Will Burns

Unleash Creativity Blog

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

Can Our Soul Override Our Body?

David, pictured here with his cousin Charlie a few years ago.

David, pictured here with his cousin Charlie a few years ago.

A sudden flash of coherence from an Alzheimer's patient at the end of his life. A moment of responsiveness from a boy with severe cerebral palsy. The unexplained musical genius from an untrained autistic man. In each case, the state of the body suggests that the coherence, the responsiveness, and the genius are impossible. And yet it happens.

To date, I have focused my creativity research on hard science, the brain and our behaviors. But the above examples of extreme and "impossible" abilities has me wondering. Is the brain the beginning and the end of our abilities and awareness? Or might there be another force at work here beyond our brains and beyond our bodies?

Let's start with the evidence.

A sudden flash of coherence.

I attended the funeral for my uncle last week. He was a wonderful man and lived a long, meaningful life. At the end, though, Alzheimer's had robbed him of his personality and his ability to recognize anyone close to him. Towards the end he was utterly unresponsive.

At his funeral, I spoke to my cousin who was with him in his last days and she recalled something truly amazing.

At the very end he had a moment of clarity. He suddenly not only recognized my cousin, who was at his bedside, he grabbed her hand, called her by name and told her he loved her as he kissed her hand. She was so excited and surprised at her father's sudden alertness she called her brothers and sister so they could share in this profound experience.

The next day their father, my uncle, died peacefully. 

My cousin told the nurses what happened. They admitted that this kind of sudden coherence happens "all the time" right before death. 

But how could he have regained his faculties when his brain was all but ruined by his Alzheimer's?

A moment of responsiveness.

While in my hometown attending my uncle's funeral I got to see the rest of my family, including my 28-year-old nephew, David. When David was born there were serious complications that left him without oxygen for an extended period. To the point that he was left with severe cerebral palsy. He has been unable to move freely, see, speak, or communicate in any way, and has been moved through life in a wheelchair by his loving parents.

I had a couple minutes alone with David waiting for his father (my brother) and, despite the fact I know he doesn't really know me and can't understand me, I still like to talk to him. I said, "Charlie (my son) says hi, David." The second I said that David's normally wandering eyes stopped as if he was listening and then he smiled a huge smile. I swear to god he understood me.

I told my brother about this and he said that it happens a lot to him, though we both acknowledged that it's more likely wishful thinking on our part and/or sometimes coincidence.

Still, what if it's true? What if David, like my uncle, had a flash of real understanding despite such a thing being clinically "impossible"?

Could it be that something else is at work here?

For example, could it be that the soul - a person's essence, a person's spirit, or whatever you want to call it - might be able to sometimes trump the state a body is in? Put another way, can our souls override the restrictions of our bodies sometimes?

Certainly looked that way with my uncle and my nephew. 

And certainly looks that way when an autistic child with zero training can somehow suddenly play the piano entirely by ear like Nathan Pustka:


What's any of this have to do with creativity?

Our working memory is responsible for our ability to focus. So it stands to reason that inhibiting our working memory will also inhibit our ability to focus on reality. And, in so doing, liberate our creativity.

Science has given us many ways to tamper down our working memory, many of the studies of which I have reported on this blog. For example, walking increases creativity by 60%. Why? Because the act of walking gives our working memory something to do OTHER THAN filter out seemingly "irrelevant" thoughts, thoughts that are necessary in the creative process.

Now, consider how you feel when you have an idea. It's not called a "eureka moment" for nothing. It's like a lightning bolt when a fresh new idea hits. It seems to come out of nowhere and not out of a conscious intellectual grind.

As Paul McCartney put it in a recent interview when asked how he writes songs, "You never get it down. I don't know how to do this. You'd think I do, but it's not one of these things you ever really know how to do."

Could a flash of genius - like those of my uncle, my nephew and people like Nathan Pustka and Paul McCartney - be the result of more than just neurons and synapses?

The ancients may have known all along.

The word "inspire" means "in spirit."

The word "inspire," a word closely associated with creativity and ideas, can be traced back to the Latin inspirare (“to breathe or blow into”), which itself is from the word spirare, meaning “to breathe.” It has come figuratively to mean “to influence, move, or guide (as to speech or action) through divine or supernatural agency or power.”

According to Mirriam-Webster's Dictionary, "Many of the early figurative senses of inspire are religious in nature, so it is not surprising to learn that the word shares a connection with spirit."

Might the ancients have been onto something here? 

American philosopher, Dr. Wayne Dyer, once said, "When I let myself align with Spirit...I’m able to receive the vibrational energies of my Source—call them voices, messages, silent reminders, invisible suggestions, or what have you—they’re vibrations of energy. I’ve learned to get my 'self' out of the way and remove resistance to the free flow of this spiritual energy."

Sound familiar? Every scientific study I present here on this Unleash blog shows us how we can get out of our own way by distracting our working memory. I wonder if that may be true but that some kind of spiritual intervention is happening at the same time. I wouldn't have thought that our soul (or whatever you want to call it) had a role in creativity had these other stories with my uncle and nephew not happened. 

But why not? What is the ultimate evidence of the highest power, if not creativity? 

Perhaps, as that carpenter from Nazareth once suggested, we are all, indeed, gods.