Chapter 2.4 Ambiguity and Tension

Ambiguity, Tension and Concepts

Maslow acknowledges that concepts as we know them culturally can be misrepresentations of reality. “These most mature of all [creative] people were also strongly childlike” is a good example of how culture misrepresents reality (Maslow 1968, p.139). If some mature people are strongly childlike, why is there a cultural definition which implies their incompatibility? Cultural definitions and concepts help to explain how innovative discoveries often challenge the status quo – the concepts that represent the world and the definitions that confine them are misleading of the reality behind them, our meaning is attached to ‘raw information’. It took a creative individual, working with more fluid and conflicting concepts, to discover the new class or combination that was previously conflicting with their experience of the world.

The idea of what is original and what is normal seem to me to be entirely contextual. It only matters to this essay that conflict and tension in the brain’s sensual relationship with its environment can exist in a person to create endoceptual cognition, and that this is one source of creative motivation.

There are many different descriptions of the causes of the tension required for these theories of endocept creation. Maslow (1968) describes creatively attributed people being comfortable with and attracted to the unknown, the puzzling and the mysterious. This is exactly the kind of personality that will find what Ingalls (1976) calls “ambiguous experience”– events or stimulus that provoke an internal conflict of ideas, new concepts or emotional reactions.

Maslow (1968) shows that some people have a different balance in their physiology; they have a much more ambiguous cohesion and tend to hold traits that are, at least culturally, conflicting states. The most common example is that artists generally combine a child-like naivety in seeing the world with compulsive, perfectionist habits. They are a fusion of incompatible states. Maslow directs that these are linked to an artist’s manipulation of concepts that starkly conflict – that oppose each other – “like clashing colours” (Maslow 1968, p139). This combining of culturally incompatible ‘colours’ requires a different physiology to what he describes are that of the “enculturated” person’s. As a result of this extended ability to maintain tension, the more creative person can combine the traditionally incompatible concepts into a new embodiment of them. They are then, a metaphorical forge; melting different ‘ores’ of ideas together into strong ‘alloys’ – and I agree with Maslow that the stronger the ‘forge’, the more complicated the alloy that can be formed. “To the extent that creativeness is constructive, synthesising, unifying and integrative, to that extent does it depend in part on the inner integration of the person.” (Maslow 1968, p.139).

As Maslow argues, more creative individuals have more time and energy because they have engaged with their inner tensions and resolved them. They can maintain much larger ranges of tension because they are more open to them and therefore better at assimilating and resolving them. So it appears to be that while everyone has to work to resolve tension in their lives and relationships, it is more likely that people suppressing their unconscious endocepts and amorphous cognition to avoid tension wherever possible are actually wasting energy doing so. Ingalls (1976) underlines the importance of ambiguity in relationship and the tension created as a result. Research on the link between creativity and resolving of tension in life and relationships seems to support this; Blissett & McGrath (1996) found that while creativity and interpersonal problem solving are independent of each other, they are strongly associated skills. They showed that by training people in engaging in the ambiguity of the problems they also increase their creativity. Carson et al. (1994), studied 60 children and again found strong associations between creativity and dealing with ambiguous problems.

As we have discussed, the mind’s need to comprehend and resolve tension between itself and others or its environment is strongly associated with creativity. When these tensions and emotions are mixed in the random associations of the unconscious, we get a potent mix that needs to be expressed.