Tuesday 27 January 2015

The mystery of creativity - a 'genie' within that uses us, we do not use it

In considering creativity from a scientific perspective, much can be said - but at the heart of the phenomenon there is a mystery.

I have said that the truly creative essence of creativity is a 'black box' - in the sense that there cannot be a scientific description of genuine originality; but creativity is less like a black box than a living thing - a 'genie' within.

But this is not a genie who can be commanded like the slave of the lamp; but a genie who must be respected, nurtured and coaxed in order that he yield-up his gifts.

Indeed, in the case of a genius, the genie is the one in control. The genie ensures that he gets what he needs from his genius host - that the genie may find and follow his destiny; that he is fed with the knowledge, pictures, experiences he requires; that he is allocated enough time, the right situation, energy, attention...

And when the genie makes a discovery and gets a result; he ensures that the genius is flooded with happiness as reward; and that the genius is motivated to realize, and to communicate the genie's results.

In his essay On Fairy Stories, JRR Tolkien talked of subcreation; and suggested that it was an instance of Man emulating the divine Creator. Exactly so - Man is divine, not just in potential but in actuality - albeit feebly and partially and corruptedly; and creativity is a property of Man's divinity, just as much as 'free will' (or 'agency') is a property.

And creativity is a divine attribute, and the genius who lives in accord with his creative genie is a type of God-attuned Man: genius is a spiritual path; a path with the potential pitfalls of all spiritual paths, especially spiritual pride - but in its essence Good.

It is therefore an error to see a true genius as selfish. Insofar as he is humbly and faithfully serving his genie of creativity - he is following a divinely appointed destiny - for the ultimate benefit of all.

Whether or not a genius succeeds in making a recognized discovery - 'the way of the subcreator' is an intrinsically valid form of human life.



Arakawa said...

The use of the word 'genie' in this role is paradoxical, because 'genie' suggests a being which is in a subservient position relative to the creator.

In practice trying to figure out who is subordinate to whom is the same sort of process as trying to figure out who is subordinate to whom in a marriage. A valid question, but only up to a certain extent. And while the artist's role is analogous to the traditional feminine role, comprised of receiving and giving birth to a vision, and being subject to another's insight; this role nevertheless supposes an active decision making on the part of the artist as well as the 'genie'. A wife who expected to be 'controlled' to the extent of following her husband's lead in every single detail, and did not recognize any spheres of decision and responsibility within that framework which were her own (besides the fact of the husband often wanting to take her input and preferences into account in other matters), would not be pulling her weight in the family.

An artist is not the passive tool or puppet of the Muse, but an active collaborator, and it is not just a question of some artists being more receptive to their destiny and others less. The end result bears the unique imprint of the genius' person and decisions; a Muse, essentially, cannot realize her true artistry without an artist, just as a man could not birth children without the assent of a woman, and her subsequent labour in rearing them.

Of course, artistic genius and the genius of scientific progress arise from differing Muses of different temperaments; it seems to me that artistic Muses would more concerned with the personal dimension of matters, whereas the scientific Muses might be more crystalline in feeling, their very subject matter giving them less of an insight into the human condition and its limitations with regard to when and how well a person can contemplate perfect things. Thus scientific insight comes most readily to those personality types who are most able to subordinate social niceties to the day-in-day-out contemplation of their problem.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ara - "The use of the word 'genie' in this role is paradoxical" - yes, but I could not resist the genie/ genius combination! You refinements of the simple statement are good.

Adam G. said...

I'm no genius, but this post really speaks to me.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Adam - Good. That may confirm that I am coming near to concluding this line of thought about Genius, and can start writing it up.