PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Friday, May 20, 2005



May 20, 2005

Thu May 19, 2005 11:59 pm

Dear friends,

Next Sunday we are going to talk about creativity. From the way the meetings

have been developing I am sure that next Sunday will prove as creative as past

meetings. It's like applying a dose of our own medicine on ourselves.

Whilst talking with one of the members of the group it occurred to me that it is

about time we went to the mountains for some fresh air; and of course there is

always Segovia to be done. May I have your ideas please.

Take care


SUNDAY 6.00pm START at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs----

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<<<<<<Pub Molly Malone, c/ Manuela Malasaña, 11, Madrid 28004>>>>>

metro: <Bilbao> : buses: 21, 149, 147


Once upon a time intelligent and clever men busied themselves with alchemy. The

intellectual challenge and the lure of a get rich quick scheme motivated a lot

of people. And although no one managed to convert lead into gold, we are still

fascinated by an intellectual challenge or a get rich quick scheme.

Of course we now know why the alchemists were doomed to failure, but the

alchemists themselves knew that they had to be super duper creative to succeed.

So how can we understand creativity? This should not be mixed up with, how can

we be creative? Or what does it take to be creative? Incidentally, if you do

know the real answer to these questions, let me know.

We usually ascribe to creativity the meaning of something being new or original.

And sometimes even something that is out of the ordinary. Of course, there are

other ways of being creative, but the new and the original are the real healing

makers. For example, the personal computer was not really a feat of creation.

Computers had existed for a very long time before PC's were invented. And binary

calculations even longer. What makes the personal computer the important

invention it is in our life is the silicon chip. The silicon chip was indeed an

act of creativity.

How common is creativity then? By definition creativity, of the headline making

type, cannot be that common, otherwise it wouldn't have the special status it

has. On the other hand it is sufficiently common for us to see progress, change

and innovation. Change is, indeed, the first philosophical issue we encounter

with creativity.

Creativity does bring with it change. We change the way we do things, the way we

see things, the way we behave, what we know and so on. Change is so fundamental

to existence that we find the first philosophers grappling with this very

problem. And change, I would submit, is the basis of science. Without chemical

reactions we wouldn't have chemistry, without the changing of mass or energy we

wouldn't have physics. In fact without change there wouldn't be a universe in

the first place.

The universe, as a subject, introduces its own issues regarding change and

creativity. What kind of creativity is required to bring about the creation of

the universe? The nature of God argument. Can something be created from nothing?

Ex nihilo argument. Are the laws of physics universally true? The intellectual

challenges introduced by quantum mechanics.

Can we say that change is a synonym for creativity? No; not if we assume

creativity to be always positive and change maybe positive and negative. Is

creativity always positive? We are certainly more impressed when creativity has

positive implications, but there are enough instances in life not to be the

case. We can be creative to invent new tools to solve problems or even be

creative in matters of aesthetics. But we can equally be creative to exploit

people better or just simply to kill and maim them quicker.

It is reasonable to assume that the universe is the biggest feat of all

creativity; whoever or whatever created the universe had something going for

them. This form of creativity brings about change as opposed to affecting

change. It's not something that happens, but something made to happen. A river

going through a plain changes the topology of that plain, but building a dam

brings about change where change was not causally possible without the

intention. Creativity which aims to make changes or results in changes requires

an element of intention usually coupled with purpose. This is another argument

why creative is not always positive; where there is intention there is always

the possibility that the intention is not good.

Of course, the ideas of bringing about change and intentionality are strong

arguments for the creationist argument. If the universe is the biggest creation

around then surely it was created by ''someone'' with a very powerful intention.

There are many arguments for and against creationism, but for my purposes now I

only want to consider intention. If we accept that creativity implies intention

then we are implying an intention held by some super being outside the realm of

the universe. And although there is no evidence to suggest that intentions

cannot exist outside the realms of the universe those who hold this view have

their work cut out to prove their case. Intentions usually relate to space and

time; for example, I cannot intend to do something in the past anymore than I

can intend to build a bonfire on the other side of the galaxy. There are limits

to what we can reasonably intend, but are there limits to what we can reasonably

be creative about? This question has a certain circular feel about it; at least

if I knew the answer I probably would not be here.

What about creativity as a result of an accident? Finding a purpose for our

creation is different from having an intention to apply creativity. Moreover, it

is irrelevant whether what we are doing or intending we call creativity. I

suggest that the label ''creativity'' is applied post facto; we recognise

creativity after its existence has been brought about and not before.

Maybe intention is a sufficient condition for creativity, but not a necessary

condition. But if we accept this we will have to accept that inanimate objects

or things not capable of intention can be creative. Not only would this squeeze

the creationist argument out of the debate, but we can safely say things like

Mt. St Helena was being creative when it remodelled parts of Washington State in


If we do accept that when we use the concept of creativity we are really

applying it to beings with a given degree of rationality then we need to include

intention. And with this in mind we can introduce an other aspect of creativity:

knowledge. What kind of epistemic state of mind does creativity require? What

roles do the conscious and the unconscious self play in creativity? To say that

these are complex issues is an understatement. However, there seems to be a

balance here between what we are doing and what we want to achieve and this is

what makes creativity a relatively rare event.

A challenge for creativity is indeed that of bridging the gap between what we do

and what we want to achieve. It seems that for human beings the main resources

we have to bridge this gap are intelligence and imagination. Once again we have

to deal with the issue of the epistemic state of the creative person. Could it

be that one feeds on the other; the more intelligent one is the more imaginative

one becomes? And when imagination comes to bridge the gap between what we have

and what is to become new we use the good old fashioned method of a quantum


Some would argue that creativity is more common than the impression I seem to

give. But surely it's always a question of quality or quantity. I would

certainly agree that we all have the potential to be creativity. For example,

every poem, every painting and every essay are by definition acts of creativity;

what we think of these things is an other matter. Maybe in the arts the kind of

knowledge that is required are skills and techniques and then putting these into

practice to express ideas and emotions. And through this process we find

examples of creativity manifesting itself into new things. In technology we also

find creativity as the creation of new things. However, is there scope for

creativity in science? After all, science is about understanding the world and

not about inventions. Understanding how the atom works came first then people

started building nuclear power stations. Of course, at the very least, there is

always scope for interpreting old data in new ways and from there go on to

discover new things. But this is more creativity about us as opposed to creating

new things.

Maybe the best test we can apply to creativity for originality, quality and

novelty would be the test of time. You will agree with me that the universe will

certainly pass this test with flying colours. But what about us, human beings?

Is creativity a trait unique to human beings only? One thing is for sure, for

creativity to flourish and continue we must be prepared to explore the new and

move away from the herd mentality. Maybe the best creativity we can come with is

the one when we are creative about ourselves.

Take care



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