“A definition,” Samuel Butler (1912) once said, “is the enclosing a wilderness of ideas within a wall of words”, but as Joseph Campbell (1968) cautioned, “The best things can’t be told . . .” 


To bring order to the chaotic wilderness of ideas about creativity is in itself a major creative undertaking.  The formidable Council of Scholars of The Library of Congress assembled when Daniel Boorstin was librarian sought to “rescue” the term “creativity,” “for use in the world of ideas and culture” (Hutson, 1981).  While they agreed that “innovation” was at its core, they also argued that for innovation to be creative, it must be “important.”  The twenty-eight Scholars sought to reclaim “creativity”  from trivial applications, such as “preschoolers’ finger painting.”  I am also seeking a central essence for creativity and seeking to reclaim this behavioral pattern as a suitable subject for ethology, that unique multidisciplinary field in which biology and comparative psychology collaborate in seeking to understand the causes and consequences of behavior.    Creativity is a trait of living organisms and must be made amenable to the development of predictive, testable hypotheses about its underlying biological causation and control if it is to be understood. (from Greenberg 2004)



“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. In particular, it manifests an enhanced intensity of perception, cognition, and expression that occurs either spontaneously or is elicited by specific stimuli to relate and integrate variables not ordinarily associated with each other. (adapted from Greenberg 1998)




























This definition effectively incorporates and enlarges Poincare’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, which may be of varying urgency (Maslow, 1954). 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)






When the PERCEPT meets the PERSON: bottom up and top down phenomena  (the incoming information meets the previously stored)








Scientists and artists describe, then they think about it [get the PERCEPT clear, then develop the CONCEPT]— and here is where creativity emerges, what often seems like a dream. [where self-generated percepts are woven into a narrative] “For Baudelaire, “A good picture, faithful and worthy of the dreams that gave it birth, must be created like a world.”  Redon, in his own review of a later Salon, explains how this is to be done: “The Old Masters have proved that the artist, once he has established his own idiom, once he has taken from nature the necessary means of expression, is free, legitimately free, to borrow his subjects from history, from the poets, from his own imagination, from the thousand sources of his fantasy. That makes the superior artist: face to face with nature he is a painter, but in his studio he is a poet and thinker.”  (From The Powers of Invention”  By Charles Simic, NYTBR 53(4) · March 9, 2006.  Essay review of Beyond the Visible: The Art of Odilon Redon by Jodi Hauptman, with essays by Marina van Zuylen and Starr Figura. Museum of Modern Art, 284 pp.)




































































“The action of the child inventing a new game with his playmates; Einstein formulating a theory of relativity; the housewife devising a new sauce for the meat; a young author writing his first novel; all of these are, in terms of our definition, creative, and there is no attempt to set them in some order of more or less…” (Carl Rogers, On Becoming A Person, 1961)

in other words,

 “‘creative spark’ is not the exclusive property of just a few rare individuals down the centuries, but quite to the contrary, it is an intrinsic ingredient of the everyday mental activity of everyone, even the most run-of-the-mill people. . . . creativity is part of the very fabric of all human thought, rather than some esoteric, rare, exceptional, and fluky by-product of the ability to think. Which every so often surfaces in places spread far and wide.”  (Hofstadter, Metamagical Themas p. 527)











































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 repair link]


(What is the difference between cleverness and creativity?  Darwin once observed that cleverness and creativity are not necessarily allied, that “many men who are clever–much cleverer than the discoverers–never originate anything. . . .”  (quoted in Jared Diamond’s review of Frank Sulloway’s Born to Rebel (in NYRB Nov 14 1996:5))

The perception of converging strands of information bearing on a new more richly connected perception seems intrinsically pleasurable (is this why we are INFOVORES?)

This experience is especially emotional when sudden: read about AHA! – Eureka, Insight, and Epiphany