by Anthony Brandt and David Eagleman: With close study, the genealogies of even the most original ideas can be traced…
small mollusk known as the sea squirt does something strange. It swims around early in its life, eventually finds a place to attach like a barnacle, and then absorbs its own brain for nutrition. Why? Because it no longer needs its brain. It’s found its permanent home. The brain is what allowed it to identify and decide on its place to anchor, and now that the mission is accomplished, the creature rebuilds the nutrients of its brain into other organs. The lesson from the sea squirt is that brains are used for seeking and decision-making. As soon as an animal is settled in one place, it no longer needs its brain.
Even the most committed couch potato among us wouldn’t eat his own brain, and this is because humans don’t have a settling point. Our constant itch to combat routine makes creativity a biological mandate. What we seek in art and technology is surprise, not simply a fulfillment of expectations. As a result, a wild imagination has characterized the history of our species: we build intricate habitats, devise recipes for our food, dress in ever-changing plumage, communicate with elaborate chirps and howls, and travel between habitats on wings and wheels of our own design. No facet of our lives goes untouched by ingenuity.
Thanks to our appetite for novelty, innovation is requisite. It’s not something that only a few people do. The innovative drive lives in every human brain, and the resulting war against the repetitive is what powers the colossal changes that distinguish one generation from the next, one decade from the next, one year from the next. The drive to create the new is part of our biological makeup. We build cultures by the hundreds and new stories by the millions. We surround ourselves with things that have never existed before, while pigs and llamas and goldfish do not.
But where do our new ideas come from?