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.


Dreams by Night and Day

The word daydream invokes thoughts of pleasant abstraction, or perhaps a vision of wishes fulfilled. Daydreams, because they occur in conscious minds, are usually proof against the tumult and terror which the unconscious may visit upon one defenseless in sleep. The word dream is more ambiguous. Dreams are often nightmares. When sleep is seen as a little death, the thought of post mortal dreams is threatening. As Hamlet says, “…what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil must give us pause.”

The Germanic roots of the word dream include words for phantom or ghost, and the verb ‘to deceive.’ The first meaning given in Webster is, “Sensations, images, or thoughts passing through a sleeping mind.” These needn’t be benign.

The definitions which Webster gives for daydream are, “reverie”, or, “A pleasing or visionary notion or scheme.”

Either form of dream, sleeping or waking, may serve to inspire a creative mind, and both have done so. Nocturnal dreams tend to be unruly, though. They are often opaque, and after consideration may prove to be trivial or absurd.  Daydreams may also be silly or pointless, but less often so than the dreams of sleep. If the person engaged in a creative activity holds loosely in mind the subject of his endeavor and allows his mind to play with it, he may find nonsense, or he may gain useful insight, but in either case the result is likely, at least, to relate to the subject in question. Even when a daydream has no ‘subject’ as such, the result, while it may be silly, is generally comprehensible. In fact, ‘silly’ results are often most interesting.

Nocturnal dreams resist such limitation. Their sources and significance are unknown and their meaning, if any, usually obscure. To any who read this post, I wish you pleasant dreams, both waking and sleeping, but I think daydreams are best.



It Begins With a Dream

“Stop daydreaming and  pay attention!” How many times did you hear that from parents and teachers? Hundreds? Me too. Maybe you’ve said the same thing to your own children. Attention and concentration are necessary for learning, and the more we learn the better and richer our lives are likely to be.

Still, there’s a lot to be said for daydreaming. Literature, music, and visual art often find their inception in daydreams, where the mind, temporarily free from the discipline of preconception and habitual thought, can most easily bring forth new things. As in the arts, so also in the sciences. According to Dr. Kekule, it’s discoverer, the structure of the benzene molecule occurred to him in a daydream. The famous ‘thought experiments’ of Albert Einstein are perfect examples of daydreaming. From Isaac Newton to the present, scientists have often described moments of insight as having taken place in a daydream, or a dream-like state.

When next you’re tempted to tell someone to stop daydreaming, ask yourself if you really have to do that. After all, what they’re doing may be very productive.

I plan, from time to time, to post some of my thoughts on daydreaming, creativity, leading a happy life, and how they are related. Comment and ideas from anyone who reads these are welcome.

I am a writer. My daydreams manifest themselves as short stories, novels, and, once in a while, as non-fiction. For details, see the ‘Daydreams on Demand’ page.