Creativity is an odd phenomenon. It’s prized
and desired but often elusive, hard to coax out, and even more difficult to define. Is
creativity just coming up with new stuff? Well, no, because nobody has ever said this
that it was made today rather than in 1504, but that doesn’t mean it’s creative, in fact it’s the opposite – derivative. So being creative isn’t just coming up with new or original stuff. Quite a few philosophers have said that being creative is coming up with new and valuable stuff. And immediately that raises some interesting questions, because what “value” is, well that depends on who you are. A modern economist might say that value is price; a Marxist would say that value is socially necessary labour
time; we might say that something is valuable insofar as it’s useful for a given goal… And this is why the philosopher Teresa Amabile points out that creativity always occurs in a context. She thinks that something is creative in a given field insofar as people who know that field judge it to be both new and valuable. Which of course opens up a whole bunch of new questions about what it means for a work of art to be good or valuable and who are the relevant experts that we need to consult, and so on – the philosophy of creativity is very closely linked to aesthetics, the philosophy of art. But if you’re very clever, you’ll have
noticed something: we’ve been talking about what it is for a work of art or a product to be creative, but what about a person? When someone is being creative, what exactly are they doing? Artistic creativity is just one kind: you
can have creative scientific or mathematical creativity you can have creative acting performances, creative jokes, creative dances. Sometimes creativity takes a lot of planning and effort, and sometimes it comes so spontaneously and out of nowhere that it surprises the creator – think about improvisation.
we need a theory that explains all of that variation. He says that whenever you go to perform
some action, like open a door or pick up a book, your brain sends a signal to command the relevant part of your body, but it also generates “action schema” to anticipate what performing that action will look like, feel like, and so on. Those action schema are then compared against actual sensory input so that you can correct what you’re doing. So for instance, if you go to move a sofa, your brain anticipates how heavy it will be, what the fabric will feel like and so on, so that you know how much force to put behind it and you can correct yourself if you need to. Sometimes
action schema are generated automatically like when you move a sofa, and sometimes you
can generate them yourself when you mentally rehearse an action: when you go, “Ok
I’m going to go on stage, it’s gonna look like this, the lines and the music are gonna sound like this,”
– that’s your brain anticipating sensory input Carruthers thinks that creativity lies in
generating new and valuable action schema. When you’re writing poetry you anticipate
what those words will sound like or what that image would look like; when you’re painting you
anticipate how the paint will look on the canvas; when you dance you anticipate how
your body will feel in those positions. When you improvise, action schema are generated so quickly and automatically that you might even be surprised by what comes out of you! There’s also some evidence that when people
engage in scientific creativity they construct mental models of the thing they’re investigating using action schema. Think about the plum pudding model of atomic structure Vs the central nucleus model; those
are both ways of thinking about the structures of atoms that rely on a visual picture to help you understand it, even though atoms are too small to be seen. Or think about Watson and Crick using actual physical models to try and figure out what the structure of DNA would look like to a human eyes. Thinking of creativity as this kind of automatic
sensory imagination explains a few things. It explains why you can be disappointed when you try and be creative: you anticipate that the painting will look a certain way but you can’t quite get it to look on the canvas how it looks in your head. And have you ever heard people say that hallucinogenic drugs like LSD help them with creativity?
Well it would, because it changes the way your brain processes sensory information. And it explains why just copying somebody else’s work isn’t creative: you didn’t generate those action
schema yourself, you just got some sensory input and now you’re remembering it in order to copy it. And you know how people sometimes look to the natural world for creative inspiration: looking at how a bee flies in order to inspire a piece of music, or an actor looking at the way an animal moves in order to incorporate those movment patterns into a new character they’re creating?
That’s all using sensory information. Action schema! You see? So many people think that creativity is this mysterious, unknowable pehnomenon There’s a whole industry of people making books, and sometimes even YouTube videos, just dedicated to wallowing in that mystery and not explaining it. But that’s because creativity is like a magic trick: it only looks mysterious and supernatural when you don’t know how it works, but there’s actually very ordinary explanation. And you can do it! Because you generate action schema every single day for every thing you do! In order to be creative you just need to generate new and valuable ones, and in Part 2 of this series
I’ll be teaching you ‘How to be Creative!’ Patreon.com/PhilosophyTube
is where the fans of this show chuck me a couple of bucks every month to try and keep me making free education on YouTube, and also just keep me eating and paying the rent. And if you donate $15 or more you can see parts 2 and 3 of this series right now! But if that’s not your bag, so you don’t miss Part 2: don’t forget to subscribe.