Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Continued discussion of creativity

with 2 comments

Preamble for third parties:

I recently commented on a post discussing creativitye. This lead the author to elaborate his opinions in a second poste.

Seeing that he had gone to considerable effort on my behalf, I wished to give sufficient comment, and decided to do so here, rather than within the limitations of the comment field.

Some original formatting has been lost in quoting.

Preamble for cpsinclair:

First off, thank you for your efforts in elaborating on your opinions. Below, I give my feedback to your text. In addition, for completeness, I would like to provide three links with three different takes on creativity, which I just found via Google:




(Comparing and contrasting different opinions is usually a good way to get an understanding of the meaning of a word or phrase.)

I regret that I will likely not be able to continue an in-depth discussion after this, for reasons of time.

Main analysis:

If it was possible to define creativity in any meaningful way, restrictions would have to be placed on the idea, in order to contextualize it within bounds. How to isolate creativity? If it was possible to isolate creativity, then creativity itself would not be necessary.

Here you point (I think) to a very general problem, namely that it is near impossible to make good definitions where “natural” concepts are concerned. (Where I differ between concepts that have arisen by natural development and those that are defined in an ad hoc manner for a specific context.) I fully agree, and consider many attempts to define something like trying to find a rectangular box that is a perfect fit for a highly irregular object (e.g. a tree).

What you say about isolating creativity, however, I do not quite follow—and I am very unsure whether I would agree. How could creativity become unnecessary?

Creativity is so ubiquitous throughout the history off mankind that it isn’t helpful to ask “what actually is creativity”? A more effective question is “what actually isn’t classed as creativity”? That is a more creative question – the question of creativity requires a creative answer.

Negative definitions are indeed often useful; however, mostly when it comes to resolving border issues and special cases, or to clarify ambiguities in language. Then again, there are many roads to Rome, so will play it your way.

* Creativity is not a response to a challenge where everything that needs to be said or done is known in advance. In other words, creativity is not the ability to follow instructions.

I agree.

* An antonym of “creation” is “destruction”. But destruction can be creative as well as destructive, as I’ll discuss later on at some point

I agree, with the minor reservation that “annihilation” might be the better antonym.

* Creativity is not a polar opposite of logical reasoning. Some people think it is.

I agree. I would further argue that creativity and logical reasoning are not even on the same spectrum, in the same way as e.g. humor and prose are on different spectra. (Possibly, I abuse the word “spectrum” here; in a mathematical or physical context, I would likely speak of “dimension”.)

* Creativity does not answer questions without there being a context within which other solutions a possible. Creativity is not the realm of 100% possibilities.

I am not quite certain whether I understand you. In particular, do you mean “probabilities”, rather than “possibilities”?

At any rate, I would opine that every situation/problem must be seen within a context in which many solutions are possible—or, if not, that there will be situations where creativity does underly a one-solution only situation. (The latter, however, would be very rare and of little practical importance.)

* Creativity is not realistically confined to dictionary definitions or encyclopaedic entries, especially not Open Source Software platforms like Wikipedia.

Partially agreed, as discussed above. IMO, the elaboration from Wikipedia given earlier is a reasonably good attempt. Further, if we look at the article as a whole a more differentiated and useful image is given. Notably, the very openness of Wikipedia makes it unusually well suited for such purposes, compared with a traditional encyclopedia. (In principle: Whether that particular article was up to Wikipedias normal standards can be disputed.)

* Creativity is not an idea to be applied in financial accounting. This could land you in prison!

Not necessarily: I understand what you mean, and in that meaning I agree. However, there are perfectly legal cases of creative accounting. In most countries the accounting laws are so convoluted and/or give so much leeway and flexibility that a good accountant can be both creative and law abiding.

Looking at your items taken together, I still do not have a clear image of what you mean by “creativity”. What we have now is roughly “A computer is not a car, not a calculator, and not a collie.”, which does not exclude the possibility that it is a lobster.

In contrast, I would likely have started with the word “creativity” and worked my way forward by giving positive examples. A possible result (without working through the details) would be “The ability to create new knowledge of sufficient originality, quality, and quantity.”; where “knowledge” is taken in a very wide and non-standard sense, including, but not in anyway limited to, mathematical theorems, literary novelties (“novels” in an earlier sense), and methods to do something. “Originality, quality, and quantity”, are necessarily somewhat subjective—just like “creativity”. (Is “L.H.O.O.Q.” a creative piece of art or a disrespectful and trivial piece of junk?) Their interpretation may further depend on context, and it is certainly possible that even a comparatively simple action by a layman is creative in the right context.

(I stress that this should not be seen as a complete discussion, but as the general direction in which my approach would lead.)

The best way to deal with the question of creativity is not to ask what it is, but rather what it is not. How creative was this post? The answer to this question is another question: How creative are you? This is both a question and an answer. A creative person can work out how this post relates to creativity, because to ask what doesn’t come under the banner of creativity was paradoxical enough to be classed as creativity. There is indeed a relationship between paradox and creativity, which will be elaborated on at some future point. Although creativity is not universally paradoxical, and in fact paradox may be just one form of creativity, but there is a strong connection between the two. Creativity most definitely is about making connections between things, especially the right things.

Here you are little to zen-ny for my taste (and, again, I do not quite catch your meaning). As with a koan, your post could be something beneficial to contemplate in order to improve ones own understanding, but is not well suited to communicate what your understanding is (nor to formally define “creativity”). In addition, gaining this private understanding may, in it self, take some considerable creativity—which limits the use of the text.

I agree, however, that your approach in this post is an example of creativity; further, that making connections is a very common aspect of creativity (but not, necessarily, all there is). I disagree, as discussed above, that it is the best way to approach the issue.

Returning to the questions originally raised, I am still not certain how you land at the claim “Members of the scientific community stereotype creative people as hippies and air-heads.”, although (re-reading the latter part of that post more closely) I suspect that you might have had something like the “Dead Poet Society” in mind. My thoughts upon reading “scientist” go more towards the natural scientists, and I assumed that you were referring to the stereotypical division into “Spocks” and “Byrons”. Either way, I fear that you over-generalize and/or misunderstand.


Written by michaeleriksson

March 16, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Hi, and lol.
    Thank you for this post. I have further posts in the pipeline that continue the discussion futher, dealing with the points you have made. Thank you for your analysis of my post. I haven’t had time to digest all of your points yet, but when I have I will respond.

    As far as over-generalizing is concerned, I’d like to think it was the post that was written in such a way that over-generalized, as opposed to me having a belief system which over-generalizes. In other words it was my careless writing that over-generalized the issue, and is perhaps not effectively representative of my attitude to the generalization of groups of people.


    March 16, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    • “the post that was written in such a way that over-generalized, as opposed to me having a belief system which over-generalizes”

      This certainly happens to all of us at times.


      March 16, 2010 at 5:11 pm

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