Neuroscience will help in-house counsel think more effectively

With the surge of research on the neural underpinnings of cognition, you can’t help but project that as we learn more about the electrical and chemical exchanges in the brain, we will put more of the extraordinarily complex pieces together. Given time, research, funds, better equipment, and the resulting insights, we will know more how we think, what can help us think, and ways to spot who shows promise of the legal thinking needed.

Jonah Lehrer, Imagine: How Creativity Works (Houghton Mifflin 2012) at 17, describes an fMRI study that illustrates this future. Researchers were studying sudden insights. They found that just before subjects realized they had an answer their brains generated a gamma-wave spike, the highest electrical frequency of the brain. “Gamma rhythm is believed to come from the binding of neurons: cells distributed across the cortex draw themselves together into a new network that is then able to enter consciousness.”

Even more usefully, it was found that the gamma waves burst from a small spot on the surface of the right hemisphere just above the ear called the anterior superior temporal gyrus (aSTG). Insight, that is to say, appears to have a neural correlate. If so, we are a step closer to harnessing and spurring creative insights.

Later, Lehrer devotes a chapter to improvisation and letting go, both techniques that can spur new ideas. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is mostly associated with impulse control (but you knew that). That ability to moderate its controls correlates with the ability to come up with new things (at 91, 109). Again, neuroscience moves steadily toward mapping how we think.

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