Many of the most creative scientists have reflected on how originality in science resembles and differs from creativity in the arts. Both seem to require going beyond tradition and authority, while at the same having been nurtured in their respective traditions. This may only become apparent looking back a good while later, after the dust of upheaval has settled.

Learning a skill, usually requires long hours of application and enduring plateaus where little or no progress is made, followed by leaps forward. In growth and development of living organisms generally, there is this staccato progress too. Both Piaget and Freud tried to capture this in their descriptions of cognitive and emotional development, and it seems an obvious refinement to try and combine the two approaches in a single more integrated one. Creativity, the break with the straightjacket of causality, is according to Kant and also to the Romantic poets who followed so soon after, a mysterious faculty of human beings. Einstein too emphasised the centrality of imagination in original work. Creativity can not be taught, nor captured by algorithms. Some great teachers can light a fire in their most gifted pupils, who later may record a sense of indebtedness. However it is a truism that the the pupil will go beyond the teacher in many happy instances. Is nature creative? Obviously it has been and continues to be. In terms of development, the direction is not in one direction only. Some species fail to flourish, diminish both in numbers and variety. Civilisations too. The neo-Darwinian orthodoxy considers that the creativity of nature is the product of blind chance. I remain unconvinced.

Here is a wondeful poem by Rilke, Sonnet II,4 from the Sonnets to Orpheus. It is about the productive imagination and at the same time about a girl awakening to her sexuality.

And here we have the creature which is not. 
But they did not allow this, and as it happened - 
his gait and bearing, his arched neck,
even the light in his eyes - they loved it all.

Yet truly he was not. But because they loved him 
the beast was seen. And always they made room.
And in that space, empty and unbounded, 
he raised an elegant head but scarcely fought

for his existence. They fed him make-believe grain 
so as to give him strength to struggle free. 
This gave the beast such power

that out of his own forehead he grew a horn. A single horn.
Then pure white to a young girl he came near,
and was in her silver mirror and in her.

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.

2 thoughts on “Imagination

  1. A wonderful Rilke poem . I would like to suggest it is also about about the ” transitional space” described by DW Winnicott – a space where subjective and objective truths exist together in a non differentiated way . Transitional space ,when supported and not impinged on , is where a person can emerge creatively as their ” True self ” .


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