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.



Avery said...

Hello. I've been reading through your blog (I just reached the Head Girl post,) and thought I'd say hello and offer a reflection.
You made an excellent point, in one of these posts, that the more "conscientious" types do not actually put off doing things they want to do in favor of things they don't, but actually value being, well, conscientious more than others, and don't value indulgent behaviors as much.

I had a similar realization about 'normal' (conformist) people recently: I think they actually have some sort of feedback mechanism in their brains which rewards doing the same things as other people are doing. This is basically a positive instinct--after all, when everyone you know runs by yelling "Tiger!", it's best that you run, too, not stand there and say, "Are you sure?"

In creative people (some of them, anyway,) I speculate that this mechanism is kind of faulty or non-functional--that is, they literally don't now what the "normal" way of doing things is, or if they do, they don't care. In one 'test of creativity' I heard about, folks are asked to list all of the things they could do with a paperclip. 5 yr olds do very well on this test--they can easily come up with hundreds of ideas, things like "make an enormous paperclip out of foam and send it into space and make it into a space station." Adults do very poorly on this test--they come up with ideas like "hold paper together.' We might say that adults have had the creativity beaten out of them or somesuch, but mostly, I think adults have a better grasp of what paper clips do in the real world, and this limits their thinking to real-world applications.

Of course, many creative folks are also idiots, (certainly how I felt after trying to use jam as 'paint' for making baby-handprints, though my dad laughed and said he'd have tried it, too,) but even idiots can come up with the occasional really innovative solution (of course, they can also just keep coming up with new ways to fail). Occasionally I encounter a work of art which just blows me away, by some artist who seems rather low-IQ--and many high IQ people show no creativity at all.

I'd better get back to reading. Thanks for all of the thought-provoking posts!

Bruce Charlton said...

@Avery - thanks for the comment.

I think that it is likely Western society is exceptionally uncreative (East Asian soceity even more so), in the sense that there was many hundreds of years of natural selection against creativity (because in favour of conscientiousness, empathizing etc) - but within any society there will also be more, and less, creative individuals.

Interestingly in the West (and EAsia) there was (I believe) natural selection against low IQ and also against high creativity - so this means that those few who *are* of high creativity are (because of their intelligence) better able to use to to create useful and complex things.

Avery said...

Conscientiousness has certain strong benefits if one wants to raise children (that is, not be selected against.) Small children require constant, day-to-day care to make sure they don't accidentally kill themselves or destroy the house. People who have no children, or put very little time into their children (that is, people without high-investment Eurasian childrearing norms,) have far more time to be creative.

Or to tell it in anecdote form: I have a mom-friend who is excellent at being a mom. She has two kids and a spotless house, the kids are happy, they go to the zoo every week, have homecooked dinners every night, etc. Meanwhile, my house is a disaster and I'm lucky to get the shopping done on time (and not for lack of trying.) Anyway, once we were over at her house, playing trains, and I took the track and laid out a big, squiggly path. "Oh!" she said, "It never occurred to me not to make a circle." She'll have more kids, because she gets dinner on the table with ease. But it never occurred to me that circles were preferable to any other shapes.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Avery - True...

Yet in statistical terms, within and between nations, low conscientiousness people are rapidly out-reproducing the conscientious - because child mortality rates are at an historic low - so biologically the only thing that matters is numbers of offspring.

At present, 'The State' (i.e. other people) will confiscate resources without upper limit (from other people) to bring up all children who are born, without upper limit.

So, biologically speaking, there has never been a better time to be low-conscientiousness.