Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Creativity and intuition


In academic psychology, there are two concepts of creativity:

1. an older one which sees creativity in terms of dreamlike cognition, psychoticism, 'primary process' thinking, and thoughts linked-by emotional-associations; and

2. a newer one which sees creativity in terms of 'openness to experience' - that is neophilia, novelty-generation, random permutations and combination of memorized information.

I believe that the earlier concept is much closer to the truth, or to validity - and that indeed the idea of creativity as Openness is a modern, bureaucratic and politically-correct corruption and hijacking of creativity: creativity redefined such that the shallow childishness of modernist art and the committee-defined-consensus of Big Science counts asif creative in the same way as the great art and natural philosophy of the past.


But there is, I suspect, something intrinsically corrupt in the concept of creativity; which emerged into public discourse at about the time of the Romantic movement in the late 17th and early 18th centuries; as a contrast with scholastic logic, and an explanation for the difference between philosophy/ science and the arts.

Properly speaking, rather than the twin poles of creativity and logic as the basis of human knowledge, I think the proper (or closer) conceptualization is intuition and reason.


Intuition is inborn, spontaneous, it comes first, and everything is based upon it and it varies between people.

Intuition is related to 'common sense' and also to understanding other people and to instant apprehension of situations. It is related to the emotions; and seems to proceed by emotional association.


Reason is also mostly innate, although partial forms can be learned (e.g. mathematics, geometry, formal logic), and it also varies between individuals.


However there is not a close correlation between intuitive ability and reason; and people can be unusually high in one and unusually low in the other.

Indeed, there is probably an inverse correlation between intuitive ability and reason among healthy people; although the correlation is not very close and there are exceptions (which get rarer as they get more extreme).

These exceptions are the very rare 'creative geniuses' who are both intelligent and intuitive...

...and the more numerous and more obviously dysfunctional people who lack both intuition and intelligence - the number of these vary between societies, because intelligence and intuition can both simultaneously be damaged by brain pathology (due to degenerative disease, trauma, infection, malnutrition etc.) and the causes of brain pathology vary widely in frequency between societies.

Intelligent people who are lacking in intuition are much commoner. These are the 'clever sillies', more-or-less - the i.e. bulk of the modern ruling elite.

And also common are highly intuitive people of moderate or lower-than-average intelligence. This group includes, but is not confined-to, people with irrational ideas and illogical thought processes who may be psychotic - or regarded as mentally ill by the high intelligence-low intuition types.


My point is that while these processes of knowing I have called intuition and reason can be statistically separated and contrasted, ultimately they are meant to work together.

It is only reliable for knowledge to proceed such that both intuition and intelligence are satisfied by each step and conclusion.

Otherwise we get the strange distortions which are usually conceptualized as of logic unsupported by emotion; or emotionality unchecked by logic - more correctly this is reasoning in contradiction to intuition and intuition apart from the context of reason.


I am sure that humans cannot function unless intuition and reason go together; otherwise we mistrust ourselves and become detached (alienated), proud, despondent, exploitative - oscillating between domination by logic and then by emotions in unrelated sequence.

In other words we get the normal mainstream fragmentary, sound-bite-sized, conduct of modern public discourse.

We get the counter-cultural advocates of impulse and instinct alternating with the absurdly restricted and legalistic procedures of bureaucracy.


At root, I think we need to recognize that neither creativity nor intelligence are good in themselves: which recognition is easy to say, but hard to do. 

We must recognize that creativity can be, has been, highly destructive, proud and evil. Many of the worst tyrants and sinners of history have been highly intuitive creative individuals: Napoleon, Hitler, Mao.

And that reason/ intelligence is also, more often than not, highly destructive - as evidenced by communism and its descendant political correctness.


When it comes to Christianity we cannot allow either reason or intuition to go ahead alone; the one must always be able to catch up with the other, in each of us.

This sets a limit to how far we can go in understanding.

Rational understanding (following a line of logic) cannot go further than intuition allows; and intuition cannot go further than is check-able by reason.

So we should not follow systematic theology further than our intuition can follow; and we should not follow what seem to be personal insights and revelations further than we can personally support with reason.


In this refusal we must each of us be stubborn - especially in a secular and corrupt world where valid spiritual advice may be impossible to find.

Better not to know than to know wrongly.

To do otherwise - and to allow logic or emotion to run-away independently - is to pull-apart human understanding and to split our souls when they should be unified.



Anonymous said...

It's curious that scoffers at the credibility or insights of intuitions do so on the basis (ultimately) of intuition.

Bruce Charlton said...

How true - whenever somebody mocks someone else for their ridiculous/ childish/ wicked Christian beliefs, they are appealing to intuition (especially since no logical system since Aquinas has been *remotely* coherent).

Anthony said...

"indeed the idea of creativity as Openness is a modern, bureaucratic and politically-correct corruption and hijacking of creativity: creativity redefined such that the shallow childishness of modernist art"

Indeed indeed.

Thursday said...

Creativity is not quite the same as intuition. Intuition can be quite reactive, while creativity includes the proactive generation of large numbers of ideas.

Thursday said...

Agreed that creativity cannot be reduced to openness to experience. Openness to new ideas is almost certainly necessary for creativity, but it isn't sufficient. All creative people have some respect for tradition and the very greatest often revere it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Thu - I agree in general, but not necessarily so.

Large numbers of ideas can be generated by a 'mechanical' process that is non-intuitive (essentially by having an excellent magpie memory - stealing ideas from others!), while some creative people get fixated on one idea or direction which they are sure is correct, and other ideas are blocked.

If too much emphasis is placed in generating lots of ideas we get merely a post-modern bricolage of perpetual slight-novelty.

By contrast some intuitive creatives, like Einstein, stick stubbornly to ideas/ approaches that they *feel* are correct, and reject ideas which seem rationally proven, even in the face of considerable opposition.

I think that what I am getting at is to say that the actual output of creative stuff is a secondary matter. That an intuitive style of thinking is the primary disposition and that the creativity is secondary (and the secondary output can be rationally mimicked, but not the primary disposition).

Such mimickry is the basis of contemporary Western 'art'.

For example, for more than twentyfive years the whole of mainstream English poetry has been mimickry - Opennesss pretending to be Psychoticism - and I don't think there is a single intuitive poet of 'stature' in English.

(Of course, there *might* be - but I have given up looking long since as so much waste of time, as so much damaged time.)

Thursday said...

Actually, the poetry of our age will end up being known for it's high level of technical perfection, and lack of creativity. The traditional craft of versification is NOT dead. Among the masters of verse, living or recently deceased:

Richard Wilbur, Anthony Hecht, David Ferry, Robert Fitzgerald, Stanley Lombardo, Willis Barnstone, Daryl Hine, Richard Howard, Robert Pinsky, Paul Muldoon, Seamus Heaney, James Merrill, Alfred Corn, X.J. Kennedy, John Frederick Nims, James Michie, Dana Gioia, Anthony M. Esolen, Stephen Mitchell, Richard Sieburth, Burton Raffel, Jonathan Galassi, Geoffrey Hill.

Almost every single one of these poets, however, is best appreciated in their translations. With a very few exceptions (Wyatt, Surrey, Tyndale and the other Renaissance Bible translators, Chapman, Dryden) the translators of our era pretty much clobber those of earlier eras. Modern poets, though they seem to be able to intuitively understand _other_ great poets ideas and convey them well in another language, can't seem to come up with any of their own. Seamus Heaney will probably be remembered as the only truly great poet from our current era, though Geoffrey Hill and Anne Carson are worth reading as well. (She, ironically, is an appallingly bad translator.)

Bruce Charlton said...

I agree - in a sense - with your first sentence; except that I do not think any of these will be remembered outside of literary academia (i.e. their intended audience - but that is collapsing fast).

The technical perfection of which you speak is, to me, almost wholly negative; a matter of avoiding infelicities and clumsinesses - avoiding bathos, let's say.

It is at the opposite pole from a poet like Longfellow of Swinburne, who achieved a perfection of smoothness but at the cost of frequent bathos/ cliche - but with rare and precious moments of stabbing (and memorable) beauty. THAT is what poetry is about - at least lyric poetry.

There is next-to-nothing positive in these modern poets, no actual poetry - which is why the translations may perhaps be better; but I believe great translation is extraordinarily rare and difficult, and requires great recreative sympathy as well as ability.

Thursday said...

There is next-to-nothing positive in these modern poets

You cannot have read any of the poets I mentioned. Most of them have no problem reaching the level of a Longfellow or Swinburne (and I don't mean by that to denigrate either of those poets). That the contemporary poets I have mentioned are not as well known as Longfellow or Swinburne were in Victorian times may be an indictment of our own era, but if they are the standard it cannot be said that we are not the equal of it by purely aesthetic criteria.