Schiller wrote of a “watcher at the gates of the mind,” who examines ideas too closely. He said that in the case of the creative mind “the intellect has withdrawn its watcher from the gates, and the ideas rush in pell-mell, and only then does it review and inspect the multitude.” He said that uncreative people “are ashamed of the momentary passing madness which is found in all real creators… regarded in isolation, an idea may be quite insignificant, and venturesome in the extreme, but it may acquire importance from an idea that follows it; perhaps in collation with other ideas which seem equally absurd, it may be capable of furnishing a very serviceable link.”
What is this “watcher at the gates of the mind” that crushes spontaneity, originality, and fun? A small study recently concluded that an explanation will be perceived as more satisfying if it has a neuroscience angle, even if the neuroscience angle is completely non-probative of its claims. So I am happy to say that I have a neuroscience explanation to offer: the censorious “watcher” likely lives in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.
An even smaller study, for example, studied the brains of rappers, both reciting memorized verses and “freestyling”—inventing new lyrics on the fly. Under fMRI, subjects freestyling showed decreased activation in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). Another study, measuring jazz musicians either playing previously memorized music and improvising new music, demonstrated the same pattern of activation: decreased DLPFC activity in improvising musicians.
So we have a candidate for the watcher at the gates of the mind. Arne Dietrich named this the “transient hypofrontality hypothesis,” proposing that what altered states such as “dreaming, endurance running, meditation, daydreaming, hypnosis, and various drug-induced states” have in common is a pattern of inhibition in the prefrontal cortex. Group rituals, especially rhythmic rituals (like endurance running), have the power to inhibit ordinary self-conscious social rumination and provide pleasurable ego-loss as well as social connection and bonding.