Cognitive Mechanisms Underlying Creative Thought

Liane Gabora

In this talk I will present a hypothesis about how the mind engages in creative thought to produce something genuinely new and interesting. When one is confronted with a situation that could be solved or facilitated by creative problem-solving or self expression, one enters a state of mind in which each thought activates, and potentially retrieves information from, a large cognitive receptive field containing many memory locations. Because of the distributed, content-addressable structure of memory, the diverse contents of these many locations merge to generate the next thought. The result is that the new ideas that emerge are not randomly generated, but reflect the associative structure of memory, and thus patterns of correlation one has experienced in the past. As one focuses on an idea, the region searched and retrieved from narrows, such that the next thought is the product of fewer memory locations. This enables a shift from association-based to causation-based thinking, which facilitates the fine-tuning and manifestation of the creative work. I will discuss the relation of this hypothesis to the notion of concepts existing in potentiality states and collapsed states, and to work on conceptual closure.