Attention and Creativity
“Creativity is that marvelous capacity to grasp mutually distinct realities and draw a spark from their juxtaposition." -Max Ernst
Creativity is a process by which a symbolic domain in the culture is changed. New songs, new ideas, new machines are what creativity is about. But because these changes do not happen automatically as in biological evolution, it is necessary to consider the price we must pay for creativity to occur. It takes effort to change traditions. For example, a musician must learn the musical tradition, the notation system, the way instruments are played before she can think of writing a new song; before an inventor can improve on airplane design he has to learn physics, aerodynamics, and why birds don't fall out of the sky.
If we want to learn anything, we must pay attention to the information to be learned. And attention is a limited resource: There is just so much information we can process at any given time. A great deal of our limited supply of attention is committed to the tasks of surviving from one day to the next.
To achieve creativity in an existing domain, there must be surplus of attention available. It also seems true that centers of creativity tend to be at the intersection of different cultures, where beliefs, lifestyles, and knowledge mingle and allow individuals to see new combinations of ideas with greater ease. In cultures that are uniform and rigid, it takes a greater investment of attention to achieve new ways of thinking. In other words, creativity is more likely in places where new ideas require less effort to be perceived.
Domains have split into sub domains, and a mathematician who has mastered algebra may not know much about number theory, combinatorix, topology and vice versa. Whereas in the past an artist typically painted, sculpted, cast gold, and designed buildings, now all of these special skills tend to be acquired by different people.
As culture evolves, specialized knowledge will be favored over generalized knowledge. Specialized individuals can learn their domains in greater depth, and their expertise will be preferred over that of the generalist. Of course, this trend toward specialization is not necessarily a good thing. It can easily lead to a cultural fragmentation. Also, creativity generally involves crossing the boundaries of domains. Yet at the same time it is important to recognize that given how little attention we have to work with, and given the increasing amounts of information that are constantly being added to domains, specialization seems inevitable.
Another consequence of limited attention is that creative individuals are often considered odd or even arrogant, selfish, and ruthless. It is important to keep in mind that these are not traits of creative people, but traits that the rest of us attribute to them on the basis of our perceptions. When we meet a person who focuses all of his attention on physics or music and ignores us and forgets our names, we call that person "arrogant" even though he may be extremely humble and friendly if he could only spare attention from his pursuit. If that person is so taken with his domain that he fails to take our wishes into account we call him "insensitive" or "selfish" even though such attitudes are far from his mind. Similarly, if he pursues his work regardless of other people's plans, we call him "ruthless." Yet it is practically impossible to learn a domain deeply enough to make a change in it without dedicating all of one's attention to it and thereby appearing to be arrogant, selfish, and ruthless to those who believe they have a right to the creative person's attention.
In fact, creative people are neither single-minded, specialized, nor selfish. Indeed, they seem to be the opposite: They love to make connections with adjacent areas of knowledge. They tend to be, in principle, caring and sensitive. Yet the demands of their role inevitably push them toward specialization and selfishness. Of the many paradoxes of creativity, this is perhaps the most difficult to avoid.
Creativity – flow and the psychology of discovery and invention
"Whether you believe you can, or whether you believe you can't, you're absolutely right." -Henry Ford
Years back, a group of scientists visited a tribe in New Guinea that believed their world ended at a nearby river. After several months, one of the scientists had to leave, which involved crossing the river. Safely across the river, he turned around and waved. The tribesmen did not respond because, they said, they didn't see him. Their entrenched beliefs about the world had distorted their perception of reality.
Recently, the CEO of a major publishing house was concerned about the lack of creativity among his editorial and marketing staffs. He hired a group of high-priced psychologists to find out what differentiated the creative employees from the others.
After studying the staff for one year, the psychologists discovered that there was only one difference between the two groups: The creative people believed they were creative and the less creative people believed they were not. Like the New Guinea tribesmen, those who felt they were not creative had a distorted perception of reality. These employees had lost their original spin.
The psychologists recommended instituting a simple two-part program designed to change the belief systems of those who thought they were not creative. The first part of this extremely effective program addressed self affirmation; the second part dealt with creative affirmation. The CEO agreed, and within a year, the uncreative people became many more times creative than the original creative group. Once their attitude changed, they began to pay attention to small and large challenges and to flex their creative muscles in extraordinary ways. The following year, many innovative programs and blockbuster books were generated by this group. These people regained their original spin and began to transform themselves and the world around them.
“Of course, it’s a bit of a jump, isn’t it? I mean, er... chartered accountancy to lion taming in one go. You don’t think it might be better if you worked your way towards lion taming, say via banking?” -Monty Python
Sparks of creativity often flow from new knowledge. Frequently it's information about things that are completely new to you. Sometimes, it's new facts about familiar things. And sometimes it's information about things that you didn't know you didn't know. This last category, usually filled with items that are silly and fanciful, can provide a platform for your imagination to jump from.
So here I present the: "Things you didn't know you didn't know" section.
(or the alternately titled: "Trivia to win bar bets" section).
Are lions really afraid of kitchen chairs?
Give us a bazooka, a ten-foot pole and forty bodyguards and we might consider going into the ring with a lion. Come to think of it, we think we'll still pass on it. But how did professional animal trainers choose such inappropriate tools as a whip and a kitchen chair? Why would a kitchen chair tame a lion? it doesn't even scare, us!
At one time, animal trainers did use more forceful weapons against big cats. The foremost trainer of the 1830s and 1840s, Isaac Van Amburgh, used heavy iron bars. Other trainers employed red-hot irons, goads, and even water hoses.
As far as we could ascertain, the considerably calmer instrument of the kitchen chair was introduced by the most famous lion tamer of the twentieth century, Clyde Beatty, who trained lions from 1920 until the late 1960s. His successor at the Clyde Beatty Circus, David Hoover, believes that each lion has a totally different set of fears and motivations. For example, one lion be trained had a perverse fear of bass horns, while another went crazy when the circus's peanut roaster was operating.
Hoover believes that the only way for a human to control a lion is to gain psychological dominance over the animal-what be calls a "mental bluff." Hoover favored a blank cartridge gun over a whip. The purpose of the blanks was simply to disrupt the animal's concentration:
They have a one-track mind. A blank cartridge goes off, and if you holler a command that the animal is familiar with, the animal will execute the command because he loses his original train of thought.
The chair works the same way. The chair has four points of interest (the four legs). The animal is charging with the idea to tear the trainer apart. You put the chair up in his face. When he sees the four legs of the chair he loses his train of thought, and he takes his wrath out on the chair and forgets he's after the trainer.
How Does Aspirin Find A Headache – An Imponderable Book