Chapter 1: What other people have said

In recent theories of creativity there has been a movement away from a focus on the individual’s creative process, with more emphasis on their roles and influences in a larger group or socio-cultural system (Griffin et al. 1993, Boden 2004). This is because trait-based theories of creativity show many complex relationships between personality and culture and this has seen an emphasis on the study of environmental and cultural factors in team and collective processes, rather than in the individual’s internal processes. Modern theories of creativity accept that creativity (both personal and group) has four main stages: ‘Preparation’, ‘Incubation’, ‘Illumination’ and ‘Verification’ (Wallas 1926). There is, however, a shallow understanding about how and why an idea should move from incubation to illumination. Theorists agree, the most important aspect is between ‘Incubation’ and ‘Illumination’ but give little insight into how the transition occurs. I will be looking at the transition between these two steps, how information finds new forms and is translated to the consciousness in the way which we recognise as a creative idea.

Creativity can be defined as a novel and valuable idea in its context (Perkins 1988). While this essay will not tackle the various questions still surrounding creative value, its environment and culture, and the brightest individuals it seeks to explain, it will look at underlying structures and processes in the brain which underlie these systems and people and form the foundation of their creativity.

All humans are fundamentally creative. (Amabile 1996, Maslow 1968). Amabile brings together research that shows that artists and non-artists have similar ratings in creativity tests and Maslow realises that housewives can be more creative in day-to-day tasks than some artists. Literature on this process is largely focused on the culturally valuable product, the ‘great creativity’ rather than the smaller acts of everyday creativity. By focusing on artists and other, more anti-social forms of creativity, they have also found strong relation between creativity, anti-social behaviour and mental illness (Arieti 1976). It is highly likely that these themes exist because of a conflict between a person’s internal experience and that described by society; the most in touch with their internal world being unable to conform to social demands. But there is simply no useful principle regarding this, and I feel research in this area undermines itself.

When working normally and healthily, the brain creates the spark of creativity, sometimes culturally recognised, sometimes not. Its normal systems demonstrate the bisociative thinking patterns that give rise to the brain’s ability to hold contradicting or unrelated ideas and information and combine them to form original ideas (Koestler, 1964). Snyder (2009) even asserts that everyone has latent savant skills not just creativity.

Hume (1748), Turner and Fauconnier (2002) argue that all creativity is a result of the brain’s ability to mix, merge and refashion its senses together. It seamlessly transposes two concepts – gold and mountain are unrelated but can easily be created into a new concept; a golden mountain which the brain has no trouble imagining even though it has never seen or imagined one before (Hume 1748, p.11). I will be focusing on the brain’s unconscious remixing and conceptual combination in order to understand amorphous cognition and its expression.

‘To Inspire’, as defined in the OED (2012) shows how much theory has gone into confirming a historical insight: “To infuse (something) into the mind; to kindle, arouse, awaken in the mind or heart (a feeling, idea, impulse, purpose, etc.)”. I feel this metaphor, of breathing in or being breathed upon, still represents the delicate and mysterious process of being motivated to act on an idea. Without tackling the divine implication, we can see that our minds do, in a sense “breathe in” and take its fill of our environments, allowing it to infiltrate and infuse us. The result is, or should be, an “arousal” or “awakening” of our minds and heart – a motivation to act on what we have been infused with. This motivational aspect of creativity has long been associated with ideas forming as conscious thoughts and ideas, but we can also see historically and personally that there is often a sense of arousal before the conscious thought or expression forms. This is why I feel that endocepts are so important to creative action; they are the ‘fuel’ of inspiration’s fire.

Gnezda-Smith (1994) has done a similar piece of research in the same area of emotion and the internal forces of creativity. She reported an emphasis on the participant’s internal experiences over the external evaluations of their work, “they focused on five internal forces which directed their creativity: unconscious thought, conscious thought, the creative process, emotions, and motivation”. These are all closely linked and I will unpack these themes more in the next section. Gnezda-Smith also agrees with me that the endocepts, emotional fragments of experience that demand translation into creative expression, “may well be the underlying affective component which stimulates an individual to engage in creativity activity”.

Creativity is a form of exaptation: the reuse of pre-existing technology for a new use, as the ideas and experiences already existing in culture and art are absorbed by the individual, mixed up and expressed in a new combination or nuance that then begins the cycle again in someone else (Johnson, 2010). It can also be used in the sense that modern creativity is dependent on a large variety of evolved brain functions developed for more primitive reasons.