Thursday 12 October 2017

Creativity as the Polarity of Preservation and Ruin (and Natural Selection)

Re-reading the final pages of Brandon Sanderson's marvellous 'Mistborn' fantasy-fiction trilogy; I realised that the author was describing an example of Polarity.

(No spoilers follow - except in the most indirect and abstract, non-narrative sense.)

From the primary forces of Preservation/ Order and Ruin/ Chaos there can be no real creativity - not from either individually (Preservation leading to crystalline stasis; Ruin to a Brownian motion of homogeneous disorder).

But while Preservation and Ruin are indeed distinguishable polar opposites of Creativity; it can be seen that Creativity is more than any possible combination or alternation of Preservation and Ruin. Creation uses both Order and Chaos to create.

But Creation is itself something more than can be captured by Order and Chaos - creation is an uncaused cause, a primary purpose.

Creation (as it were) stands-behind Preservation and Ruin, directing them in the process of creating towards the goals of creation.


There is an analogy (and a fundamental identity) with the limited explanatory power of the process of evolution by Natural Selection. Natural Selection can Preserve, and it can Destroy, but not Create.

Natural Selection operates by Preservation of functionality - sieving-out the deleterious consequences of undirected genetic change (Destruction) - i.e. mutation-selection balance, or balancing selection. And it produces adaptations by Preservation of the rare reproductively advantageous mutations thrown-up (un-intentionally) by forces leading-to mutation/ Destruction.

But this is not Creation - it takes for granted that Creation has already-happened.


A further example is in the Natural Selection based models of Creativity itself - such as those of HJ Eysenck or Dean Simonton in their discussions of genius. They regard the creative process as an undirected ('random') generation of ideas (perhaps produced, as in Eysenck, by partial brain/ mind pathology - by loose associations characteristic of psychotic/ dreamlike thinking)...

So Destruction/ 'free association' (supposedly) produces multiple ideas, from-which a process of Preservation (such as the analytic and rational processes of high general intelligence, or practical implementation and observation of consequences) then selects the minority of ideas that are useful/ 'true'.

But, a closer metaphysical examination of these assumptions reveals that this is not a genuine creative process (unless we have already decided, as an assumption, that it is the only possible explanation) because it rules-out the purposive nature of creation, which is intrinsic to the concept.

(Modern Biology indeed rules-out 'teleology' as a basic assumption.)

In particular, to explain genius creativity with only natural selection makes it an undirected, 'random', motiveless, inhuman procedure - and it also makes the evaluation of genius into an analogously 'random' process.

Since the selection process is necessarily imprecise, and indeed merely selects the best-reproducing idea in particular circumstances over a finite timescale; there is no valid means of knowing which concepts are right and which are wrong - a different answer will emerge in each different situation; and an answer that seemed correct for hundreds of years (Aristotelian Physics, Newtonian Physics) is always liable to revision or rejection (Einsteinian Physics/ quantum theory).

In the end, creativity and genius has been re-conceptualised away - it is just absorbed into the account of ongoing Natural Selection of everything, all the time.


To conclude; the reality is Creation, and Preservation/ Order and Destruction/ Chaos are merely some of its components. To quite Owen Barfield, they can be distinguished but not divided; and if they are divided - if they are treated as separable - this will be false.

(Unless we have a priori made the metaphysical assumption that it must be true; whatever the consequences.)


Luqman said...

Thank you for reminding me this existed, I had forgotten the last book was due.

Chiu ChunLing said...

It brings to mind the attempts to build a quantum computer, a machine that will solve certain classes of problems that don't have simple algorithms leading to a solution, but do have simple checks for whether a presented solution is correct.

Many such problems are simply far too difficult to brute force by conventional computers checking all the potential solutions for correctness, so a quantum computer is supposed to use q-bits to present all the solutions at once via indeterminacy and then "pop the lid" on the correct answer by entanglement.

My own thought is that this would be a bonafide miracle if it actually works better than a regular computer. They've made advances in making bits that can switch enormous numbers of times per second, but calling these qbits is like calling a very fast sports-car a spaceship.

It's amusing that the modern world spends so much effort trying to do something that science has declared impossible, getting coherent information from randomness. Because the alternative is admitting that there must be some ultimate source of meaningful information in the system.