It’s a tried and tested technique used by writers and poets, but can psychology explain why first moments after waking can be among our most imaginative?
It is 6.06am and I’m typing this in my pyjamas. I awoke at 6.04am, walked from the bedroom to the study, switched on my computer and got to work immediately. This is unusual behaviour for me. However, it’s a tried and tested technique for enhancing creativity, long used by writers, poets and others, including the inventor Benjamin Franklin. And psychology research appears to back this up, providing an explanation for why we might be at our most creative when our minds are still emerging from the realm of sleep.
The best evidence we have of our mental state when we’re asleep is that strange phenomenon called dreaming. Much remains unknown about dreams, but one thing that is certain is that they are weird. Also listening to other people’s dreams can be deadly boring. They go on and on about how they were on a train, but it wasn’t a train, it was a dinner party, and their brother was there, as well as a girl they haven’t spoken to since they were nine, and… yawn. To the dreamer this all seems very important and somehow connected. To the rest of us it sounds like nonsense, and tedious nonsense at that.
Yet these bizarre monologues do highlight an interesting aspect of the dream world: the creation of connections between things that didn’t seem connected before. When you think about it, this isn’t too unlike a description of what creative people do in their work – connecting ideas and concepts that nobody thought to connect before in a way that appears to make sense.
No wonder some people value the immediate, post-sleep, dreamlike mental state – known as sleep inertia or the hypnopompic state – so highly. It allows them to infuse their waking, directed thoughts with a dusting of dreamworld magic. Later in the day, waking consciousness assumes complete control, which is a good thing as it allows us to go about our day evaluating situations, making plans, pursuing goals and dealing rationally with the world. Life would be challenging indeed if we were constantly hallucinating, believing the impossible or losing sense of what we were doing like we do when we’re dreaming. But perhaps the rational grip of daytime consciousness can at times be too strong, especially if your work could benefit from the feckless, distractible, inconsistent, manic, but sometimes inspired nature of its rebellious sleepy twin.
Scientific methods – by necessity methodical and precise – might not seem the best of tools for investigating sleep consciousness. Yet in 2007 Matthew Walker, now of the University of California at Berkeley, and colleagues carried out a study that helps illustrate the power of sleep to foster unusual connections, or “remote associates” as psychologists call them.
Under the inference
Subjects were presented with pairs of six abstract patterns A, B, C, D, E and F. Through trial and error they were taught the basics of a hierarchy, which dictated they should select A over B, B over C, C over D, D over E, and E over F. The researchers called these the “premise pairs”. While participants learnt these during their training period, they were not explicitly taught that because A was better than B, and B better than C, that they should infer A to be better than C, for example. This hidden order implied relationships, described by Walker as “inference pairs”, were designed to mimic the remote associates that drive creativity.
Participants who were tested 20 minutes after training got 90% of premise pairs but only around 50% of inference pairs right – the same fraction you or I would get if we went into the task without any training and just guessed.
Those tested 12 hours after training again got 90% for the premise pairs, but 75% of inference pairs, showing the extra time had allowed the nature of the connections and hidden order to become clearer in their minds.
But the real success of the experiment was a contrast in the performances of one group trained in the morning and then re-tested 12 hours later in the evening, and another group trained in the evening and brought back for testing the following morning after having slept. Both did equally well in tests of the premise pairs. The researchers defined inferences that required understanding of two premise relationships as easy, and those that required three or more as hard. So, for example, A being better than C, was labelled as easy because it required participants to remember that A was better than B and B was better than C. However understanding that A was better than D meant recalling A was better than B, B better than C, and C better than D, and so was defined as hard.
When it came to the harder inferences, people who had a night’s sleep between training and testing got a startling 93% correct, whereas those who’d been busy all day only got 70%.
The experiment illustrates that combining what we know to generate new insights requires time, something that many might have guessed. Perhaps more revealingly it also shows the power of sleep in building remote associations. Making the links between pieces of information that our daytime rational minds see as separate seems to be easiest when we’re offline, drifting through the dreamworld.
It is this function of sleep that might also explain why those first moments upon waking can be among our most creative. Dreams may seem weird, but just because they don’t make sense to your rational waking consciousness doesn’t make them purposeless. I was at my keyboard two minutes after waking up in an effort to harness some dreamworld creativity and help me write this column – memories of dreams involving trying to rob a bank with my old chemistry teacher, and playing tennis with a racket made of spaghetti, still tinging the edges of my consciousness.
FINAL HOME CONCEPT
"If we lose our house because of a disaster, war or unemployment, as a fashion designer, what kind of clothes would I propose - and how would they look in trouble-free times?" Nylon coat came about from me pondering this question. Its concept is "a cloth which can be adapted according to need".
For example, to protect against the cold, you can put newspapers in the pockets, or if you equip it with survival rations and a medical kit, it becomes a valuable cloth when taking refuge.The name “FINAL HOME” was first given to this particular garment, and then it became their brand name - it equates to the idea of it being the “ultimate shelter” .
The coat comes in three basic colors: “orange” to remind of one’s existence; “khaki” to blend in with the forest and “black” to assimilate in the city.Directions for use are written on the bag in which the coat comes.
This coat is recyclable. After enjoying it as a fashion item, please wash it thoroughly and bring it to one of our company.We will donate it to organizations such as NGO for the benefit of refugees or disaster victims. FINAL HOME welcomes suggestions from customers and ideas for new projects.
Top: Schleissheim Palace in Last Year at Marienbad (1957)
Bottom: Villa Medici in The Great Beauty (2013)
A rare smiley portrait of Rei Kawakubo in an archived Japanese magazine ‘High Fashion’, 1977
The low-budget unsanctioned film Escape from Tomorrow is a better-than-documentary look inside the Freudian neurotics of the Magic Kingdom
When people die in Disney World, medics, who arrive in unmarked emergency vehicles, treat and talk to the corpse as though it’s just a passed-out visitor, so as not to alarm other guests and dispel the magic. By policy no one actually dies on Disney property—they are always still “alive” until they arrive at a hospital, outside the confines of the theme park. This last, at least, according to anonymous employees in the book Inside the Mouse, whose reports are sufficiently tangled up with rumor and urban legend at this point to make none of these claims “verifiably true”—claims which Disney has, furthermore, frequently quashed with the threat of a libel suit.
What is clear is that people die at Disney World, and Disneyland, and EPCOT, not because of ride malfunction so much as undetected congenital heart conditions, heat stroke, or other illnesses. And workers die on the job—drivers, maintenance, performers: a lot of head trauma from failed acrobatic stunts or falls from catwalks. Like any place where lots of people work and lots of people are—Disney World sees over 20 million visitors per year, and employs over 66,000 “cast members”—people die.
Whether or not accounts of EMTs in Disney uniforms cooing reassurances to corpses as they pass through Adventureland are literally true, they have sufficient reality to make us nod knowingly and think of Jean Baudrillard. Death in Disney World is such an obvious irony that it approaches banality. But the question of sexuality in the Magic Kingdom is a more interesting one; a lot more people are fucking at Disney resorts than dying. What kind of desire could flourish in the never-never land of permanent childhood, or, at least, in the rigidly familial atmosphere of the world’s most notorious simulacra?
The low-budget film Escape from Tomorrow makes a pretty good case that Disneyworld is a territory particularly attuned to both the fantasies and the exposure of rather pervy, borderline-pedophilic middle-aged male sexuality. Shot entirely and illegally on Disney premises, the guerrilla film portrays the surreal and sometimes horrific last day of a family vacation in Orlando. Sold in its promotional materials mostly as a sort of horror-sci-fi, the film’s generic components are less central to the film’s running time and interest then the squeamish laying bare of the Dad and his pathetic desires.
Ballad of Leonore, 1839
a soldier appears after death to his sweetheart and carries her to a graveyard where they are married
Anonymous asked: where can I find those CDG scans you did of the ABC editorial?
They’re currently sitting on page 39.
Franz von Stuck’s Sin uses a minimalist color scheme to characterize its subject, a partially nude woman, as a symbol for lust. The woman’s navel and hips, as well as much of her breasts, are not only exposed but also illuminated, and the strands of dark hair falling over her hip increase the painting’s eroticism. By contrast, her face is in shadow, framed by her dark hair, and she is surrounded by darkness. This contrast emphasizes the woman’s sensual (and sinful) nature and obscures her human nature. The giant snake wrapped around her, a sinister image in its own right, presumably alludes to the serpent that tempted Eve in the book of Genesis. An orange patch in the background symbolizes the fires of hell.
The Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity is made up of those intangible heritage elements that help demonstrate the diversity of this heritage and raise awareness about its importance.
An afternoon spent viewing Franz Von Stuck paintings is just what I needed.