UCL News


UCL in the News: Measuring creativity

20 November 2007

Can we measure creativity? One leading scientist, Professor Semir Zeki [UCL Anatomy & Developmental Biology], certainly thinks so.

And he's been given more than £1 million to prove it.

Prof Zeki feels this area has been sorely neglected by neurobiologists. But now the Wellcome Trust … is backing his research.

With his colleague, Prof Ray Dolan [UCL Institute of Neurology], Prof Zeki will use the funding to establish a programme of research into "neuroaesthetics", turning a scientific spotlight on questions that writers, artists and philosophers have debated for millennia. …

His work is also spurred by the idea that, in one limited sense, your brain is easy to understand. The most complex object in the known universe, it has been honed by evolution to do one job: help you survive to pass on your genes. …

Our minds may have evolved not just as survival machines but as courtship machines, employing music and art to get the most promising sets of genes into bed. …

About 15 years ago, Prof Zeki found that an image called Enigma, one that produced an illusion of swirling movement, stimulated the motion centres in the thin rind at the back of the brain. …

While scanning the brains of volunteers, gazing at paintings they classified as ugly or beautiful, Prof Zeki even found that beauty engaged a part of the brain called the orbito-frontal cortex: the more a painting impresses, the more that centre crackles with activity.

He believes neuroscientists are failing to appreciate how works of art mirror the workings of the brain. "Neuroaesthetics will teach biologists to use the products of the brain in art, music, literature and mathematics to better understand how the brain functions," says Prof Zeki.

"The results will not only increase our knowledge about the workings of the human brain but will also give deep insights into human nature."

Roger Highfield, 'The Daily Telegraph'