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What Neuroscience Tells Us About Innovation

One of my favorite neuroscience books is The Ravenous Brain by Daniel Bor, a Professor at Cambridge. It explores the science behind our consciousness and proposes a model for how it works. He posits that human consciousness evolved to help us learn by extracting relevant information from our surroundings and organizing it into meaningful patterns by using what he describes as "chunking" - grouping multiple objects, sights, sounds, smells and feelings, to give rise to a scene or memory. In trying to understand the wiring and function of our brain - the most complex and intricate mechanism in the human body - he explores how the networks of 90 billion nerve cells work together to produce perception, action, cognition and emotion.

Having re-read the book recently, I came across a fascinating observation the author makes, linking cognition to creativity. He argues that consciousness evolved as an accelerated knowledge-gathering tool, an “ideas factory” of sorts that underpins innovation. He describes it as the “mental space dedicated to innovation, a key component of which is the discovery of deep structures within the contents of our awareness.”

He wonders why, for instance, after all our physical needs have been met, we recreationally solve crossword or Sudoku puzzles? Such behavior may appear biologically wasteful, but Bor sees it as a search for structure that carries immense evolutionary benefits. It led our ancestors to discover fire and farming, saw great gains in modern society from discoveries in science and technology, and helps us understand and control the world around us.

So, innovation is an innate human trait. Bor's is as convincing an argument as I've come across so far in the literature on innovation!

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