But I thought of this question last week, as I was asked to give a talk on the past 50 years of creativity to the 50th anniversary party of the Product Design program at Stanford University. I had been a part of this program from its beginning until my retirement and had been quite involved in reading, teaching, consulting about and working on problems involving creativity, so I found this an interesting assignment.
One major change has occurred in the nature-nurture debate, which can sometimes bring up the brain-mind topic. Fifty years ago, we (or at least those of us around universities) were taught to view people as being formed primarily by nurture – their upbringing, their culture, their friends, and perhaps their schooling. Certainly people did not totally accept this, but it was politically correct to espouse it. Since that time, due to research in the social sciences and our preoccupation with genetics, this view has shifted. I have never seen a figure as to how much, but I would say that we give two thirds credit to what we have learned, and one third to our genes (brain), and the genetics argument continues to charge ahead.
An example of such thinking is a nicely written book written by Peter Whybrow in 2005 entitled American Mania: When More is Not Enough (W. W. Norton, NY—click on icon at the right for more information). At the time he was director of the Semel Institute for NeuroScience and Human Behavior at UCLA and the Judson Braun Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine. In his book Professor Whybrow discusses the reasons that so many of us U.S. citizens seem to drive ourselves to acquire more than we need, whether it be money, possessions, food, or whatever, at the expense of time and energy that we could use to better improve our satisfaction with our lives , and the welfare of our families and communities.
Whybrow argues partly from an evolutionary standpoint—through most of our evolution we have lived in scarcity, and have developed strong signals to inform us when our needs (food?) are not being met, but weaker signals when we have enough (the cause of obesity?). He also argues as a psychiatrist (“mania; a dysfunctional state of mind that begins with a joyous sense of excitement and high productivity, but escalates into reckless pursuit, irritability, and confusion, before cycling down into depression” —sound familiar?) and finally as a neuroscientist, explaining the purposes and functions of various parts and processes of the mind, and how they can cause us to lose the balance of our lives. He believes that genetics is a strong influence on this, and uses immigrants as a class of people that obviously pursue risk and uncertainty, and whose descendants do likewise.
It is a good read, and will get you thinking. And it speaks to both mind and brain.