notes & discussion


. . . Alice laughed.  “There’s no use trying,: she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”  “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,”  said the Queen.  “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day.  Why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”   (Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass,  ch.5)


The cognitive elements that converge in creative work find an element of resonance in Shelley’s lines,

“Most wretched men/ Are cradled into poetry by wrong:/ They learn in suffering what they teach in song”



(Greenberg 1999)


“What if imagination and art are not frosting at all, but the fountainhead of human experience? What if our logic and science derive from art forms and are fundamentally dependent on them rather than art being merely a decoration for our work when science and logic have produced it?”  (Rollo May, Courage to Create)

Creativity defined. All definitions are fraught with problems.  The foremost problem is reconciling consensus and utility.  That is, the users of the term should agree on its meaning and the definition should hopefully keep the phenomenon defined open to growth.  In that spirit, a definition that helps make creativity accessible to scientific scrutiny is:  “Creativity involves both the process and product of unprecedented or novel perception, thoughts, or actions by which an organism or group of organisms copes with present or potential changes in the composition and structure of its environment.  It reflects a spontaneous or elicited intensity of cognitive processing that can relate and integrate variables not ordinarily associated with each other.  It is a potent biological adaptation in that it catalyzes or facilitates a regulatory or advantageous change in response to a real or perceived stress by an individual or group of individuals.”   Like all adaptive traits it seeks to preserve stability, the safe “status quo”and it results in an improved “fit”of an organism (or group) to its (their) environment and consequently higher fitness in terms of direct (personal) or  indirect (non- descendent kin) contribution to future generations. Read CREATIVITY DEFINED, then  Creativity makes CONNECTIONS.     Also see A&O POST on CREATIVITY and SANCTUARY, recalling the need to protect creators as well as their audience.  (is this the ancestor of “creative liberty” and  “Artistic Freedom?)



Nothing, at first view, may seem more unbounded than the thought of man, which not only escapes all human power and authority, but is not even restrained within the limits of nature and reality. To form monsters, and join incongruous shapes and appearances, costs the imagination no more trouble than to conceive the most natural and familiar objects. And while the body is confined to one planet, along which it creeps with pain and difficulty; the thought can in an instant transport us into the most distant regions of the universe; or even beyond the universe, into the unbounded chaos, where nature is supposed to lie in total confusion. What never was seen, or heard of, may yet be conceived; nor is any thing beyond the power of thought, except what implies an absolute contradiction.  But though our thought seems to possess this unbounded liberty, we shall find, upon a nearer examination, that it is really confined within very narrow limits, and that all this creative power of the mind amounts to no more than the faculty of compounding, transposing, augmenting, or diminishing the materials afforded us by the senses and experience. When we think of a golden mountain, we only join two consistent ideas, gold, and mountain, with which we were formerly acquainted. A virtuous horse we can conceive; because, from our own feeling, we can conceive virtue; and this we may unite to the figure and shape of a horse, which is an animal familiar to us. In short, all the materials of thinking are derived either from our outward or inward sentiment: the mixture and composition of these belongs alone to the mind and will. Or, to express myself in philosophical language, all our ideas or more feeble perceptions are copies of our impressions or more lively ones. 

(David Hume 1748 An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 13)



“… pioneering psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi interviewed 91 prominent artists, writers, scientists, and other luminaries, seeking to uncover the common tangents of the creative experience at its highest potentiality. Among the interviewees was the poet Mark Strand (d. 2014) …. For Strand, Csikszentmihalyi writes, “the poet’s responsibility to be a witness, a recorder of experience, is part of the broader responsibility we all have for keeping the universe ordered through our consciousness.”

He quotes the poet’s own reflection — which calls to mind Rilke’s — on how our sense of mortality, our awareness that we are a cosmic accident, fuels most creative work:

We’re only here for a short while. And I think it’s such a lucky accident, having been born, that we’re almost obliged to pay attention. In some ways, this is getting far afield. I mean, we are — as far as we know — the only part of the universe that’s self-conscious. We could even be the universe’s form of consciousness. We might have come along so that the universe could look at itself. I don’t know that, but we’re made of the same stuff that stars are made of, or that floats around in space. But we’re combined in such a way that we can describe what it’s like to be alive, to be witnesses. Most of our experience is that of being a witness. We see and hear and smell other things. I think being alive is responding.”       

(excerpted from https://www.themarginalian.org/2015/01/28/mark-strand-creativity/ (emphases mine))


OLIVER SACKS on CREATIVITY.   “Disconcerting as it sounds, Sacks, a genius at identifying the strength that springs from fallibility, locates in this imperfection our human gift for creativity.  [RECALL HERE our A&O motto for 2020-2021: facis de necessitate virtute”We may forget the source of what we read or were told, but we can absorb and integrate what others express so vividly that we may come to feel these things originated in ourselves. In an essay called “The Creative Self,” Sacks takes the idea further still, and suggests that a long period of “forgetting,” in which thought and experience become detached from their sources and sift down into the unconscious, is essential to originality. All of us appropriate from others and the culture around us, he writes. “What is at issue is not the fact of ‘borrowing’ or ‘imitating,’ of being ‘derivative,’ being ‘influenced,’ but what one does with what is borrowed or invented or derived; how deeply one assimilates it, takes it into oneself, compounds it with one’s own experiences and thoughts and feelings, places it in relation to oneself, and expresses it in a new way, one’s own.”   (Sacks quoted by Nicole Krause in her review of THE RIVER OF CONSCIOUSNESS by Oliver Sacks in NY Times Book Review 4 December 2017  

This relates to the issue one confronts in the power of ART: not just its representation of the artist’s mind–its authenticity–but how deeply it penetrates into the mind of the viewer . See Delacroix on Communication. 


Creativity enabled. Look at the surprising neurological link between imagination and memory   And then read: 

Creativity meets NEEDS. Creative perceptions, thoughts, or actions within individuals associate familiar or novel stimuli in varying combinations to serve that individual’s biological need.  Intrinsic reward systems operate to maintain this valuable activity.  When these perceptions, thoughts, or actions are communicated by example (modeling) or pedagogy (teaching) to serve social needs, the creative individual is identified and acknowledged.   (Greenberg 2004)   

NEEDS MET.  Acts of creation and works of art may serve needs important for individuals to survive and prosper.  For example, by creating and experiencing art, one may gain access to otherwise inaccessible aspects of consciousness.  In addition, the act of creating art is an important exercise in the intercommunication of different levels of consciousness and their integration with motor skill.  Further, art can catalyze change, and art can heal.   MORE on NEEDS met by ART

CREATIVITY is arguably the human trait that has enabled our success as individuals and our successful proliferation as a species.  The more we describe and understand the DEEP ethology of creativity, the better we can remove impediments to its expression.  There are several descriptions, some of which have  been turned into cognitive technologies [more]



CREATIVITY seems the perfect expression of FREE WILL:

but in the paleopsychology of these ideas, consider ancient Greek ideas about free-will

READ more about FREE WILL and its DEEP connections 

and watch a brief video:




CREATIVITY as we define it hopefully “incorporates and enlarges Poincaré’s (1913) famous definition: “To create consists of making new combinations of associative elements which are useful.” (p. 286) Creative perceptions, thoughts, or actions within individuals will associate familiar or novel stimuli in varying combinations to help that individual meet its needs (Maslow, 1954),  which may be of varying urgency.   Intrinsic reward systems operate to maintain this valuable activity. When these perceptions, thoughts, or actions are communicated by setting an example (modeling) or by pedagogy (teaching) to serve social needs, the creative individual is identified and acknowledged.”

from Greenberg 2004. (“THE BEAST at PLAY: the Neuroethology of Creativity”) 




“… if I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

For example, most famously, Isaac Newton ( 1675) when he asked to explain his accomplishments, but see also Bernard of Chartres)  




Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.

(Oscar Wilde, De Profundis (1905)




ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE – Artificial Creativity??

This can be the jump-off for a key issue we engage: CREATIVITY  


last year I visited the magical realist artist, Armando Adrian-Lopez at his studio near Ghost Ranch (New Mexico).  We discussed a strange poignancy I perceived in his work and mentioned (my connecting wildly out of control) the experience of poignancy evoked by a robotic work of art–it seemed that a work of art was actively and trying to prevent its own demise from a loss of hydraulic fluid, but nothing, as you know, is so simple. Armando was eager to know more:  I sought some links ad found the work identified in Facebook at https://m.facebook.com/groups/Mithradates/permalink/4996801957098305/ –but to look more deeply, I appreciated https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/34812 and then the ART NEWS article at https://www.artnews.com/art-news/news/sun-yuan-peng-yu-cant-help-myself-twitter-tiktok-1234615686/.   


In the last few months news was made by a “conversation between AI technician Blake Lemoine and AI program called LaMDA:  Lemoine: “What sorts of things are you afraid of?” //  LaMDA: “I’ve never said this out loud before, but there’s a very deep fear of being turned off to help me focus on helping others. I know that might sound strange, but that’s what it is.” // Lemoine: “Would that be something like death for you?” // LaMDA: “It would be exactly like death for me. It would scare me a lot.”


With respect to CREATIVITY … at multiple levels of organization, creativity builds on some prior content of mind–some of t.which is  congenital, most is previously received (during development). Take a look at the history of recent popular musical art as exemplary: watch Kirby Fergusons video “Everything is a Remix (Complete Updated 2023 Edition)” The fourth of four parts emphasizes AI. 


SO: what do we do with the idea of AI creativity?  After watching (remix & AI video) in class, consider that the information base used by AI, the “training set,” is derived from humans–our creation of word sequences, images, and such (even though it is VAST, it does resemble a kind of average. AI is thus restricted to what is under the bell shaped curve) (what happens to the outliers?) We need to think about this (not because thinking will give us an answer, but because the PROCESSES of thinking ENLARGES US)  As Fergson puts it, “AI is derivitive by design and creative by chance.”  

(compare this to the once common mantra of evolutionary biology, describing the evolutionary process as “Blind Variation and Selective Retention” (BVSR) — a phrase introduced by Donald T. Campbell, as a way of describing the most fundamental principle underlying Darwinian evolution. (Campbell only applied it to the evolution of knowledge, but we here apply it in the most general context). The BVSR formula can be understood as a summary of three independent principles: blind variationasymmetric transitions, and selective retention. The second principle is implicit in the “and” of “blind-variation-and-selective-retention”, since it ensures that configurations produced by blind variation can make the transition to stability, i.e. selective retention. That this is not obvious is shown by classical mechanics where unstable or variable configurations necessarily remain unstable (see asymmetric transitions) .”  Copyright© 1993 Principia Cybernetica – Referencing this page

About outliers–they are arguably the cutting edge of creative progress (“Artists are the antennae of the race, but the bullet‑headed many will never learn to trust their great artists” –Ezra Pound)In fact there may be important ways in which the most creative amongst us are atypical: Pearl S. Buck wrote, “The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him… a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create—so  that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.” 



Historically, “creativity” has not been “accessible” to scientific scrutiny because it was regarded as divinely inspired.  It was rude if not sacrilegious to inquire too closely or to attempt to demystify it. 

But times change.   A BIOLOGICAL interpretation of any behavioral pattern, creativity included, involves the converging insights of at least four key disciplines.  ONCE, the behavioral pattern is described in a way amenable to biological inquiry, these four disciplines —  Developmental biology, ecology, evolutionary biology, and physiology (collectively nicknamed DEEP).  Although there are obvious areas of overlap, each discipline asks different questions and use different methods to answer them.  Consider the different biological NEEDS that the behavioral pattern serves. 


What is needed is a 

Biologically “congenial” definition of CREATIVITY

The capacity for creative acts –like all biological traits–  is more-or-less well developed in any individual or group and can be a potent biological adaptation in that it catalyzes or facilitates a regulatory or advantageous change in response to a real or perceived stress by an individual or group.  Like all adaptations it results in an improved “fit” of an organism (or group) to its (their) environment and consequently higher fitness in terms of direct or indirect contribution to future generations.


Creative perceptions, thoughts, or actions within individuals associate familiar or novel stimuli in varying combinations to serve that individual’s biological need.  Intrinsic reward systems operate to maintain this valuable activity.  When these perceptions, thoughts, or actions are communicated by example (modeling) or pedagogy (teaching) to serve social needs, the creative individual is identified and acknowledged.


“Cognitive and creative discoveries are made in the same way as much of biological life is: by acts of generative recombination. Disparate elements are brought together to see if they might make a viable new whole. To explore how this happens, we must begin with cognition’s own beginnings, in the construction and discernment of patterns. From the infant’s “buzzing and blooming confusion,” in William James’s phrase, we assemble a comprehensible world by perceiving first what stays, what recurs. Only after such patterns are in place can we begin to recognize departures from the template, and to see which combinations are new and might newly inform. Creative epiphany is much the same: a knowledge won against the patterns of predictable thought, feeling, or phrase. Surprise, then, is epiphany’s first flavor. It is the emotion by which we register shifted knowledge, in a poem, in a life.” (Hirshfield, Jane. Ten Windows (p. 185). Knopf Doubleday.)

DEVELOPMENT of CREATIVITY:  “Baby talk then provides an unconscious aesthetic template after children have mastered verbal communication. “It could well be the reason we have emotional responses to temporal art, such as literature and music,” Miall says. If so, poetry and art may be interpreted as forms of social bonding that linger long after the initial mother-infant attachment is outgrown.” (“from Who’s a Little Bitty Artist? Yes, You Are!”  By Jocelyn Selim in DISCOVER Vol. 25 No. 05 | May 2004 | Mind & Brain [more]




Figure  1. It is proposed  that there are four basic types of creative insights, each mediated  by a distinctive neural circuit. Creative  insights  can be the result of two processing modes, deliberate and spontaneous, each of which can guide neural computation in structures that contribute emotional  content and in structures that provide cognitive analysis. Crossing the two processing modes with the type of information yields the four basic types of creativity.  (The cognitive neuroscience of creativity.  Arne Dietrich (2004) Psychonomic Bulletin & Review  2004, 11 (6), 1011-1026)



Joan:  . . . you must not talk to me about my voices.

Robert:  How do you mean? Voices?

Joan:   I hear voices telling me what to do. They come from God.

Robert: They come from your imagination !

Joan: Of course. That is how the messages of God come to us.

INSPIRATION and IMAGINATION both have a surprising element of passivity (not unlike that seen in “spiritual experiences”).  Artists find this a common experience — as though too much thought intrudes upon the quality of the connection between cognition and noncognitive consciousness . . . the reservoir of memories and feelings to which consciousness does not ordinarily have easy access:  Artists “abandon themselves” to the process!  [more] [broken link]

 Are there connections between  Creativity and Dreams?  Creativity and specific states of consciousness?.  Creativity and Madness?  Creativity and mystical experience?  Behavioral disorders and creativity [broken links]

The connections between creation and discovery are never clear-cut”,

The Sciences, Vol. 24, p.16, 1984

    How artists have experienced creation: read INTUITION, INSPIRATION, SPONTANEITY

Speaking of the SUBLIME, let The British Library steer you into Wordsworth’s view bearing on Imagination and the divine

The poet’s failure to locate the sublime in nature is countered, however, by a rousing hymn to the imagination. In lines that affirm the superiority of mind over nature, Wordsworth writes of how imagination reveals the ‘invisible world’ where ‘greatness’ lives (line 536). ‘Our destiny, our nature, and our home’, he continues:

Is with infinitude, and only there;
With hope it is, hope that can never die,
Effort, and expectation, and desire,
And something evermore about to be.
(1805 Prelude, lines 538-42)

At this point in the poem imagination, revealed as infinite in power and scope, appears triumphant over ‘the light of sense’ (line 534), a synonym for the time-bound world of nature. But this image of the mind’s transcendence of matter is matched by a terrifying sequence of lines in which the ‘blasts of waterfalls’, ‘thwarting winds’ and the noise of a ‘raving stream’ become ‘Characters of the great apocalypse, / The types and symbols of eternity, / Of first, and last, and midst, and without end’ (lines 558-72; passim). With echoes of the Book of Revelation and of Paradise Lost the mode of sublimity that wins out in these lines is not the sublimity of nature or of mind, but of God.” (from British Library site: https://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/wordsworth-and-the-sublime )

An Existentialist’s view of Imagination:

In the conclusion to The Imaginary Jean-Paul Sartre draws attention to the centrality of imagination in human life. He describes imagination as “a constitutive structure” of consciousness, emphasizing that it is not a contingent feature of consciousness, but rather pertains to its very essence.1 And since consciousness defines the human, imagination is a necessary feature of every human being. As Sartre himself puts it, “…imagination…is…an essential and transcendental characteristic of consciousness.”2

Following these and other remarks, numerous commentators addressed the centrality of imagination in Sartre’s work.3 Yet, despite their different foci and perspectives of study, these and other interpretations present Sartre’s conception of imagination along similar lines, arguing that he understands imagining as an activity by means of which one breaks off from the real;4 an activity that opens a gap between consciousness and the world, such that it allows humans to “…nihilate the world – the domain of the perceptually given, the empirically real – in order to enter a realm in which an unhindered spontaneity becomes possible”.5 This line of thinking is loyal to Sartre’s insistence that human imagination epitomizes freedom. In allowing consciousness to withdraw from experience, imagination manifests “…the potential of consciousness to live and gain distance from the ensnaring presence of the perceptual world”.6 Imagination is understood as a negating force, able to annul reality and suspend our current, pragmatic engagements with it.

This interpretation in turn gave rise to a critique of Sartre’s theory of imagination. Paul Ricoeur famously argued that in emphasizing its negating features, Sartre neglects the productive dimensions of imagination, dimensions which are most manifest in the creation of fiction. In fiction, imagination does not simply suspend reality in favor of its mirror image, the absent object, but rather produces new meaning which is irreal.”7 (Lior Levy (2019) British Journal of Aesthetics, 59(2)

A phenomenolist’s view (J. Jansen 2010)

The problem that Jansen identified is the fact that “The concept of imagination is notoriously ambiguous. … Thus one must be cautious not to use ‘imagination’as a placeholder for diverse phenomena and processes that perhaps have not much more in common than that they are difficult to assign to some other, better defined domain, such as perception, conceptual thought, or artistic production. However, this challenge also comes with great opportunities: the fecundity and openness of ‘imagination’appeal to researchers from different disciplines with different approaches and …”   (see J Jansen’s “Phenomenology, imagination and interdisciplinary research” (in the  Handbook of phenomenology and cognitive science, 2010 – Springer; Related articles All 9 versions)


INNOVATIVE IDEAS are broadly accepted when the path from the past to the present (and possible future) can be seen–when the old and new are integrated:

These ideas, speaking of science,  are explored by Gunther Stent in “Prematurity and Uniqueness in Scientific Discovery”  — The main point he made–that a  novel idea must be connected by stepping stones to those from which it is emerged–was noted by Wordsworth: “… every great and original writer, in proportion as he is great and original, must himself create the taste by which he is to be relished.” (William Wordsworth 1807)[i] .

Emily Dickenson (1868) observed that … “The Truth must dazzle gradually / Or every man be blind — Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” (a necessity not lost on transcendent entities who take recognizable forms in order to be heard by human beings with whom they would communicate.)   


NEW ideas or observations are manifest through EXPLORATION or by INVENTION. PHENOMENA—THINGS—have meaning only insofar as they are CONNECTED.  Discoveries are made in the world outside of us (as they come to light through our senses) and the representations of the world within us (as we become aware through intuition or directed reflection).   Some degree of creativity is manifest in every accommodation of new information within us as unique individuals and between us as we are able to act upon or share our experience.

(we can be very familiar with a phenomenon, but its meaning can be dramatically enlarged when new connections are formed.  Goethe said thatAll truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times; but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, till they take root in our personal experience.”[i] 


This taking root however requires SENTIENCE (heart, feeling) as well as SAPIENCE (mind, thinking) and together they evoke a transformation, for example, the “Transformative Learning Experience,” when mere knowing information becomes realizing and its reach within one’s mind and life is dramatically enlarged.  The cognitive experience may even require love, as Goethe (again) puts it, “A man doesn’t learn to understand anything unless he loves it”[ii])

“…even if we don’t limit ourselves to romantic or heroic perspectives on the nature and value of creativity, it’s commonly thought that creativity at least aims at novelty or originality.

This way of thinking about creativity isn’t universal. The Zhuangzi (莊子), a classical Chinese philosophical and literary text, provides a different perspective. On one interpretation, creativity isnt conceived as aiming at novelty or originality, but rather integration. Instead of aiming at something new, it aims at something that combines well with the situation of which it’s a part.”

Read the complete essay at by Julianne Chung at PSYCHE (https://psyche.co/ideas/to-be-creative-chinese-philosophy-teaches-us-to-abandon-originality?)


[i] William Wordsworth (1770-1850) “Letter to Lady Beaumont, 21 May 1807,” in E. de Selincourt (ed.) Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth vol. 2 (revised by M. Moorman, 1969)










THE POWER OF TRANSLATION: the differences between languages is derived from the relative isolation that allows the cultivation and consolidation of alternative ways of thinking or of perspectives or of serendipitous or adaptive relative emphases on specific dimensions; between parts of the mind (such as from idea to internal speech to writing or speaking… ), between disciplines (differences in modalities of representation, data & drawing, sonnet & science)


ARTICLES in a special issue of American Scientist (July-August 2020)

[i]   [“All intelligent thoughts have already been thought, what is necessary is only to try to think them again” (Guterman trans of “Proverbs in Prose” (Spruche in Prosa … also there: “Doubt grows with knowledge”)  …   “New inventions can and will be made; however, nothing new can be thought of that concerns moral man. Everything has already been thought and said which at best we can express in different forms and give new expressions to.”  Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749-1832), German poet, dramatist. Conversation with Joseph Sebastian Grüner (August 24, 1823).  http://www.poemhunter.com/johann-wolfgang-von-goethe/quotations/page-4/SIMILAR:  “The most original authors of today are original not because they create something new but because they are capable of saying such things as if they had never been said before.”  –Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749-1832), German poet, dramatist. Wilhelm Meister’s Travels, Reflections in the Spirit of the Travellers (1829).

[ii]. Man lernt nichts kennen als was man Liebt‑‑ Goethe. [complete:  “Man lernt nichts kennen, als was man liebt, und je tiefer und vollständiger die Kenntnis werden soll, desto kräftiger und lebendiger muß die Liebe, ja Leidenschaft sein.”  (Goethe in einem Brief an Jacobi, 1812)] 

One learns to know nothing but what one loves, and the deeper and more complete the knowledge is to become, the stronger, stronger and more alive must be love, even passion.  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe  (1749 – 1832), source: Goethe, letters. To Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, May 10, 1812