We tend to link creativity to expression (writing, music, art, etc.). However, creativity is also how we respond to unusual situations. It’s how we come up with new ways to solve old problems. It’s also how we share information with others in a way that is both factual and enjoyable.
Creativity is such a core part of what it means to be human that we often take it for granted. Change is one of the defining characteristics of the human experience. Being able to adapt to it and think on your feet when problems arise has shaped our history in both big and small ways. Inventions like flight, the internet, and homogenized milk are all expressions of creativity. It’s something we use daily, even if we’re not thinking about it. Developing a sense of style, finding ways to automate your work, or even creating a unique Zoom background for your online meetings are more everyday examples of how creativity influences our lives.
Floating has such an obvious effect on creativity, that it’s hard to find a float center that doesn’t celebrate it in some way. Many centers do this through float-inspired artwork on display. Other centers have post-float journals for zen’d out floaters to express themselves in. Some go as far as having album releases of float-inspired music.
So what is the connection between floating and creativity? And how do you research something as vague and universal as creativity?
For a long time, it was widely believed to be difficult (if not impossible) to manufacture creativity. Beautiful muses could apparently help, but it was still something intangible and unreliable. Either inspiration strikes or… it doesn’t.
For as long as written language has existed, we’ve struggled with how to make inspiration strike. The I Ching, one of the oldest texts in the world, is about how to encourage creativity to create change – in yourself and the rest of your life.
Despite being written thousands of years ago, many of the teachings are fascinatingly modern. The text itself is disordered and there’s a lot of debate about the words that were used when it was translated. This makes it difficult to quote out of context. However, one of the main thoughts that it talks about repeatedly is the strong connection between quiet rest and solitude, and nurturing the mindset for adapting to great change.
Saying that we should avoid distraction and overstimulation to nourish creativity is not a new idea, as it turns out. In fact, it may be one of the oldest ones we’ve ever had!
Abstract Ideas Behind Creativity & Floating
More recently, academics have taken a more planned approach to look at creativity. In 1954, the poet and researcher Brewster Ghiselin created an observational book titled The Creative Process. It took from some of history’s creative heavy hitters, including such greats as Einstein, Van Gogh, and Mozart to name a few.
Ghiselin took these observations and tried to make sense of the common threads that give a spark to creativity. In a recollection from Henri Poincaré about inspiration, Ghiselin was struck with the process that led to one of his most important discoveries in mathematics. Stating, “he lay unable to sleep and became a spectator of some ordinarily hidden aspects of his own spontaneous creative activity.” Ghiselin saw this as a key part of unlocking creative potential. “Though Poincaré was conscious, he did not assume direction of his creative activity at the stage described, and as it seems to have been a sort of activity not susceptible of conscious control, apparently he could not have done so.”
In short, he’s making the same observation as the I Ching. When we seek out stillness, our minds work out the rest of the hard stuff.
But philosophy and essays are not research. At the time, scientists didn’t really know how to study something as abstract as creativity. Psychology was still a very young and developing field. It would be a few decades before anyone would publish peer-reviewed research on how floating impacts creativity and problem-solving.
Hard Science Backs the Benefits of Floating & Creativity
In 1987, that’s exactly what happened at the University of British Columbia. The researchers there found that psychology professors came up with more ideas after floating. They also found that those ideas were generally more creative. Every participant except for one found their floats to have an extremely positive impact on their ability to create. These results were later verified by the same researchers and replicated by other scientists at the University of Vermont. The Vermont study also found that people who floated were less likely to feel fatigued or frustrated by complicated problems.
Sweden’s Karlstadt University, one of the leading float research institutes in the world, saw this research and began attempting to replicate the results. Between 1998 and 2003, they published four separate articles on the benefits of floating on creativity. This was in addition to the other research they were doing. They found that despite taking longer to solve problems, the people who floated all found more creative solutions. They also found that it could help with creativity and reading skills for those who use English as a second language. Floating proved to increase originality but lower deductive reasoning. Finally, they saw that floating could potentially be a safe way to access altered states of consciousness, which could lead to increased optimism and creativity.
What makes this research so interesting is that so many of these studies took place before smartphones existed. More so now than ever, we live in a distracted world, and “screentime” dominating our daily lives is an issue at the forefront of our society.
It doesn’t take a team of dedicated researchers with decades of studies to understand why floating stimulates creativity, though. It naturally makes sense. Unplugging and centering yourself in quiet solitude is naturally going to help your mental and creative capabilities. Removing all distractions, even gravity, is a great way to rewire your brain and channel your creative energy into the places it needs to go, not just where the world takes it.