Wednesday, 9 October 2013

The nature of genius: power, preeminence, from a person


In considering the nature of genius, it is not possible to define it in terms of a single variable - but requires several factors: the three Ps - power, preeminence, and associated with a personality.

1. Genius is a form of power

It is indeed a new source of power that adds to human capability.

An analogy would be that genius is like discovering a new supply of fuel - a new forest, coal seam or oil field. This new power can be used constructively, or destructively - for tools or for weapons.

Genius is somewhat like a local reorganization of reality to create new capability or efficiency, the insights and theory necessary for such a reorganization, or a technology or tool that enables such a reorganization.

But if the primary reality of genius is a new source of power, the secondary effect is to redistribute power - specifically to concentrate power around the results of genius (not necessarily around the genius himself, but concentrate power around the product of genius).

But is should be noticed that the tendency is for this power to diffuse and dilute - so that the consequences of genius spread much more widely than the situation or society in which the originating genius dwelt.


2. That power is associated with preeminence

A genius must also be preeminent is his field, must be a person of high ability. Thus, it is not genius when a person is of mediocre ability but merely has power conferred upon him or has a large effect but by accident.


3. Genius is personal, that is it originates in a specific person

The power and preeminence of a genius must also be derived from within themselves, must originate from the person - and not merely from his position in a system or institution or from headship of a team (or from some other person - as when somebody else's work is appropriated).

I think the only exception to this is that sometimes genius seems to be genuinely dyadic - a product of the close interaction of two persons neither of who is necessarily a genius alone. Gilbert and Sullivan would be one instance, Crick and Watson is perhaps another. But - as far as I know - this does not scale-up to higher numbers: genius may occasionally be a dyad, but never triadic or more.  


These criteria are similar to those for a Nobel Prize - a prize is awarded (in general) when an influential breakthrough (corresponding to power) is associated with a particular individual and is the achievement of that person; or up to three people when the prize is awarded for either for establishing a new field via more than one discovery, or awarded for the two or three most significant steps towards as discovery.

However, the Nobel does not have direct reference to preeminence, and some prizes have been given to people who were exceptionally hard-working, or in the right place at the right time, or lucky rather than exceptionally able.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Comparing mental age ratio with percentile measures of IQ - the intrinsic imprecision of high IQ measures in adults


I dislike the current method of expressing IQ rankings with an average of 100 and a standard deviation of 15 (or 16): in fact I think it is crazy and bizarre, and puts IQ research into a weird scientific category all or its own, while making IQ measurements all but incomprehensible to almost everybody.

Underneath these IQ numbers lies the more useful and comprehensible information about percentiles; and this would be a much better method of expressing intelligence - for example instead of saying an IQ of 130, just state that the person is in the top 2 % of the population (approx).


What is wrong with that? - and how much clearer it is.

Nonetheless, such percentages are still incomprehensible to many people, and it might be better to express the information as its reciprocal - that only one in fifty people have this intelligence as high as this or higher.

This gives a clearer sense of IQ differences - because when the average is 100, then an IQ of 130 looks as if it is almost identical to IQ 126 about twice as superior as 115.

But it probably makes more sense to say that an IQ of 130 (in the top 2%) is more like twice as superior as an IQ of 126 (in the top 4%) and about eight times superior to an IQ of 115 (top 16%)


But percentiles are still pretty abstract and incomprehensible, and not many people can think that way.

So there is much to be said for the original method of calculating IQ by mental age ratios.

In this system, the performance of a specific child in a specific examination is interpolated into a graph of the average performance of children of different age groups in that examination.

Thus, when an 8 year old child performs at the level of an average 10 year old, he is described as having a mental age of ten (or, if you must! - an IQ of 125 - since 10 is 25% more than 8).


Why was this simple and elegant method of measuring intelligence dropped?

Well, in the first place it wasn't - and parents are used to being told their child's Reading Age, which is a straightforward mental age measurement.

But the main problem is in relation to adult IQs.

It is easy to calculate mental ages for most young children - but the performance in tests reaches a maximum plateau sometime in the teens (and later for men than women) - which means that mental age calculations can only be used to calculate average or below-average performance in adults.


However, although the use of percentile measurements among high ability adults would appear to be a good solution; the method is something of a fraud, because the calculated values of intelligence are almost always extrapolated rather than interpolated.

What I mean is that, in most IQ tests, the percentage prevalence of performance at high levels is not known from direct measurement, but is extrapolated on the assumption that performance has a normal distribution.

Just imagine what it means to say that a person has an IQ of 145 - approximately the 0.1 percentile, or one in a thousand of the randomly sampled total population?

To know the actual performance of the top 0.1 percent, it would be necessary to measure several people at this level - maybe twelve? To get twelve people who are in the top 0.1 percent it would be necessary to test 12,000 randomly selected people - except that to be reasonably sure of getting 12 in a random sample you would need to have a larger sample than that... maybe 48,000 people or more?

Whatever the decision, at any rate this is a huge IQ test study, and a study of this size cannot possibly (in practice) be random, or anything like it. And if a total enumeration of the population (i.e. a census) was attempted, then there could not be a precise measure of IQ since the test would need to be short and simple.

Indeed, the situation is even worse! - because any test simple and short enough to be do-able by those of low intelligence would be unable to discriminate precisely among those of high intelligence.

Yet, any test which was difficult enough to be able to discriminate among adults of high IQ, would not be able to be normed accurately against tests suitable for lower IQ.


My point is that the allocation of numerical values to high levels of adult intelligence, which is made rational by the percentile method of calculation, must be taken with some bucketloads of salt.

The only high IQ measures that are both clearly understandable and relatively assumption-free are mental age calculations done on young children.

Differences in high levels of adult IQ are indeed measurable; but these differences cannot precisely be allocated percentiles with respect to the whole population, nor can they be understood in terms of mental age.

When it comes to high adult intelligence we can only say that it is high (e.g. within the top one or two percent), and that the IQ of Dr X is higher or lower than Professor Y - but we cannot say much more than than.


Wednesday, 2 October 2013

How big is the IQ cognitive elite?


For Herrnstein and Murray publishing The Bell Curve in 1996, the cognitive elite comprised those of:

IQ 125 and above, or 5% of the population - that is one person in twenty.

But for Cyril Burt writing in 1924^, the cognitive comprised those of:

IQ 150 or above, or 0.1% of the population - that is one person in a thousand.

So Burt's elite was fifty times more elite than Herrnstein and Murray's!


A small part of this difference is due to Burt using the 'mental ratio' method of calculating IQ - which is that an IQ of 150 is attributed when a child's performance in intelligence testing is the same as the average child fifty percent older (up to a plateau of about 14-16 years old) - for example when an 8 year old performs at level of an average 12 year old.

By contrast, H&M use the 'percentile' method of calculating IQ - which tests a (supposedly population-representative) sample of subjects and puts their results into rank order and then fits onto this a normal distribution curve with 100 IQ points as the mean average and a standard deviation of 15 - such that the IQ of an individual is a statement of their percentile position if the normal distribution assumptions are assumed to be true and if extrapolation beyond the available data is regarded as valid.

(I will soon post a comparison and critique of ratio versus percentile methods of measuring IQ, especially higher than average IQ, separately.)


But this accounts for only about 5 IQ points difference in Burt's standard (i.e. Burt's IQ of 150 would be approx. equal to H&M's IQ of 146).

There just is a very big difference in the size of the cognitive elite; and an equally profound difference in the kind of jobs that people of different intelligences ought to be doing.

('Ought' - that is - from Burt's late 19th-early 20th century Left-wing Fabian eugenic meritocratic perspective of optimal rational efficiency.)


Burt has eight grades of intelligence, which I will here express in terms of rounded percentiles.

1. Top 0.1 % - Higher Professional: appropriate for university scholarships and honours degrees - occupations include university academics, doctors, lawyers, higher administrators in business and civil service.

2. Top 2 percent - Lower Professional: appropriate for secondary (high) school education, but not for college or university. Occupations include elementary school teachers and higher level clerks.

3. Top 15 percent - Clerks and Highly Skilled Workers: higher elementary education, leaving school about 14 years old; the occupations are of 'intelligent, but moderately routine character' - such as highly skilled manual workers and most clerks.

4. Top 50 percent (above average, but below the above groups - comprising about 35% of total population) - Skilled workers and most Commercial Positions: occupations in skilled labour such as shopkeepers, small scale tradesman, shop assistants for large firms.

5. The approx 35-40% who fall just below the average (that is, IQ roughly between 85 and 100) - Semi-skilled Labour: such as (I guess) underground coal miners, shipyard workers, steel workers, farm foremen.

6. Those above the bottom 4% but below the group of semi-skilled (that is, IQ roughly between 70 and 85) - Unskilled Labour - (I guess) farm workers, navvies, most labourers.

7. & 8 The bottom 4% described as "Casual Labour, Imbeciles and Idiots": are those who are more or less mentally handicapped - some can be basic domestic servants and rural labourers, most are incapable of work and presumably live under family care or in institutions.


What is striking about Burt's classification is how minute are the elite; and what a high intellectual standard, compared with nowadays, he expects would be required for each level of occupation.

This fits with my idea that nowadays we are living in an over-promoted society

Compared with about a century ago, the average cognitive competence of occupational strata has decline by at least one of Burt's categories, sometimes more like two categories.

Part of this is due to the inflationary expansion of the upper categories - which means that people have higher level occupations in name, but not in terms of what they actually do; and part of it is due to the decline in general intelligence over these period, such that the proportion of the population in each high level category has declined.

For example, intelligence at Burt's highest level was attained by one in a thousand as measured in 1924; but this level would now probably now be attained by only one in five or ten thousand (or less).


Burt envisaged a society with a small and very able cognitive elite, selected and allocated afresh each generation; and the mass of people doing manual labour and routine clerical jobs.

Yet we apparently see in the modern West is a society in which only a small proportion do manual labour (due to increased use of machines and computerization) and a third or more of people do what appear to be higher level jobs in Burt's categories 1 and 2.

I think the meritocrats of Burt's era would interpret this in terms of a massive expansion of make-work - instead of making unemployed the mass of the manual and routine clerical workers displaced by mechanization and computers, they have been allocated pretend work at a higher level than they are competent to accomplish.


What the early meritocrats would not have envisaged, since they lived in a much more honest society than ours, was that we could have this current situation of massive over-promotion, gross inflation of occupational status, and incomprehensibly vast erosion of the value of educational qualifications - and yet to deny outright that this is the case: indeed to pretend that the average person in a given category is smarter, better educated and more competent!


^Burt C. The principles of vocational guidance. British Journal of Psychology. 1924; 14: 336-352.

Friday, 13 September 2013

The main problem of creativity is the disposition to recognize problems


I get the impression that most of the psychology of creativity has been too much focused on the problem of 'where do (good) ideas come from?'

The main idea, and indeed the only idea compatible with the non-teleological assumptions of modern biology, is some version of the mechanism of Natural Selection, for example that the creative process involves:

1. a random generation of ideas followed by
2. selection among them.

(HJ Eysenck surveys and expounds this model in his book Genius of 1995).


Broadly, the theory is that a creative person is one with high trait psychoticism/ schizotypy (or possibly Openness to Experience) has a way of thinking which is prone to more-inclusive and wide ranging associations - so instead of generating just one idea, they generate a range of ideas which are novel, but of course nearly all wrong or incoherent or in some way worse.

(The analogy is with genetic mutations, nearly all of which are deleterious.)

A creative genius is assumed to be a person who does this, but who is also able to select among these many random ideas using their extremely high intelligence to test their plausibility in terms of coherence with existing knowledge.

(The analogy is with the natural selection mechanism of reproductive success - most mutations lead to death, sterility, or reduced reproduction; but a few beneficial mutations are selected because they increase reproductive success - and 'good ideas' are selected because they first of all make sense and then do well when scientifically 'tested'.)


So, the answer to 'where do good ideas come from?' is that they are chosen from a pool of what are mostly (nearly-but-not-quite ALL) bad ideas, having been randomly generated - and the essence of genius is is to sift these bad ideas in hope that a good idea might be lurking among them.


Whether or not this is a plausible or possible way n which genius works is not really a matter for empirical study - rather it is just about the only way that genius could work, given the constraints of post-Darwinian biology and the ruling-out of their existing any external source of correct ideas, which the genius might be supposed to be accessing. 

In particular, given that the standard ancient explanation of 'divine inspiration' is ruled out as an explanation of Genius, then some version of natural selection is the only alternative that humankind has come up with.


But the focus of explanation of creativity could, and perhaps should, be shifted. 

Rather than focusing on 'where do good ideas come from?' it may be more useful to focus on what it is that enables - or predisposes - a person to recognize that there is a problem.

By this account a creative person is one who perceives problems that would benefit from being solved; so the special gift of a creative genius would have a lot to do with their ability to discern soluble problems. Soluble problems of such a type that - if they can be solved - would make a big difference to things.

Such a genius would not have to be better than other people at coming up with answers, just much better at knowing when and where there was a problem.


Indeed, this might be his main contribution - and having defined the problem, it might be that a lot of people are able to contribute possible solutions just as well as the genius who made it all possible.


An example would be the act of creativity involved in recognizing a new disease - recognizing that there was a pattern - drawing a line around some part of the world and revealing it as a coherent entity.

So - by this account - Michael S Gottlieb was the primary creative mind involved in the discovery of AIDS because he looked at the sea of disorders and drew a line around a particular combination of signs and symptoms - a new syndrome.

Once this had been done, the famous, over-praised (and over-rewarded) leaders of uncreative but hyper-resourced Big Lab teams could throw manpower and machines at the problem until the causal agent was discovered (which was almost inevitable, sooner or later).


So - I am suggesting that a creative person is one who has the personality, or disposition, to recognize and define problems - and not necessarily the person who is especially good at solving problems

(Because the 'creative' may not have the power and resources to solve the problem he has discovered - and anyway solving the problem may not require much creativity - nonetheless, without the creative person, there would be no problem to be solved. Creativity is primary.) 


Wednesday, 11 September 2013

A Pygmalion theory of creativity: 'Love of the subject' is the perspective which enables creativity


I have previously argued that creativity is rare, and that it is typically inhibited (or more accurately that its per-requisites are lacking) due to the domination of the social perspective.

It is a pre-requisite of creativity that there be 'a problem' - that a line is drawn around some bit of reality as the problem for which a solution is sought.

But why should this happen - what motivates someone to look at the world in such a way that it is seen to consist of problems which that person is motivated to solve?


At a high level, the motivation is seen as 'love of the subject' - by which I mean that a creative genius loves their subject matter, that upon which they exercise their creativity - some abstract activity such as music, a branch of science, poetry...

That subject is what has the line drawn around it as the object of creative concern, and the love of that subject is what makes the concern creative - because if there is no love of subject, then problem is used as a means to the end of other satisfactions - usually personal and/or social satisfactions.


This distinguishes creativity from things like the pathological obsessions of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or the repetitive perseverations of autism - that creativity is derived from a love of that abstracted entity we term 'the subject' - and that 'the subject' includes matters of impersonal functionality and not only the gratification of personal satisfactions or service to socially approved goods.


So, a creative solution is, on the one hand, not done to please the boss nor for fun; and on the other hand is not done from a compulsion or to avoid psychological distress - but rather, the creative mid-set is orientated to some abstract subject-and-function such as making a real and good poem or piece of music; or understanding the underlying reality and causal mechanisms of some chunk of the natural world (a gene, a cell, a mouse - or the species of mice, or an ecosystem) - or simply solving the problem of picking and washing carrots.


To solve the carrot picking triangle problem therefore entails recognizing that there is a problem - drawing a line around the abstract functional entity which is picking, washing, carrying carrots - and then having an effective motivation to improve that abstract function - 'caring' about the problem enough to want to improve understanding, prediction, functionality for its own sake.

This can be made to sound trivial, but if creativity is as rare as I suspect, then it is an unusual situation for somebody to attain this frame of mind.

Creativity is rare precisely because it combines abstraction with motivation.

For creativity to become possible, it seems that abstraction and motivation must be fused.


A person who merely created an abstraction would tend, by that act, to make himself (and others) indifferent to the abstraction.

A good example are the organizational abstractions which are generated by modern management or the artifacts generated by modern art - created arbitrarily, and regarded with indifference.

A person who was merely driven by motivation, would be motivated by the usual things that motivate people (personal pleasure, pain avoidance, the desire for status, hunger, lust etc). This would not lead to the generation of functional abstractions nor to a concern with 'the subject'; but would lead to 'making the best of the world as they find it' - accepting whatever are the existing abstract ways of chunking reality.


So, it seems that the pre-creative state is a fusion of the motivating love of subject with the generation of an abstraction - in a sense, the creative person falls in love with his own creation - rather like the legendary Pygmalion fell in love with a beautiful statue he had sculpted.

And not only that - he falls in love with his own creation but it was precisely that potential love which enabled the creation in the first place - so it is equally true to say that the creative person is creating something to fall in love with.

(This also suggests a profound dissatisfaction with 'the world' as it already exists, which lies behind the creative attitude - since that attitude is an implicit rejection of what actually-is, in favour of what I (the creator) hope to make.)


The Pygmalion legend is therefore the master myth of creativity - and it captures not just the skill and nobility of creation, but also the pathetic (pathos-filled) and absurd aspect of creativity; by which the creator is necessarily an isolated figure infatuated by something which other people regard as un-real; in love with what appears to them as an inert and arbitrary chunk of abstracted reality.

The attitude of a creator to that which he creates, his seriousness about his subject, must strike other people as bizarre; since they seek merely to use his creations for pursuing pre-existing purposes of personal and societal satisfaction.


The social perspective is what (usually) trumps and inhibits creativity


In the previous post

I created a 'Triangular' thought experiment about picking, washing and collecting carrots to represent a very simple 'problem' that is amenable to a creative solution - but only if the participant was able to recognize the situation as a problem.


Why I am so sure that most people would 'walk round the triangle' rather than creatively devising a more efficient solution?

The reason is to do with implicit social features of this situation which now require to be emphasized.

(Recall that the personality traits of Empathizing/Agreeableness (E/A), and Conscientiousness (C) are inversely correlated with creativity: that is high E/A and C implies low creativity )


Implicitly, the Triangle situation entails (in most instances) a social context; and for most people the situation would remain primarily social - which is why its abstract problematic nature would not be recognized.

For example, someone may have been detailed to pick the carrots in a social and hierarchical context - they are told and taught 'how' to pick the carrots by walking the triangle - and the problem is not one of functionality but a matter of obedience.

Implicitly,the task is picking carrots in the way I show you to pick them; and to pick carrots in any other fashion would be to disobey the instructions.

Even more fundamentally, for most people most of the time, almost everything they do has this primarily 'social' aspect. The social world, the world of 'other people and relationships with them, provides the frame for life.

So, for most people most of the time - the Triangle situation is not perceived as a 'problem', not a functional unit; not perceived as the kind of thing which might have better solutions than the one given - but is perceived in some kind of social context.


The social context will, typically but not always, tend to lock people into continuing to do the task in the same way they learned it; and feeling the need to understand what is happening in an abstract sense, even worse to isolate the task preparatory to changing it - these are felt as being disloyal to the social context - as being a rejection of the person, group (family, friends, colleagues, mentors) or institution which allocated the task in the first place - which taught it.

The perceived social context is therefore, commonly, a frame which must be overcome before creativity can even get started.


Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Being creative is not seeking novelty; but drawing a line around part of the world, and abstractly defining a problem


The tests designed to measure creativity by measuring the ability to generate novelty ('list as many uses as possible for a brick' and the like) are misleading - creativity is not about generating novelty, but about revealing underlying reality.

Creativity may therefore entail re-discovering things already known (e.g. discovered already, by other people - but discovering them for yourself); or discovering the meaning (i.e. underlying reality) of things already known by yourself (e.g. discovering why something that you already 'know' is true, is indeed true, the deep meaning of why it is true - instead of just accepting it is true).


What is going on in creativity is something like drawing a line around a bit of the world - this is 'the problem' - and trying to understand it.

Te mechanism by which understanding happens is unknown, but it involves living with the problem - focusing on it and also having it in the background of thoughts - and presumably sleeping on it, maybe dreaming about it (although this would usually not be remembered) - as I say, in general 'living with it'.

Creativity entails achieving a new model for describing the problem - new to you, that is -not necessarily new in the history of the world.


This can be illustrated by an example of the most basic kind of creativity - yet one which is still not universal.

The setting is a garden

At A there are some carrots in the ground
At B there is a tap for washing the carrots
At C there is a basket for the washed carrots

I would bet that if the above situation was set up, the average person would pick a carrot from the ground at A, walk to the tap to wash it at B, then walk to deposit the clean carrot in the basket at C, then walk back to A to pick the next carrot - and so on, and on until the carrots are all picked, washed, basketed.

It would (in my experience) only be a relatively rare, creative person who would move the basket to stand next to the tap; because to do this primarily requires understanding 'the problem', and having understood it to use the resulting model to improve functionality.

To walk around the triangle is natural to someone who regards it as our job (in life) to fit ourselves to the world as we find it - the constraints of the world are implicitly accepted; while to move the basket requires a functional, indeed abstract, approach to the world - such that we try to organize the world in order best to achieve these functions.


Friday, 30 August 2013

The unfortunate (but necessary) negativity of young genius


Because creativity is bound-up with character (specifically, the personality trait of high Psychoticism), it comes in a package. And some aspects of the creativity package are annoying for other people - understandably so.

William Wordsworth is generally ranked as one of the three greatest English poets writing in modern English (along with Shakespeare and Milton) - he also has a reputation as being a rather dull and quiet kind of person.

On the whole, this reputation is broadly correct; but Wordsworth showed unmistable traits of high Psychoticism, including selfishness/ autonomy - but especially in his early life.


In the biographies of highly creative people, including geniuses, there is often a prolonged period when they do very little - they display pronounced negativity: that is to say they know what they do not want to do, but they have not discovered what they do want to do.

This happened in Wordsworth's life. From his second year at Cambridge University he more or less 'gave up' on studying, on preparing himself for making a living, on indeed on pursuing any kind of long term strategy: but he didn't do anything else much.

He wasted quite a lot of money given by his relatives (for example the fees and living expenses of three years at Cambridge, from his Uncle), he mooched around London, he did some travelling in search of something to stimulate him (including fathering an illegitimate child in France when absorbing the revolutionary fervour) and so on.

Even as a grown up, living quietly in Dove Cottage with his sister, Wordsworth took the brightest and warmest room for his poetry writing, and the whole household was organized around his poetic requirements.


(Tut tut, poor Dorothy, consigned to the gloomy parlour. Yet if William had not been selfish, and had not nurtured his genius, then we would not be talking about Dove Cottage and Dorothy at all!)   


Only after many years of this did Wordsworth find his vocation as A Poet, and worked very productively at this.

Now, Wordsworth was one of the most sober and industrious of The Romantics, and there are far more extreme examples of negativity including his great friend Coleridge - who exaggerated these traits by deliberate, then addicted, alchohol and opium abuse.

But the point I wish to make is that even Wordsworth showed clear signs of the cluster of high Psychoticism traits, which meant that he could (and did) work hard and long at what he wanted to work hard at; but could not work at anything else.


As a young man, when creativity is at its highest, Wordsworth would not and could not and did not work at what other people wanted him to work at, and this is the negativity. 

It is easy to imagine Wordsworth dying before he wrote any great poetry, or failing to find and develop his vocation, and being considered nothing but a selfish waster.

Of course, being a high negativity selfish  waster does not, not, NOT make anybody a creative genius; but being a creative genius almost always did entail going through a period of being a selfish waster and looking for The Thing that would stimulate you to hard and prolonged work - and during this period of looking perhaps being derailed by other stimuli such as women and drugs - and with no guarantee of ever coming out of the other side and achieving work of genius which is highly valued. 


A creative genius almost always comes with a price tag, the cost of which is mostly paid by those around him.

If nobody pays the price, the genius does not eventuate.

Harsh - but that's life, I'm afraid.


Monday, 19 August 2013

Shamans and creativity


About a decade ago I was reading everything I could find on the subject of shamans - scholarship, ethnography, memoirs and journals, literary theory, criticism, archeology, history, new age spirituality, self-help and do-it-yourself manuals...

My conclusion was that, roughly - a shaman is a specialist - usually male - figure found in hunter-gatherer and some other nomadic and simple agricultural societies.

The 'ideal type' of a shaman is characterized by having experiences of contact with the spirit world, or some other unseen world, in states of altered consciousness. Shamans have various functions such as healing ('medicine men'), and providing advice, judgement, understanding.

Shamans seem to be a clear prototype of the creative person and his role in society.


The way that shamans are seemingly marked-out from an early age - chosen-by their nature for their particular role - may provide confirmation that creativity is part of a package of personality traits; such that creativity is something like an innate disposition, a way of relating to the world - and not a thing chosen or deliberately adopted.

Thus a person is a shaman, and shamanism is his destiny; by analogy a person is creative, and creativity is his destiny - and the shamanism/ creativity is a fact: true or not true; although of course each person can choose, and may choose differently, what they do about their nature and destiny.


Now, the category of shaman is a modern, Western conceptualization which unifies disparate figures found in a wide range of tribal situations and from different historical times.

The term was originally Siberian and this may link culturally to Amerindian examples (including among Eskimos/ Inuits, through classic 'Red Indians'/ Native Americans; to Amazonians and Patagonians); but shamans are also instanced among the Bushmen of the Kalahari desert in Africa and Aborigines in Australia; and indeed wherever there is an animistic, or simple totemistic, religion.


However, despite the many fair points made by revisions which tend to suggest that the whole area of shamans is so vague and confused that it would be better to dispense with the term; I believe it does have value.

The key point is that shamans were unexpected figures for anthropologists - found in some types of simple society; but apparently either completely absent from Western societies - or else hidden so deeply as to be undetectable by official investigators.

So anthropologists might expect to find priests, analogous to the already known priests of the Western, Middle Eastern and Far Eastern societies - but shamans are not priests. A new category was needed.


What do shamans do?

My overall impression is that they are called upon to deal with exceptional situations - situations where there is no traditional guidance, or where the traditional guidance has been tried and found to be ineffective.

Such situations could include some types of illness, when and where to move for better hunting, what to do about threats from predators or other tribes, 'legal' judgement in difficult cases - many types of advice and guidance, interpretation and prophecy.

To do this, shamans use altered states of consciousness - trance states of various types or visionary dreams - during which shamans contact the underlying spirit world for information and prediction, or to intervene and change things.

In a nutshell, shamans are believed to be able to come into contact with a deeper level of reality than the everyday - and that is the source of their abilities - and their societal role.


So, the impression from reading many accounts is that shamans are highly creative persons - and therefore I would expect that they would show the Psychoticism-like traits of high creativity; and this seems to be confirmed.

Shamans usually emerge from an early age of life - either childhood or teens; the shaman is either marked from an early age as being different, or else goes through a (typically) traumatic experience of illness, accident or some other stress, which changes them permanently. Thus shamans are flawed, damaged people who also (because of this, not despite it) have special gifts.

The shaman is usually a man - usually not socially integrated, usually lives somewhat apart, may be unfriendly -  a person feared and respected rather than loved and cherished.

Often unmarried, without known children - someone who hands on his social role by apprenticeship rather than founding a lineage.

Someone who does not work, but is supported by payments for services and charity/ protection money - at least he does not do work as it applies to the rest of the tribe - hunting gathering, agriculture, warfare, child care... 


It would obviously help if the shaman was more-than-usually intelligent as well as more-than-usually creative - but it is probable that these hunter gatherer, nomadic, simple hunter-gatherer societies have not been selected for higher intelligence over hundreds of years - as have some of the more stable and more complex agricultural societies.

So the actual intelligence of real life shamans may have been considerably below what we would consider average - just as the creativity of the average person in the societies they inhabit would be considerably above our average.

By this logic the creativity of a great shaman might have been something quite extraordinary - off the map of our modern, Western understasnding of the possibilities of creativity.


But it is not the exceptional intelligence that sets the shaman apart - rather it is the different cognitive style: the shaman approaches problems differently, or creatively as we would say - he does not apply the usual, traditional, high status or socially sanctioned rules or practices; but instead generates his unpredictable answers using quite different processes and procedures.

And this is something that the shaman cannot help doing: he is made that way, he is called to a role. Most of the time he is not wanted, scary, chaotic, nasty, a nuisance, a parasite - but there are situations when he is needed. and it is for these situations that the shaman is protected by the rest of the tribe.


Saturday, 17 August 2013

Thinking about thinking creatively


Creativity is about abstraction of function from the social situation - this is a necessary preliminary to being creative about something.

The basic situation, then, is for a human to be embedded in the social context - being sensitive to the nature of the social context, sensitive and responsive to the feelings and wishes of others.

The basic situation is that humans are set-up to be embedded in this context - with various aims: keeping other people happy, aiming to have high status within the context, hoping for power over others and so on...

Creativity entails detachment from this whole social context - and instead focusing upon 'the problem', the function, the goal. That is the basic situation.

This is the basic set-up of creativity. Creativity is a basic set-up in which the creative person is intrinsically detached from social context - and whose interests are external to himself; where the self is bound-up with objective, non-social externals.

So creativity is a disposition, a way of approaching the world, a focus, an emotional concern with the non-social doings of the world.


Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Genius, creativity and breakthrough innovations


It is necessary to be clear about the relationship between creativity and genius - and the relationship between genius and breakthroughs.

The following are some of my definitions and assumptions:

1. Genius is creative - it is a mixture of creativity and high ability (mostly intelligence).

2. Creativity is an aspect of personality - creativity is indeed part of the cluster of personality traits discovered by HJ Eysenck and called Psychoticism. The Psychoticism trait-cluster also tends to include various 'antisocial' or socially disvalued personality traits such as lower than average conscientiousness, lower than average empathy/ agreeableness, impulsiveness, arrogance etc. - these are, in fact, necessary components of creativity.

3. Because intelligence and personality are mostly hereditary, so are the components of genius - but the necessary particular combination is rare.

4. Because intelligence and personality averages and distributions are different between human groups, so is the incidence of genius - some societies have a much higher percentage of geniuses than others; but this incidence is never very high, and may be zero.


5. Because genius has been defined in terms of psychological attributes, the assumption is that these attributes will tend to lead to the achievements which are associated with genius - but not necessarily. A person may be a genius, but for various reasons (bad luck, inhospitable society, underdeveloped culture, illness, persecution etc) fail to make a major achievement.

5. On the other hand, I assume that ALL major achievement (all major breakthroughs) are made by a genius - whether correctly attributed to a specific genius person, or not. Apparent counter examples, e.g. when major breakthroughs are apparently made by people of high intelligence but low creativity (or to 'teams'), will (I believe) almost-always be found to depend on the work of an unattributed creative genius (or pair, or very small number) - and if that person cannot be identified, I assume that they nonetheless existed.

6. Therefore, without major geniuses, there are no major breakthroughs.


But genius is relative - in the sense that creative people of lower ability, and less luck, may make important breakthroughs at a smaller societal scale, and perform as 'local geniuses' uniquely able to solve local problems (whether credited for doing so, or not).

I have (provisionally) termed these 'local geniuses' Patagonian Shakespeares.


Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Is creativity random? An intrinsic ability? No: ultimately it is a matter of sensitivity to external inspiration


Most scientific accounts of creativity converge onto the idea that creativity is one half of a kind of natural selection process by which creativity produces an undirected spectrum of undirected 'random' variations, and intelligence selects plausibly true or useful variants from this spectrum by testing the variants against established knowledge.

(High intelligence being necessary - or at least very useful- to make these large numbers of comparisons that are testing random variants against knowledge with sufficient rapidity; and a large knowledge base being facilitated by that rapid learning which is characteristic of high intelligence).


But, this convergence of scientific theories upon creativity being random is not a discovery of science, rather it is simply a consequence of the metaphysical assumptions of science.

Science as a metaphysical system excludes teleology, excludes there being any direction for functionality whereby a system might 'know in advance' what was closer to reality. Indeed, science denies the possibility of comparing theories and experiments with reality to estimate how close they come - because if reality was known outwith science, then there would be no need to do science - it would merely be a long-cut to reality, a resource-consuming and indirect method of doing-philosophy .


So, the basic set-up of science excludes the possibility of creativity being directed toward discovery of the nature of reality.

This exclusion of teleology has not and never could be discovered by science - it is built-into science, and emerges with inevitability (when it is sometimes - often! - naively mistaken for a discovery!).

Yet, in practice teleology is almost always smuggled into science covertly - and this seems to be inevitable considering that the number of possible random variations which could be generated is open-ended ('infinite') and there is no possibility of sorting among them.


However, the idea that creativity is random leads to some important - but false conclusions: for example the idea that there is 'something wrong' with the brains/ thought processes of creative people.

This idea is indeed in the background of Eysenck's work on creativity, and is a flaw - but it is a flaw shared with all the other psychologists I have read on the topic. Eysenck sees creativity in terms of a fuzziness of the thought processes, a widening of the association-field of thinking - which generates more random variation in the associational-chain of reasoning; this wider-variation/ imprecision then being sifted and selected-from by the extra powers of an extra-high intelligence.

In sum, according to this prevalent view, the creative genius is one who produces more randomly-generated garbage from his thinking, but who is also much better than average at sorting the garbage - and consequently finds the occasional nugget of usefulness among the garbage.


As I say, this conclusion is not a discovery but in fact a necessary consequence of the metaphysical assumptions brought to the field. And it is a conclusion which - although not impossible in principle - may be impossible in practice due to the likelihood that randomness generates an impossibly high ratio of wrong/ useless variation compared with the rarity of correct/ useful variation.

I think this view also fails to correspond with common sense ideas about creative genius, or even everyday creativity; and also fails to match the 'phenomenology' or introspective psychology of successful creation (so far as this can be ascertained) - which has teleological (goal-seeking) features, and a sense of sureness and truth very much a part of it.


Nonetheless, regarding creativity as random has fed into (or at least supports) the prevalent modern Western secular account of creativity as being about novelty, and the distortion of evaluation which sees novelty as merely something different - and which reject the possibility of evaluating novelties.

I mean the view that puts 'modern art' (post Picasso) on a level with the great art of the past, and the latest critic-approved examples of 'artistic genius' into galleries alongside Rembrandt.

And the view (the prevalent, mainstream view among professional psychologists) with argues that this novelty-creativity comes from the (incoherent) personality trait called Openness to Experience -

- which more or less reduces to the personality trait of being high IQ with Left wing views.

This modern 'creativity' is essentially definable as high status novelty; derived from almost-randomly-generated novelty (in practice, novelty generated by rote procedures of extrapolation from or selection and recombination of the products of past-creativity derived form social and political studies) - upon which are conferred high social status by the prevalent dominant secular Left wing intelligentsia.


But, but but...

The traditionally, in previous non-secular cultures; the underlying reality of creativity, above and beyond science, is that creativity is primarily from outwith the creative person.

That the creative person is one who has some gift conferred from outwith himself - from inspiration - the muses, gods or evil spirits.

So the creative person is not - in the final bottom-line analysis - someone with a particular ability, but someone with a particular sensitivity.

Namely, a particular sensitivity to these sources of external inspiration - inspirations which may be benign/ useful, or indeed malign and destructive. 


Monday, 12 August 2013

In an evil society, most creativity will be evil: most creatives will be engaged in destruction of The Good


Although I argue for the importance of creativity in human affairs, and therefore of the importance of the creatives who do the primary work of creativity; it should not be forgotten that creativity is a means to an end - and when the end is evil, so is creative activity.

Modern society has become more and more evil - which is to say organized in pursuit of destruction of The Good - the Good being (roughly) truth, beauty and virtue.

Thus modern leadership is engaged in destruction of truth, beauty and virtue; and in promotion of dishonesty, ugliness and sin - especially sexual sins.


That is, modern leadership embodies and enforces a morality which takes reality and inverts it - so that good becomes evil and vice versa.

This Nietzschian project of 'the transvaluation of all values' is incompletely realized, and indeed cannot be fully realized - but 'progress' towards its realization continues incrementally.

In such a context, it is unsurprising that most creativity is harnessed in pursuit of evil.


In the first place, much of this distinctively modern form of evil by inversion is a product of highly creative persons, such as Nietzsche himself, and lesser emulators who not only extrapolated his ideas, but creatively enhanced them.

Secondly, due the the fact of creativity being part of the personality type of 'psychoticism' - creatives tend to be vulnerable to the consequences of impulsivity and less restrained by social ethics: they are lone wolves with a potentially predatory attitude which is relatively easily corrupted by short-term and selfish incentives.

Thirdly, creatives - who might in principle exercise their creativity on anything - will find but may not notice that they have themselves been pointed-at traditional institutions and values; in a context where creativity is akin to subversion, and where successful subversion of approved targets is applauded, and accorded high status and material support.


In sum, modern creatives are highly likely to be amateur or professional destroyers of the good - in their net effect if not wholly.

That would, indeed, be my characterization of my own creativity as a writer through most of my life. While I worked on some good causes - such as supporting real science - overall I surely did more harm than good in terms of both direct and indirect subversions of The Good.

This is one of the horrors of our uniquely nihilistic world. Humans have always failed to attain The Good due to our own weaknesses and those of mankind - but we are now in the situation where it is normal actively to attack The Good, by many means and on many fronts - so that both creative ability and hard-working conscientiousness do not merely fail of their promise and their ideals - but are harnessed to work against The Good.


(For example, I suspect many creatives work in the world of public relations, the mass media, hype and spin generally - most excercise their creativity in tactically re-framing reality to serve the short-term and selfish needs of their employers; while the best creatives are engaged in long-term and strategic PR for the ruling Leftist ideology of political correctness.)  


In sum, most modern creatives are of evil intent; and the more effective their creativity, the greater the harm they inflict.


Ordinary genius? Is it real genius? No - only the 'magicians' are real geniuses


No ordinary genius is the title of a photographic biography of Richard Feynman.

The term comes from a quotation from Mark Kac which states:

In science, as well as in other fields of human endeavor, there are two kinds of geniuses: the “ordinary” and the “magicians.”

An ordinary genius is a fellow that you and I would be just as good as, if we were only many times better. There is no mystery as to how his mind works. Once we understand what he has done, we feel certain that we, too, could have done it.

It is different with the magicians. They are, to use mathematical jargon, in the orthogonal complement of where we are and the working of their minds is for all intents and purposes incomprehensible. Even after we understand what they have done, the process by which they have done it is completely dark.

They seldom, if ever, have students because they cannot be emulated and it must be terribly frustrating for a brilliant young mind to cope with the mysterious ways in which the magician’s mind works. Richard Feynman is a magician of the highest caliber. Hans Bethe, whom [Freeman] Dyson considers to be his teacher, is an “ordinary genius,”


So, Kac says there are ordinary geniuses and magicians; which would respond to high psychoticism, high creativity geniuses - and those who are highly intelligent but conscientious in personality and who are not primarily creative - but who instead extrapolate from previous work.

(Magicians correspond to high Psychoticism creatives - who deploy primary process thinking, which cannot be captured by logic.)  


I would say that only magicians are true creative geniuses, and Kac's 'ordinary geniuses' are not actually geniuses, but are in a sense parasitic upon true geniuses.

(At best OGs are symbiotic with magicians, in practice they are often exploitative.)

In other words, I suggest that the primary innovations 'always' come from the 'magicians' - but in a domain where there are magicians at work, then un-creative and highly able people are able to make major contributions by taking the results of the magicians, and taking them further.

BUT - in a world where there are only 'ordinary geniuses' (that is, only intelligent and conscientious people who lack creativity) - innovations soon dry-up.


So 'ordinary' or un-creative geniuses are extremely useful in amplifying the productions of wizards/ creative geniuses; and may indeed be difficult to differentiate from the true geniuses (since the creative source of the original ideas may not be apparent, and the creative underpinning may be unappreciated, unacknowledged or appropriated).

But 'ordinary genius' is deceptive. Institutions love 'ordinary geniuses' because they have much easier, friendlier, more sociable and obedient personalities - and 'ordinary geniuses' therefore tend, over time, to dominate career structures and gather power to themselves and bureaucratize the domain - and thereby to exclude the difficult misfit high psychoticism magicians - and indirectly kill-off major innovation in that field.


Sunday, 11 August 2013

Fake creativity versus real creativity


In discussing creativity, a decision must be made as to whether we are going to give primacy to process or outcome.

(Not neglecting the other of the pair: but one or the other must come first).

I put process first - and therefore discuss creativity and how it leads to what are generally regarded as creative results - so if the work leading to a science Nobel Prize is regarded as a creative outcome, then I would say that some science Nobel Prizewinners were highly creative persons, but some were not. The same would apply to great composers, great writers, great artists etc.


If creativity is process, a mode of thinking; then this means that many or most of the people who produce work which is generally regarded as extremely useful, beautiful or true are not creative. 

Furthermore, most creative people ('creatives') do not achieve anything that is generally regarded as useful, beautiful or true.

So it is not a compliment to call somebody creative or 'a creative' - it is simply a description of a personality type. 

(A personality type which is very poorly understood, hence the reason for my writing about it.)


In previous eras, there was not a special status given to novelty or originality as an aspect of high quality work - but since about 1800 in the West there has been: greatness is supposedly innovative.

Therefore we have an incentive system in place to generate fake creativity: an incentive system in which there are un-creative people who dishonestly strive to be regarded as original because they want to appropriate the label of creative.

In sum, under modernity creativity has been reduced to novelty - and novelty can be faked.


But it is easy to generate mere novelty, therefore the discriminative test applied to novelties is whether they are approved by the social systems that allocate high status.

When novelty is socially approved, then the person who generated it gets to be called creative - maybe even a creative genius.

Thus:  Novelty of outcome + Social Approval of that outcome = Fake creativity


And fake creativity is an attribute bestowed upon an outcome or person; bestowed by the social systems for generating status - in other words the mass media (primarily), politics, civil administration, the legal system, education... in a nutshell the Leftist establishment.

So, as you would expect, political correctness has captured creativity - and replaced real creativity with a fake creativity which is controlled by the arbiters of modernity: that is, mostly the mass media.

This to claim to be a 'creative' person has been changed from being the mere observation of a psychological fact; to an arrogant claim of deserving high social status for having achieved something which is approved by social arbiters.


This matter of being able to define/ bestow the accolade of creativity is of extreme importance to the Leftist intellectual establishment - indeed, fake creativity stands close to the heart of the Leftist project - because the Left works mainly via manipulations of esteem, including self-esteem.


How to be more creative - gratuitous advice


Increasing the proportion of unstructured time alone is the key - as Glenn Gould once said:

GOULD: I don't know what the effective ratio would be, but I've always had some sort of intuition that for every hour you spend in the company of other human beings, you need "x" number of hours alone. Now, what "x" represents I don't really know; it might be two and seven-eighths or seven and two-eighths, but it is a substantial ratio.

Secondly, you may need to find whether you are an evening or a morning person - an owl or a lark: I am a lark, so I get up at 05.00 hours and do my best thinking/ creative stuff before 11.00. But most creatives are owls.

Thirdly - you need to get enough sleep of sufficiently high quality: a lot of creativity happens during sleep.


So the following need to be got right: 

1. Unstructured time
2. Diurnal rhythm
3. Sleep


Thursday, 8 August 2013

The rarity of creativity


I believe creativity is rare, because creative people are rare - and by rare I mean a small minority, the size of which varies between societies.



Well I am impressed by the long periods of stasis which are detected in human technology in some periods and places - periods of many, many generations when flint axes and other tools are (apparently) produced to exactly the same patterns, when 'art' (or decorations) are stereotyped and so on.

Some cultures change rapidly (in terms of the evidence they left us) others not so - my interpretation is that change is underpinned by rare creative individuals - which are seldom or never found in other societies.


And I agree with HJ Eysenck who argued that creativity is an aspect of the high 'Psychoticism' personality trait - which is typically found in only a small minority of population samples. These samples are typically taken from among college students - so the finding emphasizes that there are only a small minority of college students who are creative.

That the distribution of Psychoticism has a strongly 'positive skew'

in most samples is taken as evidence against its usefulness - but I regard this as simply how things are: there - there is only a small proportion of high-P people, and therefore an even smaller proportion of creative people; since the high P category also contains people who are suffering psychotic illness, are selfish psychopaths, and who are so chaotic and impulsive as to be incapable of sustained purposive action.


Everyday experience and the implications of cultural observation. My observations suggest that most people are incapable of creative thinking, and cannot understand it. They accept that somebody or something is creative only because the fact is asserted by those they regard as authoritative - this is merely obedience, not recognition.

In mainstream culture, some fields of activity - e.g. being a poet or a visual artist or a musician - are assigned to the category of creative (as in the phrase creative arts) when there is typically zero creativity involved in these endeavors - conversely it is regarded as fanciful to regard tradesmen or entrepreneurs or the unemployed as creative.


Aside, I do not mean to imply a dichotomy of creative good, un-creative bad. I suspect that - perhaps because primary roles are closed to them - most of the few successful creatives in the modern West are currently engaged in evil-tending activities in the mass media, advertizing, public relations, politics, spin and hype. Whereas in the past, creatives were engaged in solving real world problems, creatives are nowadays mostly engaged in denying and distracting from real world problems - and in manufacturing imaginary problems to draw attention away from reality.


Furthermore, I have theoretical grounds for suspecting that natural selection cannot generate a high proportion of highly creative people; because I think that genetic/ reproductive benefits of creativity generally accrue very equally to the group - successful creativity makes most of a creative-containing-group successful at increasing its reproduction compared with other groups - and does not much or at all increase the reproductive success of the specific creative person who made the 'breakthrough'.

I think this is strongly suggested by the history of breakthroughs, as well as the biographies of known successful creatives, who have increased the reproductive success of their group - the creatives typically do not seem to be 'rewarded' by raising large families.


So creativity = creative individuals seem to arise in particular times and places, as a low proportion of the population, and created and sustained by somewhat indirect and fragile mechanisms - easily subverted by short-termism and selfishness; which is why modern society is in practice so hostile to genuine creativity - except when creativity serves short-termist and selfish goals....


Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Why Concientiousness, Agreeableness/ Empathizing are anti-creative


The positive correlation between creativity and Eysenck's Psychoticism trait, also implies a positive correlation with the more specific Schizotypy trait, and a negative (inverse) correlation with Big Five traits of Conscientiousness and Agreeableness (and Agreeableness is essentially identical with Simon Baron Cohen's Empathizing trait).

The inverse correlation of Creativity in terms of C and A is understandable, and necessary - once C and A are properly understood.


Creativity implies a strong ego, a person who looks at a situation and comes up with something different because he believes it possible - even probable - that he knows better than other people, and is (to some extent) indifferent to the opinions of others on this matter.

Conscientiousness is sometimes conceptualized in terms of delayed gratification - the ability to put-off gratification now, in return for greater gratification in the future. For example, to defer the pleasure of playing and instead study academic subjects - forgoing current pleasure of play, and suffering the tedium of work, for a (hoped for) greater pleasure in the future.

But this is an error - because it is not the way the mind is motivated. The mind actually works by maximizing current gratification - by doing what is positively rewarding, and avoiding what yields negative emotions.


Therefore the proper way to conceptualize Conscientiousness is that a high C person gets more gratification here and now by doing what they feel is best to do, or necessary to do, or which they have been told to do by an authority, or what they are supposed to do according to peer pressure.

Therefore, high C implies a high degree of concern for internalized social norms - a tendency to feel good (here and now) when conforming to these social norms/ values - and/or a tendency to feel bad (e.g. guilty, ashamed, afraid) when transgressing or failing to follow these social norms.

This is what links Conscientiousness to Agreeableness or Empathizing - a dominating concern with the views of other people - attention to knowing the emotions and wishes of others, a calibrations of one's own (observed or perceived) behaviours to stay in line with the expectations or desires of others.


So, it can be seen that Conscientiousness and Agreeableness are two side of the same coin (and the inverse of Psychoticism) - which is that a person high in Conscientiousness and also Agreeableness is one who - here and now, and in the present moment - derives the greatest satisfaction from his conformity to the social group, and is attentive to cues of social group values: and (more important) who has aversive feelings if transgresses or he fails to follow social norms, such as would happen if creativity thinking was in play.

And such a person is not creative - because he is focused on learning and doing what the social group wants him to do, and is dominated by such concerns.


Note: As described elsewhere, and in line with Gregory Clark's description in A Farewell to Alms - I believe that higher-C, higher-A were positively selected-for in the context of complex agricultural societies - where high-C, high A (and also high general intelligence) were economically useful; and where individuals with high-P traits would have tended to die from starvation or disease - or were differentially killed as being vagabonds, criminals and outlaws.  

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Creative is not what you *do*, but who you *are*: the phenomenology of creativity


Creative people are made that way: it is personality.

But why? What do creatives get out of being creative?

What, on other words, is the phenomenology of creativity

(Phenomenology = first-person, inner, subjective experience).


People could only be creative by disposition if creativity were supported with positive/ rewarding emotions and/or provided relief from negative/ aversive emotions.

I think this works in about three stages:

Discontent -> Delight -> Satisfaction

Corresponding to:

Perceiving a Problem -> Having an Insight -> Generating a Solution 


Therefore, creativity is driven by a negative or Dysphoric feeling - that some state of affairs produces an emotion of dissatisfaction.

The creative then turns their attention to this 'problem' - and may come up with an Insight which leads to a Euphoric feeling of delight. So the creative is rewarded up-front for generating insights - whether or not these turn-out to be answers.

Therefore, the creative will tend to generate insights for the sheer fun of it - and even if they turn out to be useless, or harmful.


Finally, with luck, the creative comes up with a Solution to the Problem, a Solution which makes him feel Satisfied.

So a state of Discontent has been replaced by a state of Satisfaction - and this can be termed a Euthymic state - that is a state of 'normal' good mood - not Euphoria (which is short term and unsustainable) but a long term gratification.

So, in terms of phenomenology, it goes:

Dysphoria ->  Euphoria - > Euthymia


Therefore, for the creative person, being creative is rewarding; and such a person will be creative; spontaneously, whether asked or not, whether useful or not; whether they are sufficiently knowledgeable and competent, or not...

Therefore, if creativity is wanted or needed, then the job requires a creative person.

And if you have a creative person in place, and they are sufficiently interested in what you want them to do, then they will be creative.

Whether this creativity is actually useful in the real world will depend on the degree of correspondence between the creative's internal subjectivity state, and external objectivity.  


Tuesday, 30 July 2013

The (annoying) arrogance of creativity


Creativity is a trait: a personality trait.

Therefore, although its overall level and expression can be modulated by self-training and environment - creativity is not something which is switched on-and-off at will: creative people tend to be creative at many or most times and many or most circumstances.

Therefor creative people tend to be creative even when they are too young, too inexperienced, and/or too lacking in knowledge to have any plausible basis for their creativity.

This can be and usually is annoying to those who are older, and do have experience and relevant knowledge (as well as those who do not understand creativity or are hostile to it - and instead want to align with consensus).


Creativity tends to go along with the cluster of traits that Eysenck termed Psychoticism

and one of these traits, related to creative genius, is ego-strength, or confidence - or to put it another way: arrogance.

It takes arrogance to look at an established situation and to respond by acting on the assumption that 'I know better' or 'I can do better' (which response is pretty much intrinsic to creativity) and to continue in this way despite inevitable (and quite likely justified) criticism and pressure to stop-messing about and just get on with it!


This necessary arrogance is one of the reason why creativity is so often unwelcome, and why it provokes frustration even when it does not provoke outright hostility.

Einstein, for instance, in his later life provoked intense frustration at his refusal to 'get with the program' in relation to the ultimate validity of quantum theory: to persist in criticisms of its tenets, to regard it as merely a temporary expedient.

But this stubbornness of Einsteins in the face of near universal disagreement, was of-a-piece with the creativity which made him great; and most creative people are much less gracious than Einstein, as well as being of much lesser intellectual stature.

Hence, unless we actually want creativity, it tends to be filtered-out by modern, long-haul, multi-level education/ training systems and employment hierarchies.  

Monday, 29 July 2013

What of the Mute Inglorious Miltons? - unacknowledged creativity


Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway'd,
Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre.

But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page
Rich with the spoils of time did ne'er unroll;
Chill Penury repress'd their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Some village Hampden that with dauntless breast
The little tyrant of his fields withstood,
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell guiltless of his country's blood.

From Thomas Gray's  Elegy written in a country churchyard

Note: this is a first rate poem - if you do not know it, take a look:


The idea of Mute Inglorious Miltons is intended to convey that creativity, and even creative genius, may have its effects and innovations may result - and yet the creative originator may be unknown and credit misallocated (for example, appropriated without acknowledgement by an uncreative person - or the provenance of the breakthrough simply lost to history) - or else the advance may simply be regarded as an obvious-next-step and taken for granted as having required nothing in the nature of creativity.


(Creativity is grossly undervalued by the uncreative - who are, as it were, 'tone deaf' to the operations of creativity. This is possible because creativity usually appears to be wrong, dysfunctional, silly -- and deriving from incompetence, ignorance, craziness, arrogance or some other undesirable trait in the creative person. And of course, more often than not, the products of creativity turn-out to be, indeed, relatively dysfunctional. But when creativity, rarely, leads to an improvement discernible even to the uncreative, then it no longer appears to be a breakthrough but merely a product of common sense.) 


But my observations have suggested that only creative people generate innovations, and the majority of people are - in any given context - utterly uncreative and would never innovate, nor even improve (regardless of their intelligence). 

I give two examples of uncreativity from my experience of methods in medicine and laboratory science.

1. Use of alcohol to clean skin before taking blood. When I was taught to take blood, I was told to sterilize the inner elbow with an alcohol swab, then to push the needle through the still wet alcohol in to the vein. This introduced alcohol under the skin where is produced an immediate painful stinging, like a bee sting - and this would be sustained for an hour or so after the blood had been taken.

On enquiry, I discovered that the alcohol could not possibly have any germ killing effect in the few seconds after application, so that it was working merely as a cleaning (not sterilizing) agent, and could (and should!) therefore be rubbed- or wiped-off before inserting the hypodermic needle.

Thereby leading to a great reduction in pain.

So hundreds, thousands of people, on millions of occasions, have inflicted needless pain when taking blood - simply because they were not creative, they were not able or motivated to want to improve the process.

(The same applies to the common but useless and pernicious practice of pressing on the hypodermic needle as it is withdrawn from the vein; thereby scratching the needle tip along the inner surface of the vein;, inducing deep pain of the kind that makes you faint and causing several days of aching.)


2. In preparing samples of human brain (post-mortem brain samples, I should make clear!) for the measurement of neurotransmitters, I needed to denature the structural protein of the brain. the approved method did this by 1. adding strong acid and 2. boiling the resultant mixture.

(Denature means to disrupt the 3-D structure of the protein, while preserving its chemical identity - this happens to the albumin when boiling an egg - the clear raw egg 'white' becomes white-and-opaque when boiled. The same effect could be achieved by adding a strong acid, with the obvious disadvantage to subsequent eating.)   

When confronted by the hazardous requirement to boil multiple vessels containing concentrated acid I enquired why it was necessary to do both procedures - adding acid and boiling - when seemingly either of them alone would suffice to denature protein.

I tried the experiment of just boiling the brain (leaving out the acid) and the method worked just as well. So by dropping one step I saved a lot of time, and made the method safer.

But why had so many people been doing it wrong, wasting time, risking accidents - so often for so many years?

Furthermore, it was not necessary to boil the brain, since this kind of protein denatures at about 56 degrees Celsius (quoting from memory) - so I heated the brain to 80 degrees for a time long enough to ensure that it could do its job - and the protein was denatured without inconvenience, mess and hazard of dealing with boiling tubes. 

Now, these modifications I made were not exactly 'rocket science' , but they were instances of creativity in action in an everyday setting - and the necessity for these micro-creative modifications provides examples the very low level of creativity of most people who devise and perform procedures and do things in everyday and institutional life.


Furthermore, such exaples of creativity are highly likely to be appropriated without acknowledgment - and this is fair enough, since they are tiny; but this neglect may give the false impression that creativity was not needed for them, that they were merely 'trial and error' of a kind which can simply be taken for granted.

Not so! - even this kind of creativity cannot be taken for granted but depends on specific individuals - albeit such individuals have not all that rare in England in recent years.

But that situation may not apply at all times and places, and sometimes therefore even micro-creativity is lacking in a social situation or a whole society - and then procedures will ossify and become irreversibly degraded with time.