Being intensely creative can be an intoxicating experience. Consequently, there is a tendency among creative individuals to conceptualize the process in ways that are not realistic. These false theories usually fall into one of two categories. In either case, the error gets in the way of developing a true (and therefore more useful) understanding of the creative process.
Creative people do not always understand their own creative process.
Mystics, poets, and artists of all kinds can sometimes come to believe that their creativity (or inspiration) is not their own. That is, the creative process can seem so remarkable and astonishing that ideas and impulses seem to come from somewhere else or from someone other than the creators themselves. These individuals modestly assume that they could not possibly have come up with such impressive results on their own. For some, the source feels in some way divine and is presumed to lie with “the Muses” or with God. For others, the origin must lie in a mystically enhanced version of the unconscious mind. Both scenarios place the origin of creativity outside the conscious ego. The creator is just a channel.
The human race depends on its ability to predict the future with reasonable accuracy. At the personal level, mind is the primary tool for “producing” future. (Photo: NASA)
French poet, essayist, and philosopher Paul Valéry said that the task of the mind is to produce future. That is to say, mind is essentially an anticipator, a generator of expectations. We all do this. Sports fans bet on hockey, baseball, football, or basketball scores, or simply on who will win the game. Bloggers guess the number of hits taking into account the day of the week and how good they think their post is. Investors anticipate stock market shifts. Business types estimate demand for their product or service. Workers gauge their energy reserves against what needs doing and pace themselves. Hunters calculate where the prey will run.
In earlier posts, I have written about synergistic thinking, the deliberate combining of logical (linear) and associative (non-linear) thinking. Logic is a product of the conscious mind and as such it is a thinking tool we all, with varying degrees of skill, deliberately employ. Associative thinking is how the unconscious works and can be both hard to understand and elusive in its actual – often powerful – workings. As a result, in the last few decades, a great deal of confusing superstition has gathered around the unconscious. Here is a gem from page 39 of Susan Shaughnessy’s excellent book about writing, Walking on Alligators: “The only thing we know for sure about the unconscious is that it isn’t like us. It is different from the conscious mind. It looks through our eyes, but it sees differently. It uses other rules to organize what it sees. And then it passes along its conclusions in a tantalizingly inexplicit way.”
The unconscious mind produces an associative running commentary on our thoughts and surroundings. (Image: public domain.)
I have written elsewhere that the most creative among us possess the power to combine linear conceptual thinking with non-linear associative thinking. This ability to unite the two thinking modes works the creative magic that sets these people apart. A person who heavily favours one mode of thought over the other will inevitably lack outstanding creative powers.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge claimed that a “great mind must be androgynous.” (Image: Wikimedia)