Neuroscience of Creativity: Huberman & Rubin’s 

The insights you’re about to explore range from the impact of childhood instincts on creative ingenuity to the balancing act of rules and personal expression in art production. 

Huberman and Rubin’s dialogue traverses the arenas of focus, disengagement, collective experiences, and the interplay between known elements to form original ideas. 

Creativity & Ideas, Cloud Analogy

Rick Rubin described creativity as being as fluid and unpredictable as the shapes of clouds. Imagine ideas forming with startling clarity, morphing, or disappearing just as quickly if not caught on time. 

The discussion then echoed a wisdom from Joe Strummer of The Clash. Strummer believed in capturing ideas the instant they appeared. 

Rubin drew a comparison between creativity and the foggy nature of dreams. Just like waking dreams can be intense yet hard to explain, creative ideas can be compelling. 

He sees the creative process as following a gut feeling. This feeling draws you in, fueled by excitement or curiosity. It’s this internal urge, not logic, that guides the creative path.

Rubin’s insights defy traditional ideas about creativity. He suggests creativity isn’t something we can turn on like a tap. Rather, it’s a mix of instinct, emotion, and our own evolving experiences. 

Through Rubin’s lens, making art is about following your instincts and emotions. It’s more about seeking a feeling than a thought. At its core, creativity is a dynamic quest for ‘something more’. 

Language & Creativity; Kids

Huberman proposed that parts of creativity escape the confines of language and habitual patterns.

Rubin weighed in, highlighting language’s limitations in explaining creativity. He places creativity closer to magic than to science. 

Then the conversation shifted. They discussed children and creativity. According to Rubin, kids have a stronger link to creativity than adults. They see the world with new eyes, unclouded by biases and social constructs. This contrasts with adults’ views, often filtered by survival instincts, societal expectations, and learned behaviors. Such filters can dim the bright light of creative thought.

Rubin also shared his music industry experiences. He came into the scene inexperienced but ready to innovate. 

This inexperience allowed him to ‘break the rules’ — rules he wasn’t even aware of. His openness mirrors a child’s approach to creativity. They create without mimicking or following set norms.

It suggests that while we seek patterns and processes, true innovation might need an unfettered mindset. 

Feelings & Creative Ideas

Andrew Huberman and Rick Rubin touched on the physical side of creative sparks. Huberman focused on how our nervous system shapes our creative experiences. He pointed out that our bodies may send basic signals, like pain or comfort, but it is the brain that hosts complex thoughts and emotions. 

Rubin resonated with that, speaking to creativity as a tangible sensation. For him, it’s a burst of energy that’s felt, not limited by location.

Huberman shared a personal note. He admitted he doesn’t feel an emotional tie to the Beatles’ music. Rubin responded with reassurance, stating that musical tastes are personal and varied. 

They also touched on individual preferences in art. For Huberman, the Ramones’ energy and story captivated him in ways the Beatles couldn’t. 

Rubin agreed, stating that each person’s reaction to art is singular. This variety, they agreed, should be celebrated as part of our collective creative diversity.

Creativity often comes from reimagining existing elements. It’s not just a mental exercise; it’s felt in the body. Our unique cultural and personal backgrounds shape our encounters with art. 

Rules, Choice & Art; Personal Taste & Other’s Opinions

Rubin compared creativity to cooking, saying it’s about tweaking and experimenting until it clicks.

In the studio, Rubin focuses on actionable advice rather than just talk. He encourages artists to explore their options and trust their gut. The goal isn’t to conform or seek approval but to follow your own instincts, he says.

Huberman reflected on how science is like art in that way. He mentioned a mentor, Ben, who believed that taste isn’t taught. It’s not about being perfect or pleasing everyone. It’s about having a unique vision.

Rubin then talked about breaking free from conformity. In school, we follow rules. But in art, rules are just a launchpad. With today’s endless digital choices, artists face the challenge of not letting the abundance overwhelm their work.

Rubin believes in authenticity and originality. Creating art isn’t about caving in to commercial demands. It’s about sharing your true self, regardless of how others might react.

Lastly, they discussed how confidence can influence opinions. 

Huberman looked back at his youth, skating when it was still mocked. Later, it became trendy. It shows that when people see genuine passion, they often come around to new ideas.

Changing Perspective & Creativity

Some people spin tales to win over crowds, aiming for hits and big bucks. But Rubin, he talks about another road—a personal and inventive path.

Huberman compares Rubin’s ideas with his study of how the brain ticks during laser-focused tasks. We’re talking about serious goal-getting, like animals hunting for grub or shelter. But when you zero in too tight, you might miss other smart moves you could make. 

Rubin throws a curveball, though. Cracking the creativity code can happen by expanding or honing your focus. The real game-changer? Stepping away from the usual. That’s like a comic throwing you a punchline from left field. You’re hit with a truth that shakes you up, but somehow, it feels like you knew it all along.

They delved deeper, touching on the power in admitting we don’t know everything. Embrace the mystery, he says. This mindset breaks down walls, pushing you to bold, uncharted lands of imagination.

Scientific Knowledge; Opinions & Art

Andrew and Rick cast a critical eye on medical knowledge. Is it rock-solid, as textbooks suggest? 

Rick recalled a startling truth from neurosurgeon Eddie Chang. He claims that maybe half of medical teachings are true. Andrew echoed this concern, highlighting the profound impact of such educational flaws.

Rick then asked, “What does this mean for science?” If our base is off, our breakthroughs might be too. 

Andrew nodded, stressing that science thrives on hard work, not just ‘aha’ moments. It’s about the grind, not just the luck of the draw.

They switched gears to creativity. Remember the Beastie Boys? Their unexpected climb to fame was just for fun, for friends. Yet, it left a mark on the music world.

How does it cope with instant online feedback? Andrew pondered whether this rush to share stifles originality. 

Rick had thoughts. More feedback isn’t always bad. Artists can use it wisely or stick to their guns. What matters is their bond with their creations.

Rick lives by this: create what you love. Or, what the world is missing. Forget chasing popularity. It’s about satisfying a personal or shared craving.

Perception Filters, Contrast & Novelty

Huberman, inspired by Nobel Prize winner Richard Axel, says our brain is like an artist. It abstracts everything, similar to painting a face. 

When we recognize someone, our brain’s neurons play a symphony. Art, he notes, often mimics these brain processes without even trying.

Take Mark Rothko, for instance. His paintings shifted how we see color by stripping away contrast. It’s like that viral dress online that had everyone arguing about its color.

Rubin, though, points out something else. Routine dulls our sense of awe. It’s the new stuff, the unexpected angles, that fascinate us. 

He describes a unique art technique: memorize a subject in one room, then paint it in another, no peeking. This challenges the artist to capture the essence, resulting in something more than a snapshot.

He also believes in the magic of rare moments, like a whale breach or a sunset. These events can shake us from our usual way of seeing the world.

Huberman agrees. Such experiences remind us of the beauty we often ignore. And they’re like color vision, needing a mix of influences to really work. 

He even ties this to humor—how a good buildup can be as funny as a surprise punchline, contrary to what we thought about laughter.

Focus, Disengaging & Subconscious; Anxiety

Rubin harnesses the power of nature, like sunlight, to fuel his creative fire. He also has special rituals that help spark his imagination for each new endeavor.

Commitment is key for Rubin. He immerses himself in work, whether it’s a short sprint or a marathon session. He makes sure there are zero distractions. 

He urges creatives not to take their work home and to juggle different projects. This strategy keeps his mind nimble and his ideas fresh.

Rubin also knows the value of a mental break. Instead of wrestling with a problem, he suggests a lighter touch. Put your trust in the subconscious to untangle complex issues. This approach draws out flashes of insight, sidestepping the hard grind of conscious thought.

Starting a project can be nerve-wracking. Rubin confesses that even with his wins, the unknown can be daunting. 

Huberman sees anxiety differently. It’s not just about stress; it’s about being ready to leap into action. He points to research showing that our anxious energy can actually drive us toward our goals instead of scaring us off.

Their conversation then wove through the role emotions play in creativity. Rubin and Huberman pondered how feelings like anger, joy, or love can be creative fuel. 

Rubin suggests that even angry music often springs from love—echoing who we are at our core.

Together, Rubin’s creative savvy and Huberman’s scientific insight offer a window into managing focus, capturing energy, and realizing the constructive side of anxiety. The central message? Dive deep into your work but step back when needed. Let your hidden mind contribute.

Process & “Cloud”; Perception & Storytelling

Rubin stays mostly in “the cloud,” his term for a free-flowing creative state. Yet he occasionally taps into a technical mindset to capture key moments. 

It’s a delicate dance — staying creative without losing sight of practical details.

They then talked about how our brains craft stories. Rubin noted we spin tales from scraps of information, a skill woven into our thinking. 

But this can lead to confabulation, where we invent details to fill gaps in memory. Huberman pointed out the real-world issues this can cause, like in legal cases where these unreliable narratives can emerge.

Exploring further, they discussed how Salman Rushdie sees us as a “storytelling species.” Our memories, Huberman suggests, are shaped by the stories we tell. He illustrated this with vivid examples, from the mantis shrimp’s vision to the haunting songs of whales. This conversation emphasized that our love for nature is filtered by our cognitive biases and the tales we spin.

To wrap up, Huberman circled back to the idea of perceptual filters. He suggested that our memories and perceptions are based on flawed symbols. He stressed that although our brain works within strict limits, understanding it can reveal much about how we function.

Limited Resolution, Considering the Inverse

Huberman cherish nature’s raw truth. He shares a pivotal conversation with Rubin. Rubin’s advice? Cast off illusions and embrace nature’s reality. This struck a chord with Huberman, highlighting the quest for authenticity.

Rubin probes the limits of our senses. Our mental “resolution” is low, he says. Acknowledging our knowledge gaps can be transformative. 

They pivot to a unique example: professional wrestling. It’s a metaphor for reality. Wrestling’s staged, yet honest about it. In contrast, ‘real’ life often cloaks truth or intentions, leading to confusion.

They shift gears, touching on psychological techniques that flip convention. Huberman mentions Byron Katie’s work, which proposes questioning beliefs by considering their opposites. Initially skeptical, Huberman now sees merit in this, much like in scientific inquiry—where testing alternate theories often leads to breakthroughs.

Rubin layers the conversation with duality. Colors, the day-night cycle, yin and yang, all show how opposites intertwine. By exploring the other side of the coin, we gain fuller understanding, he suggests.

Huberman rounds off their talk with neuroscience insights. He speaks on how our nervous system responds to contrasts and adapts. A static image can vanish if we stare without shifting our gaze. Constant pressure or smells may become unnoticeable as we habituate.

Truth surfaces in the unexpected. Staying alert is crucial in our complex reality. Huberman and Rubin encourage us to challenge our views, consider the inverse, and seek nature’s truth. It’s through this that we can better grasp the world and ourselves.

Resetting Energy & Nature; Nostalgia

During grad school, loud, chaotic events became Huberman’s “reset” button. They allowed him to vent and shake off his need for control.

Over the years, this quest for balance led Huberman to a new hobby: aquariums. He found peace in the unpredictability of fish swimming. It was a harmonious dance of chaos and order. He believes some people might seek this balance through psychedelic journeys.

Music producer Rick Rubin joined the conversation, sharing his take. He too finds tranquility in the ever-changing. 

Natural scenes, like a Hawaiian beach, contrast with rigid, human-made settings. Rubin reflects on the value of both change and consistency, and what they stir within us.

Their dialogue turned to New York City, especially the 1980s and ’90s. Huberman never lived there but felt a deep connection to its culture. 

He discussed how people resist urban change, unlike the natural evolution of landscapes. He wondered if Rubin, with East Coast ties, missed the New York of old.

Rubin surprised him, revealing he’s not nostalgic. Living in the moment, Rubin looks ahead without emotional baggage from the past. 

The conversation wrapped up with Rubin’s unique way of winding down: watching wrestling. It’s his nightly ritual before sleep. 

Despite in-ring drama, wrestling helps him find peace at day’s end. It’s the thrill of stunt-like action, without the emotional ties.

Their talk peeled back layers on personal methods to strike a life balance. Huberman and Rubin each found ways to blend stability with chaos. They highlighted the importance of our surroundings in nurturing creativity and mental health.

Self-Doubt & Performance

Consider the phrase “if nothing matters, anything goes.” Often, it conjures up despair. But Huberman spun it differently. In his view, it’s a liberating mantra that frees the creative spirit. 

Without the weight of external judgment, we’re free to make — and break — our own rules.

Mastery doesn’t kill self-doubt, as most would assume, Rubin observed. In fact, the more skilled we become, the heavier the expectations can weigh. After all, success breeds its own kind of pressure to keep excelling.

Rubin highlighted the double-edged nature of self-doubt. It’s not simply a foe. Used rightly, it’s a checkpoint against arrogance. Yes, it can stifle creativity if it goes unchecked. But channel it as a tool for reflection and growth, and it can actually push us towards greater heights.

Huberman agreed, noting that self-doubt often drives the successful more than arrogance ever could. It spurs on the best to keep striving. Bringing in psychiatrist and bioengineer Carl Dysroth, Huberman pointed to the profound challenge we face in truly knowing our feelings and the feelings of others. This emotional fog only adds to the complexity of self-doubt’s role.

Predictability & Surprise, Authenticity

Rubin loves the sea’s unpredictability, its wild surprises. He brings this thrill for the unforeseen into how he experiences music. 

His ears are always open to new, startling melodies. When a piece catches his ear, Rubin whips out Shazam. Discovering new beats is like stumbling upon hidden treasure.

Their talk took a turn, contrasting live concerts with studio tracks. Huberman wondered, do some artists shine on stage but fade on record? 

Rubin pointed straight to the Grateful Dead. Their albums? Not quite the full picture. But live? That’s where their improvisation and ever-changing sound weave magic.

Huberman chimed in with memories of Grateful Dead gigs. The band’s “Space” drum solos seemed endless, unconventional. 

Rubin nodded, noting that the Dead’s live vibe simply couldn’t be duplicated. For him, that raw, unscripted nature is the soul of jazz and live gigs. Musicians in the moment, no map, just pure, on-the-spot creativity.

They then riffed on the Grateful Dead’s ripple through culture. The band welcomed fans to record their gigs. Deadheads, the die-hard fans, chased the band show after show, seeking those one-of-a-kind vibes.

Wrapping up, Rubin and Huberman reflected on fan devotion, touching on darker, “cult-like” obsessions, but with a twist of humor. 

Rubin left off with a book tip for Huberman — “Season of the Witch.” It’s a read about San Francisco’s transformative ’60s, promising a peek at self-expression and the human yearning for both routine and the unexpected, in life and in music.

Past Experiences, Other’s Opinions

They discussed how the past shapes future choices. Our history is critical in decision-making, but Rubin warned against over-reliance on it. 

He cited his own words: don’t assume the old way is best just due to past success. Rubin knows this mindset can halt innovation.

Then, Rubin spoke on advice. It often comes from personal experience, not universal truth. He shared his own journey – from 22 years of veganism to introducing animal protein led to weight loss for him. What works for one, may not work for another. Custom solutions are key.

The takeaways are rich. We need history for security, but we must also be ready to question, reassess, and adapt our methods. 

Public Opinion & Science: Light, Acupuncture & Nutrition

Huberman chats with Rick Rubin about the closed-off world of past science communities. They kept a tight grip on ideas about the brain. Power and prestige played a big part.

Yet, this talk isn’t just about the brain. They dive into health and even debate alternative therapies. Did you know light therapy snagged a Nobel Prize back in 1916? Now some call it sketchy, but it’s actually got some solid science backing it. 

They also explore acupuncture. Once a quirky curiosity, it’s now recognized by the big leagues, like Harvard. 

Huberman points out that who runs scientific journals can make or break what treatments the public trusts. But times are changing. Even hypnosis and yoga nidra are starting to shine.

Rubin’s a fan of trying the less usual stuff. His take? Be open. Try new health paths without pre-judging them.

Nutrition’s a battleground too, they note. It’s like pro-wrestling, with all the drama and not enough real talk.

In wrapping up, Huberman and Rubin champion a key idea: stay open, stay flexible. Science and opinions evolve.

“Look for Clues”, Belief Effects

Andrew Huberman brought rich experience from music, comedy, and film to the table. He introduced “Strummer’s Law”: “No input, No output.” 

This phrase, displayed in his lab, underlines the importance of interaction with the outside world for creative inspiration. Huberman believes that creativity cannot thrive in isolation and relies on stimuli from our environment.

Rick Rubin, renowned music producer, sees the world as full of subtle hints for creative minds. According to him, we must be alert to catch these signals, whether they’re repetitive phrases or advice from peers. 

Rubin is confident that the universe supports our creative quests. By staying observant, we might just channel a wave of creativity.

The podcast took a scientific twist with Justin Sonnenberg, an expert on gut microbiomes. He introduced a thought-provoking idea: humans might simply be hosts for countless gut bacteria. 

This challenges our view of autonomy and suggests our decisions could be swayed by these small organisms.

Surfing legend Laird Hamilton added to the conversation with his unique take on saunas. He proposed that our urge to leave the intense heat might be due to harmful microorganisms within us, rather than our own discomfort.

Huberman highlighted the value of considering opposite perspectives, a cornerstone of the scientific method. 

He shared psychologist Alia Crumb’s hypothesis that exercise might be a placebo. Although this idea was eventually debunked, it shows how beliefs can greatly affect our physical reactions.

Rubin wrapped up with a powerful notion: belief shapes our creative output. We are surrounded by catalysts for creativity, but recognizing and believing in them is key.

Attention, Emotion & Art

Huberman wondered, “Is being happy essential for being creative?” After all, many great works stem from sorrow. 

Rubin’s take? Whether you’re joyful or blue, it’s less critical than your ability to concentrate on the craft.

Rubin gets to the heart of it. The challenge is managing emotions that hog the spotlight. Say you’re gripped by anguish or passion. That might cloud how you make or see art. It’s vital to dive so deep into the work that personal feelings can’t knock you off track.

They even delved into “transmutation” – turning one feeling into a different, productive action. This skill is a creative’s secret weapon. 

Distractions, though, are creativity’s enemy. Huberman points out their knack for stifling productivity. Without distractions, art can truly bloom. But fame and its perks can reel your focus away from the passion that brought you that acclaim.

Take pro fighters, for example. Huberman notes, once they hit it big, their focus drifts to the perks instead of the grit that brought them the win. 

Success can become its own stumbling block, reinforcing the need to keep that hungry underdog spirit alive.

Creativity isn’t at the mercy of our moods. It thrives on our ability to laser-focus on our work. Our emotional state isn’t the star. The real deal is dodging distractions to keep the creativity flowing, no matter where our hearts lie.

Other Posts from this Episode

Other Resources

Rick Rubin Links

Leave a Comment