The Acquisition of Creative Energy
“Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by the age of eighteen.” - Albert Einstein
With our present knowledge, even an expert neuroanatomist could not tell Einstein’s brain from yours or mine. In terms of the capacity for processing information, all brains are extremely alike. The limits on how many bits of information we can process at any given time are also similar. Nor is the speed of information processing noticeably different from one brain to the next. In principle, because of the similarity in cerebral hardware, most people could share the same knowledge and perform mental operations at similar levels. Yet what enormous differences there are in how people think and what they think about!
In terms of using mental energy creatively, perhaps the most fundamental difference between people consists in how much uncommitted attention they have left over to deal with novelty. In too many cases, attention is restricted by external necessity. We cannot expect a man who works two jobs, or a working woman with children, to have much mental energy left over to learn a domain, let alone innovate in it. Einstein is supposed to have written his classic papers on the kitchen table of his small apartment in Berne, while rocking the pram of his baby. But the fact is that there are real limits to how many things a person can attend to at the same time, and when survival needs require all of one’s attention, none is left over for being creative.
But often the obstacles are internal. In a person concerned with protecting his or her self, practically all the attention is invested in monitoring threats to the ego. This defensiveness may have very understandable causes: Children who have been abused or who have experienced chronic hunger or discrimination are less likely to be curious and interested in novelty for its own sake, because they need all the psychic energy they have simply to survive. Another limitation on the free use of mental energy is an excessive investment of attention in selfish goals. Of course, we all must first and foremost take care of our own needs. But for some people the concept of “need” is inflated to the point that it becomes an obsession that devours every waking moment. When everything a person sees, thinks, or does must serve self-interest, there is little attention left over to learn about anything else.
To free up creative energy we need to let go and divert some attention from the pursuit of the predictable goals that genes and memes have programmed in our minds and use it instead to explore the world around us on its own terms.
So the first step toward a more creative life is the cultivation of curiosity and interest, that is, the allocation of attention to things for their own sake. On this score, children tend to have the advantage over adults; their curiosity is like a constant beam that highlights and invests with interest anything within range. The object need not be useful, attractive, or precious; as long as it is mysterious it is worthy of attention. With age most of us lose the sense wonder, the feeling of awe in confronting the majesty and variety of the world. Yet without awe life becomes routine. Creative individuals are childlike in that their curiosity remains fresh even at ninety years of age; they delight in the strange and the unknown. And because there is no end to the unknown, their delight also is endless.
At first, curiosity is diffuse and generic. The child’s attention attracted to any novelty - cloud or bug, grandfather’s cough or a rusted nail. With time, interest usually becomes channeled into a specific domain. A ninety-year-old physicist may retain childhood curiosity in the realm of subatomic particles but is unlikely to have enough free attention left over to marvel at much else. Therefore, creativity within a domain often goes hand in hand with conformity in the rest of life. Einstein at the peak of his breakthroughs in physics played traditional music on his violin. But narrowing attention to a single domain does not mean limiting the novelty one is able to process; on the contrary, complex domains like poetry, history, physics, or politics reveal constantly expanding perspectives to those who venture to explore them.
Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention
The Open Mind
“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To them...a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death.” - Pearl S. Buck
When we think of the creative mind, we think of the generative mind, full of ideas and brilliant new insights. But the creative mind is both full and empty. It is able to create within itself a space for new ideas to arise. It is a mind that is constantly opening itself to the internal and external world.
The opened mind can be relaxed and playful. It is filled with curiosity and wonder. There is something childlike about it. It loves to get off the beaten track, to explore paths that are not the ones taken by social convention. Playfulness is sometimes important. The opened mind likes to play with an idea or object, and enjoys looking at it as if for the first time. It challenges assumptions, makes new connections, finds new ways of viewing the world.
Some of the most creative minds of all time have allowed themselves to drift into reveries and dream states, into extended meditations during which they courted the irrational, the symbolic, the metaphorical, and the mysterious. Often enough they bring back images that they translate into theories, compositions, and actions.
We have all had the experience of forgetting somebody's name, trying desperately to remember it and failing miserably, only to find that the name pops up at the oddest time after we've given up, or "let go," of the search. In a similar way, it has been argued that the creative process involves a period of "letting go" that follows the initial immersion in ones subject. The argument is that we need time to "digest" the issue, perhaps let the unconscious mull it over without conscious interference. The potential reward is that our idea will then pop up when we least expect it - say in the shower. "For something to enter," mystic and philosopher, C. Bennett writes, "a place must he made for it."
Bennett states: I hope to convey to you something of what I have been able to recognize over many years' experience of the factors important to creative thinking. What are the conditions for creativity? First of all, one must be living in the medium. People are not creative in some medium with which they have no real contact. In that sense, if we wish to think creatively we have to be in the process of thinking. Then we have somehow to bring into it additional factors which will give that process the quality of creativity for which we are looking. There is the saying that creativity is ninety-nine parts perspiration and one part inspiration-in other words, that it is mostly very hard work. But there is no doubt of the importance of some second element in creativity that we ourselves cannot control. I am going to call that element spontaneity. If you read accounts of creative activity by scientists, artists or others, you see in these accounts that the spontaneous element is really out of the person's control. Yet, though it comes unexpectedly, spontaneity does not come without certain conditions being satisfied;
The third and final element that enters into all this, I shall call technique. Lets take the example of an artist. Without technique, the moment of creative insight can hardly be made fruitful. The same is true for the scientist. This means that one must know the form that will enable one to clothe the moment of insight in some expression. First, one must know the form of thought for oneself, so that the insight may become clear, and afterwards one must know the form of expression so that it may be communicated to others.
Creators on Creating. Awakening and Cultivating the Imaginative mind.
The Nature of Creativity - Questions and (maybe) Answers.
Frank Barron, Alfonso Montuori, Anthea Barron