Will Burns
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Unleash Creativity Blog

Scientific studies that help us unleash our most human attribute: creativity.

To Increase Creativity Thomas Edison Toggled The State Between Awake And Asleep

 Photo by  Amy Treasure  on  Unsplash

Photo by Amy Treasure on Unsplash

I think we can all agree that Thomas Edison was a creative genius. Turns out, his experimental nature didn't stop with electricity and telephones. He experimented on himself with ways to increase his creativity. One involved perpetuating a state between awake and asleep because he apparently believed that this "between state" was the sweet spot for creativity.

Perpetuating a half-conscious state.

Edison engineered a brilliant way to maintain such a state that involved a metal pail, ball bearings and a chair. This little method is nearly as cool as the lightbulb.

According to legend, Edison would be working on an engineering problem and would sit down in a chair with a fist full of ball bearings in one hand. Beneath that hand on the floor was a metal bucket. Edison would think about his engineering problem while allowing himself to drift to sleep.

Thing is, when he was close to a sleep state his hand would relax and release the ball bearings into the bucket. Imagine the sound. Of course, he'd wake up in response to that battery of metallic noise, pick up the ball bearings and try to fall asleep again.

Again and again. All the while effectively maintaining a state between awake and asleep and maximizing that beautiful dream-like creativity nirvana. 

Research coming.

Now the BBC is reporting that the University of Cambridge is beginning a research study to understand this between state. They are designing experiments to better understand how the conscious person turns into an unaware sleeper.

Further, and more to the point of this Unleash Creativity Blog, they plan to study these between states and their effects on creativity. 

But based on what we already know it makes sense that this between state would be a more potent creative state. The less our working memory is filtering out "irrelevant" thoughts, for example, the more divergent thinking is allowed. No better way to tamp down our working memory than putting it to sleep, right?

Not to mention the uninhibited, no-rules, nearly-psychedelic experience that our dreams present to us every night. Dipping a toe into these dream states without fully engaging in sleep could be the ticket to greater creativity. But only if we can somehow tap into it without losing consciousness completely.

It's a fascinating topic and I will report back once we get the University of Cambridge's findings. Maybe Edison was right.


Will Burns is a Forbes Contributor, a marketing consultant, and CEO of Ideasicle, a virtual idea generating company. Follow him on Twitter @WillOBurns.

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