Friday 14 March 2014

Creativity is invisible, deniable, inevitably misunderstood - yet vast in impact


Creativity is, in practice, culturally invisible - although its impact may be seismic.

This is best seen in technologies - where the effects are most apparent and where the archaeological and historical record is of most value. 


The great mass of truly creative breakthroughs in history are unattributed - the men who made them are forgotten, their names were not attached to their creative acts.  This enables credit to be reassigned to 'the folk' or 'culture' - but all actually known-about breakthroughs seem to be attributable to one, or at most two, men.


Creative breakthroughs are extremely difficult and rare - as is shown by the centuries, perhaps even millennia, of stasis which are then suddenly broken by simple breakthroughs - bow and arrow, arch, stirrup, new shapes of plough.

As soon as the breakthrough has been made into an artifact, then it is obvious - many people can understand it, many people can make it, and almost everybody can use it.

Why give special credit to someone just for discovering something obvious?  

So, once the creative breakthrough has been made, by one unattributed man perhaps, its effects can rapidly spread, even across the whole world - human life may be transformed by a single anonymous breakthrough.


Anonymous creative breakthroughs are a sufficient basis for mass cultural change. The mis-match between the obscurity of the individual creator and the vast consequences of that breakthrough really cannot be exaggerated. 

Yet many or most cultures show no evidence of any creative breakthroughs at all - presumably because they utterly lacked creative people. These cultures had sufficient ability to manufacture, train and use technologies of a certain type - and to pass on that knowledge between generations in a stereotypical fashion - but no more.

That is the norm for human history. That is the situation for most people who have ever lived.


So, creative breakthroughs are almost always deniable. As soon as the breakthrough has been made, within minutes perhaps, the extraordinarily rare and special nature of its occurrence is deniable.

Indeed, creativity is deniable largely because it is so rare - few can appreciate that which they cannot do. Alternative explanations are almost-always preferred - creativity is almost always explained-away - especially by the perennial and utterly false cry: 'but it was obvious!'