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Friday, April 08, 2011

Creativity Pt 2

The Non Issue of Creativity

Creativity is an adverb, not a noun. It is an aspect of a thing rather than a thing itself. In this regard, creativity is a relative and not absolute concept, and is no more real than virtue, goodness, or beauty. Nonetheless, creativity is a particularly attractive concept for pop and humanistic psychologists because like free will, consciousness, death and George Bush’s brain, it is full of import but near empty in detail, and hence does not demand detail. Because creativity can’t be defined, psychologists feel free to define it in any which way they can. This of course leads to innumerable articles and fat books, but it also leads to an immediate conundrum. How can you teach someone to be creative and the motive to be creative when the very definition of creativity denies that there are clear rules involved? Better to deny creativity itself than to deny that remarkable behavior and the motivation that underlies it follows rules that can in large measure be discerned. This is a harsh but nonetheless necessary statement, since all arguments on creativity ultimately miss the point that that the effort to define an indefinable term is ultimately a Zen exercise, not a scientific one.

Now, how mankind invented the wheel or for that matter, eighteen-wheelers implicates thinking, or the processes and events that constitute and instigate those processes. However, the thinking process becomes a creative process depending upon the perceptual prism that you use. The first perceptual lens you employ is whether the product of a thinking process has any importance. This of course is a particularly relative thing, since the music of Britney Spears may be regarded as an artistic testament to the ages for a thirteen year old girl, but may be regarded as a mere noise to a Hottentot, or not even that. Compounding this fact is that creativity is dependent upon our estimate of the rules and motivation (or lack thereof) one relies upon in the act of creation.

Consider the relative importance of, well, relativity. Einstein, who himself noted that estimates of his own genius were relative to how ignorant an observer was of the references he used, has been long recognized as the supreme exemplar of the creative mind. If relativity was a paint by numbers creation, a mere set of theoretical inferences easily and logically derivable from other people’s work, then Einstein would be regarded as no more visionary than an accountant who creatively balances the books. If Einstein hid his references well enough, or surprised his peers with the novelty of his logic, then he would be a creative artist indeed. Couple that fact with the knowledge that the patent office that he worked for did not commission him to think up such great thoughts, leaving him to his own scant resources, then Einstein approaches the acme of all creative genius, the ‘starving artist’.

The Einstein that comes down to us created hypotheses of surpassing value, and all with little regard to the inbred conventions and conventional wisdom of the time, and with no more motivation than the inner need to know. Thus Einstein vaulted from meek patent clerk to exalted genius because he not only created something new and important, but because he did it outside of the standard ‘rules’ of the game, and he did it for free.

Creative accountant
No Rules
Tattoo Artist
No Rules or Motivator
Starving Artist

Figure 1. The Matrix of Creativity

But let’s say that Einstein’s mentor Ernest Mach beat Einstein to the punch with his own version of relativity. Despite his independent confirmation of the fact, Einstein would soon be relegated to a mere cipher in the history of accomplishment, much like Newton’s own regard of Leibnitz’s independent invention of the calculus, or like the second guy who soloed in an airplane across the Atlantic. If Einstein played by the rules to get to his hypothesis, he would be a mere accountant. If he still broke the rules, then he would be an artist all right, but of no more remark than a fellow who designs tattoos. And finally, if he was self-motivated, then without his patent office job to fall back on, he would be regarded as no more than a hobo, although a hobo with an ability to do the math.

Ironically, understanding and knowledge is the great killer of creativity, for when we will finally know all the rules, motivators, and facts, then all remarkable titles like virtue and creativity are dispelled by the commonplace, yet we will continue to take our pleasures like contented accountants in the twilight of the race.

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