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New --- 21 April 2006

Creating your own reality is one thing. Creating a totally unique reality is something all together different. It is the latter which we like to think of as creativity; a unique combination of originality and uniqueness, imagination and invention, and for the most part, art in any of its many forms, including, for example, writing.

For Updates, see also the Halexandria Forum

The characteristics of creativity might be construed to include [1]:

The fluency of an idea: All the associations and scenarios one can conjure up when presented with a single word, symbol, or phrase.

Variety and flexibility. The diversity of different solutions a person can find when asked to explore the possible [routes to a destination or the] uses of, say, a newspaper or a paper clip.

"Originality. The ability to develop potential solutions [and alternatives] other people do not reach [or consider].

"Elaboration. The skill to formulate an idea, expand on it, then work it into a concrete solution.

"Problem sensitivity. The ability to recognize the central challenge within a task, as well as the difficulties associated with it.

"Redefinition. The capacity to view a known problem in a completely different light.”

The scientific (as opposed to the artistic) understanding of creativity is amazingly limited, despite the fact that most advances in science stem from a seemingly inexhaustible stream of innovation and sudden insights. What science has learned, however, includes the facts that:

Intelligence is not necessarily a crucial ingredient,

Creativity requires ultimately the combining of ideas from apparently disparate elements,

Creative achievers tend to demonstrate lower “latent inhibition”,

Most strokes of genius occur outside the laboratory, and

Creativity uses the divergent thinking of the right hemisphere of the brain.

Science has, for example, determined that creativity does not require intelligence per se, but does recognize that intelligence can be very useful as a means of accumulating a storehouse of knowledge with which to find sudden and intriguing linkages. This is particularly true if one's creativity is unique and not simply the rediscovery of concepts long and well understood. The fact that finding a creative way, for example, to trisect a line in geometry is wonderfully fulfilling, even if a few weeks later that particular creative genius reaches the point in the geometry book where the proof is provided in a much more concise and time-honored fashion. But contributions to knowledge require inevitably a certain degree of knowledge upon which to build a base.

Creativity often requires a form of synergistic thinking, a belief (or simply a willingness to believe) that all (or at least most) things in the universe are in some manner connected. This is more than just something akin to Mach's Principle wherein all masses in the universe are influenced by all other masses in the universe (influenced to some degree, including an infinitesimally small degree). Instead, this Connective Physics approach makes for the possibility of there always being connecting links. And thus creativity in this sense is the combining of different ideas or diverse concepts, based on the hint that there is always a connecting link and it's only a matter of finding it. Creativity is about connecting apparently disparate elements into a new, holistic whole, and a willingness to acknowledge that such connections are possible, if not probable.

It also follows that the more one knows -- the more different ideas are available for combining -- the more likelihood of creating a new whole. The more pieces of the universal puzzle which are at hand, the more likely that the complete picture can be pieced together. The good news is that all the pieces do exist (and have not been eaten by the dog), and can be found.

At the same time, however, “too much specialized knowledge can stand in the way of creative thinking.” [1] Specialists can develop blinders, and thereafter find it difficult to make excursions outside their conveniently limited world. On the other hand, generalists -- or even specialists who have deep and abiding interests in ideas and thoughts outside their specialty -- are more likely to be truly creative.

The specialist's trap is something called “latent inhibition”. This term refers to what amounts to a filter, one which screens out information based on prior experience that such information is theoretically not relevant. This filtering is in fact often done before the new sensory data even reaches consciousness. One might, for example, miss out on the singing bird outside the window while writing an article on the wonders of nature, even though, one way or another, there is a relevancy.

Latent inhibition can be thought of as an efficient (but not necessarily creative) way to reduce the amount of data taking up brain capacity. Creative types, however, depend upon their ability to integrate various and diverse pieces of data in novel and often surprising ways. A lowered latent inhibition thus facilitates the inclusion of more and greater varieties of incoming data. The key is in not overdoing the amount of input.

Curiously, a totally unfiltered mind might imply a mind with no limits. Douglas Adams included just such a mentality in the fifth book, Mostly Harmless, of his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy triology. [Talk about thinking outside the box!] The premise here was that a mind which dismisses nothing (due to past experience, trauma, training, bed wetting, or what have you) is theoretically capable to understanding everything, and by implication accomplishing anything.

The difficulty with a total lack of filters, or zero latent inhibition, is that a mind might have difficulty correlating all of the massive input of sensory data, and making sense of it all. In astrophysicist Fred Hoyle's novel, The Black Cloud, a scientist suddenly provided with massive inputs of data ends up having his brain essentially fried by the input. Of course, part of the problem had been that so much of the input data contradicted much of what the man had learned during a lifetime of science.

Of a more scientific level, lower latent inhibition levels can suggest psychosis. An inability to filter out a massive amount of data -- however relevant, but nonetheless too much too soon – can drive one slightly insane. One might hear voices – even decide that it's better to hear voices than have no one talk to you – but the incessant noise can be too much to accumulate and organize within the mind.

On the other hand, a high latent inhibition would constitute the ability to shut out all data which – while much of it being entirely relevant – is nonetheless contradictory to one's current paradigm or dogma. A serious lack of curiosity about the universe outside of one's very limited world view can be construed as willful ignorance, and constitute the antithesis of creativity. It may appear to be very efficient and justifiably lazy to avoid all sensory input which might challenge one's reigning dogma, but it's also opposed to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which requires an isolated system's organization to constantly become less organized. Only energy can be use to counteract the entropy direction – and thus maintenance of a dogma can be very energy consuming. It might actually be easier to have an open mind -- one which vests less in the outcome of thinking outside the box.

Latent inhibition is not a static element, but can be lowered by the simple expedient of relaxing and putting some distance between the problem and the potential problem solver. “A little relaxation and distance changes the mind's perspective on the problem – without us being aware of it.” [1]

One is reminded that Archimedes had his stroke of genius in a bath tub, far removed from any laboratory. One Nobel Laureate had his breakthrough idea from observing the bubbles in a clear glass mug of beer. Obviously tubs and pubs are conducive to... well... occasional bouts of creativity. Meanwhile, others simply have dreams and sudden insights while letting their minds roam with no clear intent or direction. Maybe even during a massage. [That way creativity is linked to tubs, pubs, and rubs!]

Convergent/Divergent Thinking

Some of the more impressive insights from science have been Joy Paul Guilford's distinction between “convergent” and “divergent” thinking, and Roger W. Sperry's revolutionary experiments which found the functional differences between the left and right hemispheres of the human brain. [1]

The resulting insights make it clear that creativity is about “divergent” thinking, where the latter can be defined as: generating many possible solutions to problems, concocting various and different paths to unusual locations or distantly associated answers. Divergent thinking is inevitably free of conventional thought patterns and tends to change directions as required -- oft times abruptly! This is as opposed to “convergent” thinking which aims for a single, "correct" solution to a problem.

Furthermore, the left hemisphere of the brain is related to convergent thinking, while the right hemisphere relates to divergent thinking. This becomes extremely important in that the left hemisphere of the brain processes language, communications, logic and linear thinking, while the right hemisphere processes images, symbols, melodies, modulation, complex patterns, and spatial orientation. The left brain focuses on a problem, while the right brain's emphasis is on receptivity and in working holistically, integrating pieces into a cohesive whole.

This left brain/right brain, he said/she said, specialization has enormously important implications. A left brain emphasis involves honoring those characteristics which are at one level masculine. It is the problem-solving, focusing portion of the brain. It is the social response, the getting along with other members of the tribe, the inhibition against anything that might smack of being politically incorrect. It is also the ideal venue for adhering to tried and true methods, those that traditionally and inevitably include discipline and adherence to authority. The enhanced left-brain of convergent thinking is thus ideal for workers in the military and corporate worlds, where doing as you're told is paramount and far transcends creative and innovative approaches.

Meanwhile, the right brain's divergent mode includes an emphasis on curiosity, playfulness, risk taking, love of experimentation, mental flexibility, metaphorical thinking, aesthetics, and unorthodox ideas. It is by nature feminine, and thus in a patriarchy is strongly discouraged – except in those cases where the unorthodox turns out to yield extremely beneficial results. (Failure, of course, is simply not tolerated.)

In the military, for example, if someone does something particularly innovative, creative, and in violation of all the rules, AND the outcome is successful, the individual's actions are praised and lauded as showing great initiative. If however the outcome is a failure, then the individual is charged with the court martial offense of “unwarranted assumption of authority.”

As a result of all this, the left brain folks are sought after for work in the military industrial complex, while the right brain folks are hopefully marginalized and shunted aside as left overs. Interestingly, the left overs may still benefit enormously from the efforts of the left brain folks, and thus one must wonder as to which is truly the better route. Personally, I would side with the fun seekers, the “Divergents”.

It should be pointed out that the logical left brain may provide a useful ability in sometimes blocking the creative right brain. Convergent thinking may also be required for creative breakthroughs, if only to provide the groundwork or foundation for inspirational flashes. Such left brain limits and assists may also steer one away from socially and politically actions which might get one into more trouble than one really wants. The left brain's convergent thinking might even assist in avoiding unfortunate diagnoses by diagnostic crazed psychiatrists.

For example, a relatively rare form of dementia is frontotemporal dementia in which there are losses of neurons -- primarily in the left brain. Such a loss results in fewer social inhibitions -- the sort of thing which can really get someone in trouble with those left-brained individuals charged with maintaining order in a chaotic world. It might be tough on the creative artist, but art is often trumped by the practical matters of survival.

It has been noted, for example, that, “Great artists often exhibit an ability to transcend social and cognitive walls.” [1] This may provide for some really good things for both the right and the left brain folk -- but not always. Meanwhile, the left brain may help keep the right brain in check – such that creativity could be considered a whole brain function. Or maybe not. [We're working outside the box here! All options are still on the table.]

Because of the overwhelming influence of the military industrial complex, our public educational system -- our Public School Nightmare -- is one patterned after a Prussian model wherein the primary purpose was dedicated to instilling blind obedience and unremitting subservience to authority figures. For this reason, convergent thinking is the primary and overriding lesson of our educational system [1].

•  “This skewed system dominates our first 20 years of life; tests, grades, college admission, degrees and job placements demand and reward targeted logical thinking, factual competence, and language and math skills.”

•  “Research suggest that we start our young lives as creativity engines, but that our talent is gradually repressed. Schools place overwhelming emphasis on teaching children to solve problems correctly, not creatively.”

•  “The propensity for convergent thinking becomes increasingly internalized, at the cost of creative potential.”

•  “To a degree, the brain is a creature of habit; using well-established neural pathways is more economical than elaborating new or unusual ones. Additionally, failure to train creative faculties allows those neural connections to wither.” [The difficulty, of course, is the early onset of senility – a lack of usage of a brain which results in the loss of its ability to be used.]

•  Inasmuch as the divergent thinking diminishes – but not necessarily to the extent of frontotemporal dementia -- regard for social norms and lowers latent inhibition, such thinking and the its resultant activity would clearly increase the chaos of any classroom.

Being More Creative:

Prime pursuits to increase one's creativity include:

Paying attention to even the most mundane of observations and experiences, practicing a bit of wonder, and often asking, "Why?";

Encouraging curiosity and the questioning of traditional understandings and alleged wisdom;

Following up on fleeting or periodic sparks of interest:

Thinking outside societally accepted principles and habitual perspectives;

Questioning authority;

Taking time to daydream, ponder, and relax;

Being ready to encounter some really dismal failures of creative impulses;

Delving into mathematics, especially the proving of geometry axioms and corollaries;

Taking divergent routes to a destination, no matter how often one has been there; and

Relishing and Creating Puns.

The key is not doing something in a particular manner just because it's always been done that way before. In other words, always go for the unique way and delight in the humor of plans occasionally going awry. For example, traveling to work the same way day after day can be horribly boring -- especially when a new route can be attempted, and one can, more oft than not, find themselves arriving noticeably earlier or later. [Note: the latter does not work well in military circles.]

In Los Angeles, people who live in the San Fernando Valley just north of central LA, must cross the small mountain range between the two locations. The obvious route is Interstate 405, which boasts one of the largest, slightly mobile parking lots in the world. It in fact takes only one fender bender to slow traffic and to keep the slow down in effect until early the next morning. (The amount of traffic never allows the thoroughfare to actually recover from a slow down until most everyone just go home and go to sleep.) Many divergent thinking residents of LA have learned, however, that there are several routes over the mountains, many of which involve going down little used residential streets and back roads. In the movie, LA Story, Steve Martin demonstrates this activity by traveling the most god-awful route imaginable, but nevertheless arriving at his destination on time. If anything, the alternative route is a whole lot more fun.

Finally, a word needs to be said about puns. Or actually a whole slew of words.

Puns tend to be degraded as something as not fit fodder for highly intellectual people. However, the very act of appreciating and creating puns at will is that while many will fall on deaf ears – particularly the willfully deaf – the fact remains that the very act of punning is an act of creativity, in particular of seeing more than one meaning in a word of phrase. It's also great for generating laughter (among other reactions).

For example, there is the classic tale of a father who had three sons who moved to Texas to begin a cattle ranch. When they couldn't decide on a name for their ranch, they asked their father for advice. He soon wired back that they should name the ranch, “Focus”. When the boys asked why, their father explained that the ranch was where the “sons raise meat.” (“suns rays meet.”) This triple pun was printed in the long defunct Omni Magazine many years ago in an indirect celebration of creativity. It should be memorized and thereafter told to anyone and everyone with insufficient mobility to escape.

Finally, Jeffrey Baumgartner has claimed ten rules for boosting creativity. These are well reasoned ideas and for the most part make a lot of sense. There is one aspect, however, which might make one stop and think. Succinctly, Baumgartner claims that it is " a simple but little known truth: freedom inhibits creativity." Hmmmmm...

It seems intuitively obvious that creativity might flourish when one is attempting to acquire greater freedom than currently experienced. Something on the order of "necessity is the mother of invention." But freedom actually inhibiting creativity? This is like saying that a plentiful supply of free thought inhibits creativity, whereas it is clearly obvious that a serious lack of free thought might strongly inhibit creativity even more so. It would appear the argument that "freedom inhibits creativity" is based on the premise that freedom reduces motivation to think creatively.

At the same time, the left brain aspect of inhibiting the wild and crazy freedoms of the right brain might in fact improve the odds of creativity. On the wilder side, the lack of left brain practicality might eliminate the foundation on which creative ideas could flourish. It just might be that what is critically needed is a whole brain, and the willingness and talent to choose which half to emphasize in varying circumstances.

For Updates, see also the Halexandria Forum



[1] Ulrich Kraft, “Unleashing Creativity”, Scientific American , 2005.


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