Thoughts About Creativity, Technical Work, and the Brain – [2/2]

Speaking of the internal cues that signal “it’s all right; it’s done and you can stop now”, I am reminded once again to Donald Trump. He has a big mouth and constantly demonstrates that he lacks any sense of propriety or boundaries – even a sense that things might be precariously out of balance and dangerous. And he cannot stop himself; not now… or ever. He’s missing any sense of “it’s done; you can stop now” — which is, in everyday life, a person’s ordinary and necessary sense of closure and satisfaction in things large and small. Trump doesn’t have that self-regulating function.

Living life like that, carrying a nameless discomfort around day and night, year after year, without it ever reaching orgasm (release or closure), must be a living hell. It does go a long way toward explaining Trump’s chronic insomnia. And maybe his compulsive licentiousness. He lacks the capacity to feel satisfied, even with his own prior decisions— although they are decisions in only the most primitive and unreliable sense of that word. Clearly, when one gives such people power they become dangerous. And one wonders why that person’s supporters have allowed that to happen, and for what reasons.

On the other side of the divide, people who are technicians (as opposed to those who rely heavily on internal cues) use precisely those left-brain tools: they stop when they have met the explicit requirements of their job assignment or task. Are they “right” or “wrong” to do this? Neither. They’re just following a different brain-map and a more or less mechanical set of “assembly instructions”. If we were looking at two guitar makers operating out of these different mindsets then we could say that one would essentially be making a sculpture and would stop “when it was done”, while the other would be using the Numbered Instructions Model, and would stop when the instructions ended. If these individuals were painters then one would essentially be painting from a live model and the other would be painting by numbers — much like Secretary of Defense Robert MacNamara had been doing when he was managing the Viet-Nam war; he’d been head of General Motors before then and his idea of running the war was to run it exactly like he’d run General Motors.

In the half-brain version of the previously given example of Engaging With An Enemy, the resolutions to such a task are unsatisfactory indeed. If you needed to engage with the enemy and had only a calculating brain, you’d very probably make up your mind that only one result was acceptable and go for it without flexibility, re-evaluation, or room for new input. Ecce Robert MacNamara – as well as General William Westmoreland and, later, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. If you had a Trumplike brain you would be announcing a new goal for the challenge every week and the troops in the field would be spinning their wheels until at the next election. The ineptness shown in these examples is breathtaking.

If these are silly examples they are also tragic ones, but they go to something that is equally basic to a certain kind of guitar making. For instance, my students have had a few breakthrough experiences in exploring this in their own guitar work. They’d ask me for an opinion of a bridge or rosette that they’d made… and perhaps be surprised that I was sort of lukewarm in my reception of it. We’d then sit down and discuss what I was seeing vs. what they were seeing — and what that was all about.

Those sessions never fail to be interesting: these individuals will have never yet been asked to sit down and simply look at something— and I do mean simply look at the thing, and think about it exactly as it is in the moment in and of and by itself, and how its various parts fit together, and how it fits into its own greater context, and certainly without anyone telling them what they should think about it.

They may have read books on how-to, or heard lectures about aesthetics, history of design, or concern with market value or the luthier who made a particular guitar, or had been made aware of other people’s pre-judgments and aesthetics (and unconsciously making these individuals into points of reference for how they should think about their own work)… but they had never been asked to think for themselves and have a sense of what they themselves really thought. I ask that one just look at something and get a sense of what it really is, and what one likes about it or dislikes about it, as it is at that moment… without me suggesting to them what they should think… and then talk to me about it.

About the political thing: it is clear to me that in that realm, too, people have never been allowed nor encouraged… to… uh… simply… think… for… themselves. But that is a great way to get in touch with a sense of whether “it’s done, I can relax now” or not.

Anyway, who knew that guitar making and politics were so intimately connected?