How Your Mind Creates Ideas




More and more quantum physicists are speculating about a correlation between how our creative minds process thoughts and the way the universe works. University of Oxford’s mathematician Roger Penrose’s book The Emperor’s New Mind suggested that the same un-computable but somehow quantum processes might also lie behind human consciousness and creativity. It appears that the way quantum gravity handles information is much like the way the mind processes creative thought. The physicist Freeman Dyson once said that mind and intelligence are “woven into the fabric of the universe.” It appears he was more right than he ever imagined.


In quantum physics an infinite number of subatomic particles exist in multiple states popping out of nothingness and can best be characterized as a set of probabilities. These particles have no real existence until observed. Once observed they are either waves or particles depending upon how the physicist chooses to observe or measure them. An electron or atom (and some would even argue the whole Universe) remains an open field of possibilities until forced into an interaction. It is as if the physical world wants to explore many alternative pathways before collapsing into a settled state. For the champions of quantum consciousness, this seems to be just what the creative human mind does: sample many paths and outcomes before its ‘wave function’ collapses into the coherent state which is a stream of conscious thought.


Overnight the faith physicists had between mathematical variables and physical properties disappeared. In their place quantum physicists used abstractions such as wave functions and matrices all acting in an unreal causally confused environment. In a famous thought experiment, Nobel laureate Erwin Schrodinger imagined that a cat is locked in a box, along with a radioactive atom that is connected to a vial containing a deadly poison. If the atom decays, it causes the vial to smash and the cat to be killed. When the box is closed,  we do not know if the atom has decayed or not, which means that it can be in both the decayed state and the non-decayed state at the same time. Therefore, the cat is both dead and alive at the same time – which clearly does not happen in classical physics.


Thus, said Schrodinger, the cat must itself be in a superposition of dead and alive states before the observer opens the box, “observes” the cat, and “collapses” its wave function. This is the revolutionary finding of quantum physics – what forces the range of the potentials to assume one value is the act of observation. Matter and energy are not in themselves phenomena and do not become phenomena until they interact with the mind.




Your mind is like the universe. You have billions of bits of thoughts, observations, and information floating around in your conscious and subconscious mind, totally unobserved, with each bit presenting a multiple of possibilities which evolve and change over time. These thoughts are in multiple states such as words, phrases, metaphors, images, feelings, dreams, symbols, abstractions, voices, and so on. Particles of thought pop up out of nothingness and become entangled with other thoughts influencing each other instantaneously. Much like subatomic particles,  these entities have no real existence; they exist only in a probabilistic state of many different possibilities.


Just as subatomic particles do not exist unless observed, your subconscious thoughts do not exist until you observe them. In other words, there is no thought independent of you,  the observer. It is your conscious choice that is responsible for manifesting both the proverbial falling tree and the you who hears it. No observer, no sound, no tree.


When you are brainstorming for ideas and have a thought, the value of that thought depends upon how you interact with it. We are educated to be critical, judgmental, logical thinkers and to instantly evaluate and judge thoughts based on our past experiences. If there is any ambiguity, the judgment is invariably negative and the thought dissipates back into nothingness. The ordinary mind has no tolerance for ambiguity because it is conditioned to simplify the complexities of life. Aristotelian logic maintains, for example, it is either (A  or not-A). The sky is either blue or not blue. It cannot be both. We are taught to be exclusionary thinkers,  which means we exclude anything that is not immediately related to our subject.


Creative geniuses do not think this way. They know that the sky is a billion different shades of blue. When they brainstorm for ideas,  their first objective is to observe and record all thoughts and ideas as possibilities. They observe without judgment. This is why all their thoughts and ideas come into existence as possibilities. Creative geniuses also think inclusively which means they include everything no matter how unrelated or absurd. This is a basic requirement of creative thinking. Creative thinking requires the generation of associations and connections between two or more dissimilar subjects.


All geniuses produce an incredible number of thoughts and ideas.  One famous example is the journals of Leonardo da Vinci. These journals represent decades of note taking, doodling, diagramming and drawings of his thoughts and observations. Another example of displayed thoughts is the more than 3500 notebooks of Thomas Edison that have been discovered so far.  They are filled in a seeming free flow of associations between a fecundity of thoughts. Thomas Edison, for example, had 3000 recorded ideas for a system of lighting before he stepped back and evaluated them for practicality. Both da Vinci and Edison cross fertilized their recorded thoughts and ideas and looked at them in different ways by drawing and diagramming them.


Creative geniuses intuitively knew that it is important to record their thoughts so they could observe them in their creative consciousness. By recording all possibilities, without judgment, they think discontinuously, which is why geniuses have a tolerance for ambiguity. Much like quantum gravity, as we understand it now, discontinuous thought seems to do away with cause and effect. The logic of tock following tick or output following input just doesn’t apply in the quantum gravity universe or in the discontinuous thinking processes of the creative mind.


The production and recording of all possibilities naturally leads to an incredible production of creative products. Bach wrote a cantata every week, even when he was sick or exhausted.  Mozart produced more than six hundred pieces of music. Einstein is best known for his paper on relativity, but he published 248 other papers. Darwin is known for his theory of evolution, but he wrote 119 other publications in his lifetime. Freud published 330 papers and Maslow 165.  Rembrandt produced around 650 paintings and 2,000 drawings,  Van Gogh produced 2000 works of art between 1880 and 1890 (1100 paintings and 900 sketches). That’s 4 works of art a week for a decade, and he didn’t start making art until his mid twenties. Picasso made over 20,000 works of art (”Give me a museum and I’ll fill it he said, and he was right) in his lifetime, including sculptures, paintings and other mediums. Shakespeare wrote more than 40 plays, 154 sonnets, and countless poems. Some were masterpieces, while others were no better than his contemporaries could have written, and some were simply bad. In fact, more bad poems were composed by the major poets than the minor poets. They composed more bad poems than minor poets simply because they produced more poetry.




The key to productive creative thinking is to harvest the quantum wave-like proliferations of thoughts which abound in our subconscious mind. We make these real by observing, recording and interacting with them. After a conscious preparation to produce new ideas, list every thought, particle of thought, hunch, and, in short, everything that comes to mind without evaluating or judging.


These are discontinuous thoughts which break us from the past habits on concentrating only on connecting related thoughts into a continuous linear logical stream of cause and effect. Discontinuity in quantum physics has created a physics of possibilities. Discontinuity in your thinking processes creates a cloud of possibilities all sampling many different paths and outcomes before your creative mind collapses them (much like a wave function in quantum physics) into a coherent state of creative ideas.


Albert Einstein recorded un-specifiable feelings, a succession of images, dreams, and uncensored thoughts which he combined and recombined in a myriad of ways and out of which his revolutionary concepts emerged. He called his thinking process “combinatory play.” Just as matter and energy are not in themselves phenomena until they interact with the mind, none of Einstein’s, feelings, images and thoughts existed until he observed them and interacted with them with his mind.


Einstein once dreamed of a woman falling in love and one week later meeting the man she fell in love with. His interaction by thinking about this dream collapsed these images into a coherent quantum theory of acausality.  In another fantasy,  he imagined a world where time has three dimensions, instead of one, where every moment branches into three futures. His interaction with this fantasy collapsed it into the “many worlds” theory, which is espoused by some physicists, including Stephen Hawkins.




A way to guarantee productivity of your creative thought is to give yourself an idea quota. For example, an idea quota of 60 ideas if you’re looking for ideas alone or a quota of 140 ideas if a group is brainstorming for ideas. By forcing yourself to come up with a quota of ideas, you are forced to put your internal critic on hold and write everything down, including the obvious and bizarre in order to meet the quota .


Finally, quantum physicist Niels Bohr believed that the nature of quantum reality depends on what we choose to measure. Physicists Simon Kochen and Ernst Specker proved Bohr’s principle mathematically that even for a single quantum object,  the values that you obtain when you measure its properties depend on the context. So the value of property A, say, depends on whether you chose to measure it with property B, or with property C. In other words, there is no reality independent of the choice of measurement. In other words, it is the observer who determines the reality of property A. The lesson here is that when interacting with your final list of ideas,  look at each idea using multiple perspectives before you choose its reality. Genius often is finding a perspective no one else has taken.


Consider the example of George de Mestral, a Swiss inventor who wanted to improve the ordinary zipper. He looked for a better and easier way to fasten things. George’s thinking was inclusive as he was always trying to connect all sorts of things with the “essence of fastening” (e.g., how do windows fasten, how does a bird fasten its nest to a branch, how do wasps fasten their hives, how do mountain climbers fasten themselves to the mountain and so on). One day he took his dog for a nature hike. They both returned covered with burrs, the plant like seed-sacs that cling to animal fur in order to travel to fertile new planting grounds.


He made the “Aha” connection between burrs and zippers when he examined the small hooks that enabled the seed-bearing burr to cling so viciously to the tiny loops in the fabric of his pants. The key feature of George de Mestral’s thinking was his conceptual connection between patterns of a burr and patterns of a zipper. He bounced back and forth among ideas guessing as to what works and what doesn’t. By “guessing,” what I mean is that he had to take different perspectives as to what aspects of   “burr” and “zipper” patterns matter, and what doesn’t. Perhaps shapes count, but not textures–or vice versa. Perhaps orientation count, but not sizes–or vice versa. Perhaps curvature or its lack of curvature  counts and so on until he got it. He invented a two-sided fastener (two-sided like a zipper), one side with stiff hooks like the burrs and the other side with soft loops like the fabric of his pants. He called his invention “Velcro,” which is itself a combination of the word velour and crochet.


“The pioneer scientist must have a vivid intuitive imagination, for new ideas are not generated by deduction, but by artistically creative imagination.”


—Max Planck



  1. “Its like women and men aren¡¯t interested until it¡¯s one thing to do with Girl gaga”

  2. I want to to thank you for this very good read!! I certainly enjoyed every bit of it. I’ve got you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post…

  3. Michael, I’ve been reading your articles and books for some time now, and I am always amazed with your insights and thoughts about the creative process. Your work is an inspiration. It’s helped me more than I thought was possible.

    Thank you.


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