Keynote Address

Prof. Arne DietrichThe Mechanics of Thought Trials
Arne Dietrich
American University of Beirut, Lebanon

Wednesday, 12 June 2013
14:00–15:00, Architecture Lecture Theatre 1
Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning
University of Sydney, NSW 2006

Creativity has a dubious distinction in the neurosciences. It is hard to think of a mental phenomenon so central to the human condition for which we have so little understanding as to how the brain does it. This massive blindspot exists for mechanistic explanations at the neural and cognitive level. One might be tempted to argue that this lamentable position is held by the still bigger problem of consciousness but at least there we have some proposals that have so far escaped the dustbin of wishful thinking. By contrast, all theories and approaches guiding empirical research on creativity had to be scrapped recently after neuroimaging studies had shown them to be incoherent or mutually contradictory, or both (Dietrich & Kanso, 2010). To gain some ground on this vexed problem, I anchor the search for the neural mechanisms in two established paradigms. First is the evolutionary framework that, despite being part and parcel of creativity research, has not informed experimental work in cognitive neuroscience. Second is the emerging prediction framework that recognizes predictive representations as an integrating principle of all cognition. I show how the prediction imperative revealingly synthesizes a host of new insights into the way brains process variation-selection thought trials.

Arne Dietrich is Professor of Psychology at the American University of Beirut, in Lebanon. He holds a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience from the University of Georgia, USA. Arne has done research on the higher cognitive functions supported by the prefrontal cortex, focusing on the neural mechanisms of (1) creativity, (2) altered states of consciousness, and (3) the psychological effects of exercise. Arne’s major publications include a new framework for the neural basis of creativity, (Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 2004), a comprehensive review article of neuroscientific studies of creativity (Psychological Bulletin, 2010), a new mechanistic theory of altered states of consciousness, the transient hypofrontality theory (Consciousness and Cognition, 2003, 2004), and the proposal of two new explanations for the effects of exercise on emotion and cognition. He is also the author of a textbook on consciousness (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). Arne has given numerous invited lectures around the world and his research has been featured prominently in the international press.