The Current

Try this memory exercise — and find out what it reveals about creativity and the brain

Neuroscientist Henning Beck, author of Scatterbrain: How the Mind's Mistakes Make Humans Creative, Innovative and Successful, explains why the shortcomings in our brains are actually what makes us creative.

Henning Beck's new book looks at the benefits of having imperfect brains

Our brains aren't perfect machines, and that's a good thing, argues one neuroscientist. (Shutterstock)
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Truck. Street. Drive. Key. Garage. SUV. Accelerate. Steering wheel.

Neuroscientist Henning Beck asked The Current's interim host Laura Lynch to read this list of words aloud — and then a moment later, asked her how many she could remember.

Without looking back, how many can you recall? If the answer is "not many," don't panic.

In his new book Scatterbrain: How the Mind's Mistakes Make Humans Creative, Innovative and Successful, Beck argues that there are benefits that come with having imperfect brains.

"A perfect world is the end of progress," he told Lynch.

"It is way more important to try out new stuff, fail, fall down and then [stand] up again. This is the spirit we need to change the world."

Memory is not located anywhere in the brain; it is constructed all the time you're remembering.- Henning Beck

Our brains — and our imperfect memories — are already very good at that, he added.

Lynch was able to remember five words on the list, which Beck called "pretty good."

"It is not the case that you store and save information like on a flash drive in a computer," explained Beck.

Rather, he said "memory is not located anywhere in the brain; it is constructed all the time you're remembering."

In his new book, Henning Beck argues that it's more important to 'try out new stuff, fail, fall down and then [stand] up again.' (Greystone Publications)

He used the example of an orchestra, arguing that if you're observing musicians at rest, it's impossible to know what they sound like.

"The music, the melody emerges when the musicians start to play with each other. It's how all the musicians play together," he told Lynch.

"Same with the brain. It is how all these nerve cells interact in the very moment and create this kind of activity pattern — what you call a memory."

Neuroscientist Henning Beck gives Laura Lynch a comprehension test, then explains what her answer reveals. 2:18

He said that "sometimes you highlight a specific image, sometimes you highlight this specific word, sometimes you make up new words, just to fit in to this whole concept." 

Time to test yourself again (or your friends): How many of those words can you remember now?


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Karin Marley.

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