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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.
There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say, ‘It is yet more difficult than you thought.’ This is the muse of form. It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction, to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.
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Wendell Berry, from Poetry and Marriage: The Use of Old Forms”

Saw this quoted in Parker Palmer’s excellent reflection on celebrating one’s obstacles.

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If you’re looking for a whole new perspective on the value of mathematics, Stanford University’s Keith Devlin shall provide. With his wonderfully lilting English (Yorkshire?) accent and as sharp of a mind as you can imagine, he compares mathematical equations to sonnets and says that what most of us learn in school doesn’t begin to convey what mathematics is. That technology may free more of us to discover the wonder of mathematical thinking — as a reflection of the inner world of our minds.

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How do we prime our brains to take the meandering mental paths necessary for creativity? New techniques of brain imaging, neuroscientist Rex Jung says, are helping us gain a whole new view on the differences between intelligence, creativity, and personality.

"With intelligence, there’s the analogy I’ve used is there’s this superhighway in the brain that allows you to get from point A to point B. With creativity, it’s a slower, more meandering process where you want to take the side roads and even the dirt roads to get there."

One of our most popular interviews in which Dr. Jung unsettles some old assumptions — and suggests some new connections between creativity and family life, creativity and aging, and creativity and purpose.

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"Brainstorming is the worst thing you can do. The main reason why is because of this process of trying out strange new ideas versus when you put people together in a room, almost invariably they will try to conform socially. So you will get creative ideas, but you won’t get as creative when people are trying to please each other than when they’re trying to push the envelope. And so the studies invariably show that the quality of the creative ideas that people put out individually are invariably higher in quality than those done in a group format. So another myth bites the dust." —Rex Jung
This interview with Dr. Jung on creativity is incredible. It’ll debunk myths and confirm ideas you may know instinctively but have given credence too.
Photo by Simon Drouin
"Brainstorming is the worst thing you can do. The main reason why is because of this process of trying out strange new ideas versus when you put people together in a room, almost invariably they will try to conform socially. So you will get creative ideas, but you won’t get as creative when people are trying to please each other than when they’re trying to push the envelope. And so the studies invariably show that the quality of the creative ideas that people put out individually are invariably higher in quality than those done in a group format. So another myth bites the dust." —Rex Jung
This interview with Dr. Jung on creativity is incredible. It’ll debunk myths and confirm ideas you may know instinctively but have given credence too.
Photo by Simon Drouin

"Brainstorming is the worst thing you can do. The main reason why is because of this process of trying out strange new ideas versus when you put people together in a room, almost invariably they will try to conform socially. So you will get creative ideas, but you won’t get as creative when people are trying to please each other than when they’re trying to push the envelope. And so the studies invariably show that the quality of the creative ideas that people put out individually are invariably higher in quality than those done in a group format. So another myth bites the dust." —Rex Jung

This interview with Dr. Jung on creativity is incredible. It’ll debunk myths and confirm ideas you may know instinctively but have given credence too.

Photo by Simon Drouin

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There’s no doubt Wired wunderkind (my turn of phrase) and marketing guru Seth Godin have an impassioned following through his blogs and books and speaking engagements and you name it… But, he doesn’t do a lot of one-on-one interviews that canvas the sweep of his personal triumphs and failures. Krista sat down with him (via ISDN) for 90 minutes of a highly engaging conversation.

I think my favorite phrase Seth uses to describe navigating this new world of vocation/avocation is a “landscape without maps.” It’s this ambiguity that’s worth embracing rather than fleeing from. Rather than merely tolerate change, he says, we are now called to rise to it — and, we’re invited and stretched in whatever we do to be artists — to create in ways that matter to other people.

We do make available all of our unedited interviews, including Krista’s conversation with Mr. Godin, in the On Being podcast (iTunes link).

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Tea + Ink: The Empty Space Inside the Mountain

by Dorothée Royal-Hedinger, guest contributor

An intimate portrait of ex-Yugoslavian émigré artist Slobodan Dan Paich, Silent Crescendo follows his daily ritual of creating simple drawings with tea and ink. In response to the modern pace of the art scene, Slobodan has embraced these fluid works of art to express his searching approach to life.


Dorothée Royal-HedingerDorothée Royal-Hedinger is a producer at the Global Oneness Project, which produces and distributes films, media, and educational materials that challenge people to rethink their relationship to the world and connect them to our greater human potential. She lives in San Rafael, California.

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Madness Redefined: Creativity, Intelligence and the Dark Side of the Mind (live video)

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

What’s the line between utter brilliance and incalculable madness? Maybe it’s not a line but a shifting spectrum. Live from the World Science Festival (8pm Eastern), leading researchers discuss new studies showing that people with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia tend to possess higher creativity and intelligence.

We’ve got a producer on the ground scoping out the panelists — James FallonKay Redfield JamisonSusan McKeown, and Elyn Saks — as potential guests for On Being. Watch the live video stream and share your suggestions on whom you’d like to hear on our program.

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On the Universality of Creativity in the Liberal Arts and in the Sciences

by S. James Gates

S. James GatesIn this lecture for Westmont College’s series titled “Beyond Two Cultures: The Sciences as Liberal Arts,” string theorist Jim Gates offers his thoughts on the complementary natures of science and the liberal arts — and how the human mind formulates “systems of belief” in both disciplines. 

This is the first time, in a formal structured way, I’ve been asked to speak before a group of academicians on this set of issues. It is a great honor to be invited to speak on behalf of one of the two “cultures” mentioned in the commentary by C.P. Snow (1905-1980) in New Statesman. It is also a great challenge to be so called upon to speak for an entire “culture.” Of necessity, my comments were created from the vantage point of thirty or so years of working embedded within the academic/scientific culture, and specifically within the field of physics. My views have been molded by this experience.

In preparing for this conversation, I have given much thought to how I, as a scientist, could make a valuable contribution to this tradition established at Westmont College. I believe this is best accomplished by spending most of my presentation describing the attributes of the culture of science as I have experienced them and reflected upon this experience. I claim no special abilities or qualifications to be making this presentation. I am most certainly and woefully uninformed on what I am sure must be a vast liberal arts literature on science and culture. I am, however, a theoretical physicist who has made an effort to think on such matters.

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Beautiful Minds: The Creative Brain Across Time and Cultures

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

World Science Festival with Julie Taymor, Rex Jung, and Douglas FieldsThere’s little doubt, most brain researchers agree, that genius looked much different thousands of years ago. With new tools and improving technologies, scientists are able to see traces of this evolution and observe how our brains are reshaping themselves. But, how are our ideas and commonly held assumptions about intelligence and the creative process being informed by these technologies?

In our most recent show, "Creativity and the Everyday Brain" with neuropsychologist Rex Jung, we featured this video from the World Science Festival. Here, uber-director Julie Taymor (a force of nature and creativity in her own right) and neuroscientists Rex Jung and Douglas Fields wrestle with the notions of genius over time and the possible effects of new technology on attention and creativity. It’s been one of our most popular pieces online, and I hope you’ll add your ideas to the mix.

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A Heightened Potential for Creativity Even While Our Brains Slow Down

by Krista Tippett, host

Tribute To Guitarist Pat Martino - Scan/Edit 03 07MRI of brain (image courtesy of Dr. Robert Zatorre/McGill University)

Few features of humanity are more fascinating than creativity; and few fields right now are more fascinating than neuroscience. Rex Jung puts the two together.

He spends half of his time working with people living with brain illness or injury. In this role, he says, he’s something like an “existential neuropsychologist.” And what he learns there informs the other half of his working life, in the laboratory applying the newest technologies of brain imaging to the interplay between creativity, intelligence, and personality.

What I like about this interview is the humanity Rex Jung brings to his science. This is a quality of all the scientists we bring on this program, I suppose — whether it’s James Gates on supersymmetry, Jean Berko Gleason on linguistics, or Mario Livio on astrophysics. I’m fascinated by the richness of this exchange between humanity and science when you simply shine a light on it. Rex Jung, for example, got interested in studying brains as a volunteer for the Special Olympics. He came to love and revere the participants with supposedly “imperfect” brains.

Rex JungRex Jung first made a mark in the field of deciphering the brain networks involved in intelligence. But he was always aware that there is something more than intelligence involved in lives of beauty and integrity and vigor.

Now he’s working on the emerging frontier of the study of creativity — and how it is different from, as well as related to, intelligence. He and his colleagues have notably helped identify a phenomenon they’ve called “transient hypofrontality.” That’s a daunting name for an experience many of us will recognize. Simply put, Rex Jung says that intelligence works like a “superhighway,” with massive numbers of connections being made between the different parts of the brain with speed and directness. When we become more creative, our powerful, organizing frontal lobes downregulate a bit. The creative brain is a “meandering" brain. The superhighways give way to "side roads and dirt roads," making possible the new and unexpected connections we associate with artistry, discovery, and humor.

One of the most helpful things about this conversation is the commonsense way Rex Jung describes the implications of his research. He says to take those famous stories we have of moments of great creative discovery — like Archimedes wallowing in his bath when he had his eureka moment — and be attentive to how we all prime our brains to be less directed, more creative. Some of us take a bath, some take a walk, some take a drink.

This cutting-edge research is a resounding affirmation of something we know we need in the 21st century but struggle to create: downtime. It’s a call to make this possible for our children too. Again, I think we all know this. For science to demonstrate it as a necessary precondition for creativity is bracing and helpful.

I appreciate the way this research validates the creativity of the everyday: of humor, of relationships, of social as well as personal, scientific, or artistic innovation. Rex Jung is also part of an emerging discipline called “positive neuroscience” — studying what the brain does well and, by implication I think, how what we are learning about our brains can be of benefit to our common life. He even believes that while there is loss in an aging brain — the phase many of our baby boomer brains have now entered — there is also a potential for heightened creativity in that very slowing down.

There are intriguing echoes between this research and neuroscientist Richard Davidson’s discoveries at the University of Wisconsin about how it is possible through behaviors — and with practice — to keep changing our brains across the lifespan. After listening to Rex Jung, I’ve become more aware of how I sometimes get myself into agonizing moments, when I need to be creative (on deadline, of course) but haven’t made the space for my frontal lobes to downregulate and let it happen.

I like feeling more in touch with my frontal lobes. I also like the way Rex Jung questions whether there is a necessary connection between creativity and difficult personalities (e.g. Steve Jobs). From my vantage point, I also feel we may be on the cusp of realizing new creative potentials in ourselves — again, in the everyday. I’ll let my brain meander here awhile to consider that. Talk about having your cake and eating it too; I get to delight in the purposefulness of meandering.

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Brain Researcher Rex Jung: A Twitterscript

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Rex JungNeuropsychologist Rex Jung is asking important questions about the origin and purpose of human creativity. He’s using the latest laboratory techniques to peek inside our mental process with brain imaging. What he has found along the way “unsettles some old assumptions” about intelligence, creativity, personality, and even how we perceive ourselves as aging creatures.

On February 23rd, we live-tweeted highlights of his interview with Krista Tippett and have aggregated them below for those who weren’t able to follow along. Follow us next time at @BeingTweets.

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The Rules of a Creator’s Life

A fine list of rules from creativesomething to consider and contemplate on this gorgeous Saturday winter morning. Non?

Rules of a Creators Life

Click to view a tad‒bit larger. And share with your friends, co‒workers, and creative icons.

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Christmas Is a Time for Artistic Expression and Creativity

by Judith Dupré, guest contributor

Christmas tree lights IIPhoto by Shandi-lee (Flickr, cc by-nc 2.0)

How many times have you heard someone say — I can’t draw, I can’t sing, I can’t dance — with the case-closed authority of Solomon? Probably dozens of times, more if you yourself happen to be an artist blessed with the painting, flamenco, or woodworking gene. But have you ever heard anyone sheepishly confess, as they backed away palms up from an evergreen tree, Oh, not me — I can’t decorate Christmas trees?

Doesn’t happen!

Most of us dive into holiday tree trimming with gusto. We’ve got our methods, materials, and secret techniques down pat — from anchoring the tree so it stands straight to untangling strings of lights with a finesse that Houdini would have admired. Charlie Parker could have learned something from our daring as we coax familiar ornaments into different compositions each year, sentimental riffs made anew as a crystal angel is paired with a Santa made of plastic gumdrops or a tacky beaded lobster, to name some of my family’s favorites. Could Jackson Pollock outdo any of us tinsel-lobbers as we throw sparkling handfuls with random abandon? Or perhaps you prefer the single-strand-at-a-time method, placed with the en pointe precision of a Russian ballerina. I’m working the tree metaphor here, but feel free to substitute holiday crafts, baking, decorating, caroling, or gift-wrapping.

It’s your thing!

More good news! Remember Charlie Brown’s scraggly Douglas fir? The one with three spindly branches and a single bulb that weighed it down like a lead onion? Was there anything more pathetic or endearing? Pathetic attempts are not only okay at Christmas, they’re entirely fashionable. Call it folk art. Unlike the rest of the over-achieving calendar year, trying, if not actually succeeding, is acceptable during this season. Because, really, it’s not a question of what you are doing, it’s how you are doing it. The smallest of art projects becomes luminous with awareness and love.

For centuries, until recently, art was a concrete and widespread way of expressing one’s faith. Artists and artisans conveyed their devotion to God through painting, verse, and music. With the advent of the industrial age, abetted by myriad other factors, making art became the impractical pursuit of a chosen few. This is the great, unspoken loss of contemporary life. Creativity at its most transcendent — the moment when the work of art takes on its own life, when there is no separation between maker and object, when the artist is being re-formed by the very thing he or she is making — is comparable to the pure, blissful connection achieved in prayer or meditation.

We cherish Christmas because it presents us with weeks (months!) of artistic expression that is usually kept under wraps during the rest of the year. Christmas is a time when everyone has the opportunity to create — an act of transformation that mirrors what is most sacred in each of us. The works of our hands give glory to our Creator as they reveal us at our most human and most holy. Each of us was created with the same inexhaustible delight and diversity found in nature, and we are free to create with similar abandon. Perhaps this is the true magic of the season: We don’t question whether we should, or judge whether we can, we just create! I’d venture that we’d be more fully ourselves, as human beings and as spiritual beings, if we allowed ourselves that freedom more often.

This season let your spirit shine forth in the tree you trim, the candles you light, the songs you sing, and the cookies you bake. Let every ribbon you tie tie you more closely to your loved ones and to your own beautiful creative soul. While you’re in the Christmas spirit, why not consider giving yourself the gift of creativity, surely the gift that keeps on giving, all year round.


Judith DupréJudith Dupré is a fellow of Yale University’s Saybrook College and the author of several books. Her latest book is Full of Grace: Encountering Mary in Faith, Art and Life, a collection of stories about everyday spirituality and the nature of personal transformation.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication for the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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