The Science of Inspiration

By: Abi Hillrich
Inspiration is often looked at as something highly artistic and creative, the source of all things we may refer to as the humanities, stemming from right-brain activity. Lacking structure and predictability, the image of the Muse originated in Greek literature and is now known to personify an artist’s inspiration. Many works of literature have been devoted to lamenting the lack of inspiration, or the author’s constant pursuit of their Muse.
Inspiration is made up of three separate steps: evocation, transcendence, and approach motivation. Beginning through evocation, or the provocation of something outside of oneself, inspiration does not come about or sustain itself without stimuli. The second step, transcendence, speaks to what happens during an episode of inspiration. The individual is able to see beyond themselves in order to pursue inspiration. Finally, the approach motivation is what happens when the individual actualizes or creates whatever it is they desire. Oftentimes, because of the experience of inspiration, an individual creates with a subliminal goal to inspire others. In an ideal situation this cycle continues to repeat itself, continuing to inspire creativity for an infinite amount of time.
Indeed, it does seem to work this way. Inspiration can be split up into two separate actions: being inspired by, and being inspired to. The first is much more passive, such as seeing a beautiful landscape or reading a good poem. Being inspired by makes you feel good, but doesn’t do much more than that. Much more active is the latter term; being inspired to requires action on the part of an individual. This is the step during which an object is created.
The ethereal nature of inspiration makes it particularly difficult to study. The neurological aspects of becoming inspired are still widely unknown, and extremely difficult to study because of the large spectrum that is inspiration. The necessary repeatability of such an experiment creates challenges, as well. One tool that was created to make inspiration more measurable is the Inspiration Scale (IS) as developed by Thrash and Elliot in 2003. Made up of two four-item subscales (inspiration frequency and intensity), the IS is able to place people on a scale of varying inspiration levels.
There is still much to learn about how inspiration affects us as human beings, and still much being experimented with. Perhaps understanding the origin of inspiration can help individuals to become more inspired, or perhaps it is a stimuli in and of itself. Either way, the transcendence of being inspired to something will continue to keep humans creating for as long as we can.

Inspiration: aroused, animated, or imbued with the spirit to do something, by or as if by supernatural or divine influence.
Creativity: the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods,interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.

For more information on this topic (neurological and otherwise), check out studies done by Todd Thrash and Andrew Elliot.

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