September 15, 2023

The Mind's Creative Process


Posted by Sharmarke Hujale


4 min read

In the first part of the series I talked about how nothing is truly originality, and then I went on to showcase renowned figures to make a point on how influences dictate what we create.

In this post, we’re diving into the mind’s creative process, and how it actually works.

One of the most dreaded questions you can be asked in the creative process is:

“Think outside the box.”

Without an explanation of how to do so, it isn’t very helpful. You’re left trying to a problem with little guidance.

Creativity depends on the ability to refashion existing ideas.

That means you often have to go back and forth at the same time. It’s not enough to resurface old ideas. You’ve to put a daring touch on the raw material at your disposal.

So how does the mind make new ideas?

You will be surprised to find out that there’s not much difference in terms of creativity when you look at an artist and a scientist.

They both go through the exact same cognitive process, and it boils down to three ways: bending, breaking, and blending.

This was a framework proposed by neuroscientist David Eagleman.

Let’s go through each of these.

Bending: Twisted Out of Shape

The bending process involves improving and upgrading an existing idea or concept.

It can be done in multiple ways. Through size, style, shape, material, speed, etc.

So what does that look like in practice?

Back in 1920, there was a big problem with driving safely at night. Back then, they weren’t glare-resistant windshields.

The inventor Edwin Land was determined to solve that problem.

How did he do that, exactly?

He shrunk large crystals into small microscopic crystals to mimic the natural crystals which were the most used polarizers at the time.

He managed to make sheets of glass with tiny crystals placed inside of them.

This resulted in windshields that were transparent and reduced significantly the amount of glare that a driver would experience.

Likewise, the artist Katsushika Hokusai also used the same cognitive process of bending by depicting Mount Fuji in different styles and seasons.

Picture taken from

Breaking: Taken Apart

The breaking process is the art of creating through the fracture.

You take something apart into individual components and reassemble them into something new.

An example of that is the artist Barnett Newman with his piece Broken Obelisk. He snapped the piece in half and flipped it upside down to create something different.

Broken Obelisk in front of Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas.

The same process of breaking happens in the science.

The scientist Frederick Sanger figured out a way to sequence amino acids that made up the insulin molecule by chopping the molecule into manageable pieces.

Breaking this apart enables us to reshape individual components in new ways.

Blending: Merging Sources

Probably most are you familiar with the idea of blending—you take two or more ideas and combine them into something new.

I mentioned briefly about the bullet train in Japan in my last newsletter issue.

In the 90’s, The Japanese engineer Eiji Nakatsu was working on the bullet trains.

There was just one problem. The trains caused a loud, annoying sound when leaving the tunnels.

The solution to the problem was found in nature, particularly the kingfisher bird.

He noticed the kingfisher bird dive rapidly into the water with its beak, making almost no sound.

What was the solution?

Give the train a beak.

Do you see the similarities?

Image taken from
Image taken from

We also see this blending of ideas happening with comic superheroes such as Spider-Man, Batman, Black Panther, Ant-Man, and Wolverine.

When we look at creations made by inventors, engineers, artists, and scientists they all innovated through the same process of bending, breaking, or blending.

This isn’t exclusive to renowned figures.

The same thing happens for you and me.

We take the raw materials, the things that we know. And turn it into new interesting ideas and concepts.

If you’re interested in learning more about the framework in detail. I recommend you read David Eagleman’s book: The Runaway Species - How Human Creativity Remakes the World.

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