What happens when you bring together a composer and neuroscientist? Besides some great conversation at a cocktail party, you get a very interesting read if they decide to write a book. The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World is that book written by Houston composer and professor at Rice University, Anthony Brandt and David Eagleman, neuroscientist and host of the PBS series The Brain.
The book begins with a riveting reenactment of the Apollo "Houston, We Have a Problem" 13 mission in which Mission Control must shred the playbook of simulated scenarios to save the lives of three astronauts whose service module is destroyed and the command module is venting gas and losing power leaving them with only the lunar module and no playbook.
What ultimately saved the lives of these men was creativity. Working from a short list of items on board, engineers at Mission Control help the crew members to devise an adaptor put together a plastic bag, a sock, pieces of cardboard and a hose from a pressure suit, all held together by duct tape (of course!). They also have the crew use the flight plan cover as an improvised funnel to guide air into the scrubber and then use the plastic-wrapped thermal undergarments that were meant to be worn under spacesuits while on the moon, using the plastic to assemble a makeshift filter all which turns carbon dioxide levels to normal.
As the authors explain, "The human brain doesn't passively take in experience like a recorder; instead, it constantly works over the sensory data it receives - and the fruit of that mental labor us new versions of the world." So inventiveness typically runs in the background, unseen, and outside of our direct awareness. In other words, our brains allows us to absorb the world in inventive ways and create what-if versions of it. This is why the authors write, that cows don't choreograph dances, why squirrels don't build elevators to their treetops and why alligators don't invent speedboats!