanner, it's very much the same,

  • but this one is outfitted in a special way to not just take pictures of your brain,

  • but to also take pictures of active areas of the brain.

  • The way that's done is by the following:

  • There's something called BOLD imaging,

  • which is Blood Oxygen Level Dependent imaging.

  • When you're in an fMRI scanner, you're in a big magnet

  • that's aligning your molecules in certain areas.

  • When an area of the brain is active, meaning a neural area is active,

  • it gets blood flow shunted to that area.

  • That blood flow causes an increase in local blood to that area

  • with a deoxyhemoglobin change in concentration.

  • Deoxyhemoglobin can be detected by MRI,

  • whereas oxyhemoglobin can't.

  • So through this method of inference --

  • and we're measuring blood flow, not neural activity --

  • we say that an area of the brain that's getting more blood

  • was active during a particular task, and that's the crux of how fMRI works.

  • And it's been used since the '90s to study really complex processes.

  • I'm going to review a study that I did, which was jazz in an fMRI scanner.

  • It was done with a colleague, Alan Braun, at the NIH.

  • This is a short video of how we did this project.

  • (Video) Charles Limb: This is a plastic MIDI piano keyboard

  • that we use for the jazz experiments.

  • And it's a 35-key keyboard

  • designed to fit both inside the scanner,

  • be magnetically safe,

  • have minimal interference that would contribute to any artifact,

  • and have this cushion so that it can rest on the players' legs

  • while they're lying down in the scanner, playing on their back.

  • It works like this -- this doesn't actually produce any sound.

  • It sends out what's called a MIDI signal --

  • or a Musical Instrument Digital Interface --

  • through these wires into the box and then the computer,

  • which then trigger high-quality piano samples like this.

  • (Music)

  • (Music)

  • (Music ends)

  • OK, so it works.

  • And so through this piano keyboard,

  • we have the means to take a musical process and study it.

  • So what do you do now that you have this cool piano keyboard?

  • You can't just say, "It's great we have a keyboard."

  • We have to come up with a scientific experiment.

  • The experiment really rests on the following:

  • What happens in the brain during something that's memorized and over-learned,

  • and what happens in the brain during something

  • that is spontaneously generated, or improvised,

  • in a way that's matched motorically

  • and in terms of lower-level sensory motor features?

  • I have here what we call the paradigms.

  • There's a scale paradigm, which is playing a scale up and down, memorized,

  • then there's improvising on a scale,

  • quarter notes, metronome, right hand --

  • scientifically very safe,

  • but musically really boring.

  • Then there's the bottom one, which is called the jazz paradigm.

  • So we brought professional jazz players to the NIH,

  • and we had them memorize this piece of music on the lower-left,

  • which is what you heard me playing --

  • and we had them improvise to the same chord changes.

  • And if you can hit that lower-right sound icon,

  • that's an example of what was recorded in the scanner.

  • (Music)

  • (Music ends)

  • In the end, it's not the most natural environment,

  • but they're able to play real music.

  • And I've listened to that solo 200 times,

  • and I still like it.

  • And the musicians were comfortable in the end.

  • We first measured the number of notes.

  • Were they playing more notes when they were improvising?

  • That was not what was going on.

  • And then we looked at the brain activity.

  • I will try to condense this for you.

  • These are contrast maps that are showing subtractions between what changes

  • when you're improvising vs. when you're doing something memorized.

  • In red is an area that's active in the prefrontal cortex,

  • the frontal lobe of the brain,

  • and in blue is this area that was deactivated.

  • So we had this focal area called the medial prefrontal cortex

  • that went way up in activity.

  • We had this broad patch of area called the lateral prefrontal cortex

  • that went way down in activity,

  • I'll summarize that for you.

  • These are multifunctional areas of the brain,

  • these are not the jazz areas of the brain.

  • They do a whole host of things

  • that have to do with self-reflection,

  • introspection, working memory etc.

  • Really, consciousness is seated in the frontal lobe.

  • But we have this combination

  • of an area that's thought to be involved in self-monitoring, turning off,

  • and this area that's thought to be autobiographical,

  • or self-expressive, turning on.

  • We think, at least in this preliminary --

  • it's one study; it's probably wrong, but it's one study --

  • (Laughter)

  • we think that at least a reasonable hypothesis

  • is that, to be creative,

  • you should have this weird dissociation in your frontal lobe.

  • One area turns on, and a big area shuts off,

  • so that you're not inhibited, you're willing to make mistakes,

  • so that you're not constantly shutting down

  • all of these new generative impulses.

  • Now a lot of people know that music is not always a solo activity --

  • sometimes it's done communicatively.

  • The next question was:

  • What happens when musicians are trading back and forth,

  • something called "trading fours,"

  • which is something they do normally in a jazz experiment.

  • So this is a 12-bar blues,

  • and I've broken it down into four-bar groups,

  • so you would know how you would trade.

  • We brought a musician into the scanner, same way,

  • had them memorize this melody

  • then had another musician out in the control room

  • trading back and forth interactively.

  • So this is a musician, Mike Pope,

  • one of the world's best bassists and a fantastic piano player.

  • (Music)

  • He's now playing the piece that we just saw

  • a little better than I wrote it.

  • (Video) CL: Mike, come on in.

  • Mike Pope: May the force be with you.

  • Nurse: Nothing in your pockets, Mike?

  • MP: No. Nothing's in my pockets.

  • CL: You have to have the right attitude to agree to do it.

  • (Laughter)

  • It's kind of fun, actually.

  • (Music)

  • Now we're playing back and forth.

  • He's in there. You can see his legs up there.

  • (Music)

  • And then I'm in the control room here, playing back and forth.

  • (Music)

  • (Music ends)

  • (Video) Mike Pope: This is a pretty good representation

  • of what it's like.

  • And it's good that it's not too quick.

  • The fact that we do it over and over again

  • lets you acclimate to your surroundings.

  • So the hardest thing for me was the kinesthetic thing,

  • looking at my hands through two mirrors,

  • laying on my back,

  • and not able to move at all except for my hand.

  • That was challenging.

  • But again --

  • there were moments, for sure --

  • (Laughter)

  • there were moments of real, honest-to-God musical interplay, for sure.

  • CL: At this point, I'll take a few moments.

  • So what you're seeing here --

  • and I'm doing a cardinal sin in science,

  • which is to show you preliminary data.

  • This is one subject's data.

  • This is, in fact, Mike Pope's data.

  • So what am I showing you here?

  • When he was trading fours with me, improvising vs. memorized,

  • his language areas lit up, his Broca's area,

  • in the inferior frontal gyrus on the left.

  • He had it also homologous on the right.

  • This is an area thought to be involved in expressive communication.

  • This whole notion that music is a language --

  • maybe there's a neurologic basis to it after all,

  • and we can see it when two musicians are having a musical conversation.

  • So we've done this on eight subjects now,

  • and we're getting all the data together,

  • hopefully we'll have something to say about it meaningfully.

  • Now when I think about improvisation and the language, what's next?

  • Rap, of course, rap -- freestyle.

  • I've always been fascinated by freestyle.

  • And let's play this video.

  • (Video) Mos Def: Brown skin I be, standing five-ten I be

  • Rockin' it when I be, in your vicinity

  • Whole-style synergy, recognize symmetry

  • Go and try to injure me, broke 'em down chemically