Human Creativity

Can we give a deterministic account of artistic creativity? Is such an account felt to be needed? In my personal thesaurus there a number of words loosely connected with creativity; imagination, free will, the unprecedented, and soul foremost among them. What of creativity in the workplace, in the laboratory, in the operating theatre, or the creativity that results in an imaginative response to a human problem whether one’s own or someone else’s.
With the introduction of quantum indeterminacy into the physical description of the world, we have perhaps for the first time unambiguously escaped from the straitjacket of determinism. But although radical unpredictability might seem to be a spanner in the works of the orderly unfolding of events though time, as matter of fact, the scientific project of understanding the physical world, applying that understanding through technological advance, and predicting future events and to some extent exercising control over them, continues unabated. It seems that quantum events are a kind of haze which disperses before the radiance of macroscopic change.
Free will, not compatibilism, means two things which are unacceptable to most scientists: firstly that the agent can break with the past by defying the necessitation of antecedent causes, and secondly that a willed act is personal, bears the stamp of the author, and is therefore original or de novo. Of course these are two ways of saying the same thing.
There is a dogma which lies behind the scientific world view. It is the largely unexamined Principle of Sufficient Reason, nihil est sine ratione – nothing is without a reason (cause). But as Hume noted “ ‘Whatever has a beginning has also a cause of existence’ is neither intuitively nor demonstrably certain.” Regularities in nature do not prove the generalisation that is the Principle of Sufficient Reason, and as Heidegger pointed out there is no sufficient reason for believing it. We should all be struck at how effortlessly we can ascribe antecedent causes to some object or to some state of affairs that exists in front of us. However let us try and predict some new invention that will be present in every household in twenty years time, or the weather in a month’s time, or where the FTSE or Dow Jones will be in a year and we will all struggle. Whether the monotonous history of the moon over the last several millennia is due to the lack of any kind of life or due the the lack of self determination of a characteristically human kind is worthy of discussion and examination. Certainly human history has had more incident and variety than dinosaur history had during their longer period of ascendancy on Earth. As far as I know dinosaurs invented nothing. Whether free will contributes to our understanding of that fact is uncertain, but human history is full of novelty and unprecedented occurrences. Could Michelangelo have foreseen Brancusi or Frank Lloyd Wright, or Beethoven Debussy? Of course these apparent leaps into novelty, may just be the accumulation of millions of tiny causes, the so called climb of mount improbable. But the existence of the imagination, the capacity to envisage what does not yet exist should at least suggest that Aristotle may have been correct that final causation is really operative in human affairs, and that creativity is a strongly emergent property which cannot be tracked back to an origin ulterior to that of the author of the creative act.
My next post will be of poetry which is about creation/creativity.

Published by davidcookpoet

I am a husband, father and grandfather. I retired from a busy working life as an adult psychiatrist in 2014. My interests are in literature, philosophy, modern jazz and horse racing. I might represent those four fields by Shakespeare, Kant, Charlie Parker and Lester Piggott. Like nearly all of us, I can identify a number of formative experiences, one of which was a psychotic episode in my first year as a psychiatrist. This reinforced an already established interest in mystical experience, and a sense of how little human beings know. My intellectual bugbear is reductive materialism, and I am surprised at the lack of moral imagination of those who promulgate such views. It seems to me they need to consider ,perhaps by exposure, just why totalitarianism is so horrific.

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