Laborious mutterings about creativity

I find it hard to think creatively about creativity. It’s paradoxical, but a concept which seems intuitively easy to grasp is, for me, anyway, hard to pin down. What is it, exactly?

The dictionary isn’t much help. The first meaning given for ‘create’ is, “To cause to come into existence, bring into being, make, originate.” That seems straight forward, but it doesn’t satisfy me, nor do the three alternatives which follow it, because none of them require that the created thing be unique in any respect. By the definition given above, the billionth identical item in a production run is as much the result of a creative act as the first design sample. That doesn’t satisfy my notion of creativity.

The definition of ‘creative’ is better, including non-imitative and imaginative as synonyms. Whether we speak of hand axes or integrated circuits, it’s clear that only the first of a type is non-imitative.

Still, only the Deity, if any exists, can truly bring forth anything out of nothing. We lesser beings can only manipulate the elements of the physical world in which we find ourselves. Every composition of matter, novel or otherwise, is only an arrangement of these elements. No physical object or process can be confidently identified as unique.The transistor, for example, is quintessentially a product of technology, the product of a creative act which won for its inventors a well-deserved Nobel prize, yet the route to its realization was suggested by observation of the effect of tiny levels of specific impurities, incidentally present in a sample of germanium, on its electrical conductivity. In a sense, nature got there first. So it is with all material things.

Even so, we recognize, for example, sculpture, painting, music, literature, and the products of science and invention as representative of human creativity. What do we mean? We may believe that the physical manifestation of the creative act is unique, but we can’t certainly know. We can be sure, however, that an aspect of reality has been intentionally altered in way believed to be novel, to further a specific purpose. Creativity resides in the intention, act, and in the perceived novelty of its conception. The material product, whether it functions well or badly, is only the material product.

Is creativity, like imagination, like perception, intention, and desire, fully within the physical realm? The question hasn’t been fully answered, and may be intrinsically unanswerable. Whatever the case, unlike more familiar physical processes, these don’t seem to be entirely deterministic. Like thoughts, and especially like dreams, they go their own way.

Any aspect of life may be enriched by a creative touch. Whenever a change makes a task easier, more pleasant, or productive of a better result, a creative mind has probably been at work.

I wish anyone who reads this post a creative and happy life.


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