Thursday, 8 August 2013

Why I believe creativity is rare - and why it is rare

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I believe creativity is rare, because creative people are rare - and by rare I mean a small minority, the size of which varies between societies.

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Evidence?

Well I am impressed by the long periods of stasis which are detected in human technology in some periods and places - periods of many, many generations when flint axes and other tools are (apparently) produced to exactly the same patterns, when 'art' (or decorations) are stereotyped and so on.

Some cultures change rapidly (in terms of the evidence they left us) others not so - my interpretation is that change is underpinned by rare creative individuals - which are seldom or never found in other societies.

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And I agree with HJ Eysenck who argued that creativity is an aspect of the high 'Psychoticism' personality trait - which is typically found in only a small minority of population samples. These samples are typically taken from among college students - so the finding emphasizes that there are only a small minority of college students who are creative.

That the distribution of Psychoticism has a strongly 'positive skew'

in most samples is taken as evidence against its usefulness - but I regard this as simply how things are: there - there is only a small proportion of high-P people, and therefore an even smaller proportion of creative people; since the high P category also contains people who are suffering psychotic illness, are selfish psychopaths, and who are so chaotic and impulsive as to be incapable of sustained purposive action.

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Everyday experience and the implications of cultural observation. My observations suggest that most people are incapable of creative thinking, and cannot understand it. They accept that somebody or something is creative only because the fact is asserted by those they regard as authoritative - this is merely obedience, not recognition.

In mainstream culture, some fields of activity - e.g. being a poet or a visual artist or a musician - are assigned to the category of creative (as in the phrase creative arts) when there is typically zero creativity involved in these endeavors - conversely it is regarded as fanciful to regard tradesmen or entrepreneurs or the unemployed as creative.

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Aside, I do not mean to imply a dichotomy of creative good, un-creative bad. I suspect that - perhaps because primary roles are closed to them - most of the few successful creatives in the modern West are currently engaged in evil-tending activities in the mass media, advertizing, public relations, politics, spin and hype. Whereas in the past, creatives were engaged in solving real world problems, creatives are nowadays mostly engaged in denying and distracting from real world problems - and in manufacturing imaginary problems to draw attention away from reality.

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Furthermore, I have theoretical grounds for suspecting that natural selection cannot generate a high proportion of highly creative people; because I think that genetic/ reproductive benefits of creativity generally accrue very equally to the group - successful creativity makes most of a creative-containing-group successful at increasing its reproduction compared with other groups - and does not much or at all increase the reproductive success of the specific creative person who made the 'breakthrough'.

I think this is strongly suggested by the history of breakthroughs, as well as the biographies of known successful creatives, who have increased the reproductive success of their group - the creatives typically do not seem to be 'rewarded' by raising large families.

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So creativity = creative individuals seem to arise in particular times and places, as a low proportion of the population, and created and sustained by somewhat indirect and fragile mechanisms - easily subverted by short-termism and selfishness; which is why modern society is in practice so hostile to genuine creativity - except when creativity serves short-termist and selfish goals....

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24 comments:

  1. The pause between the domestication of the horse and the devising of (i) stirrups, and (ii) an effective horse-collar, does suggest a lamentable lack of creativity.

    But that period embraced all manner of other creative events. All very odd.

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  2. @d - In general - creative people are not much interested by horses. When somebody is - such as Count Belisarius - it is remarkable what one man can achieve: e.g. the Byzantine cavalry (cataphracts).

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  3. If the incidence of reasonably bright people is 2 percent, what is the incidence of reasonably creative people given the skew ? How about the incidence of people both reasonably bright and reasonably creative ?

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  4. But ship technology advanced: why not nags? Think how much more effective heavy cavalry became once stirrups were available.

    Heavens, ancient people used chariot armies - so why not devise better horse collars? Early horse collars choked the poor bloody beasts.

    "creative people are not much interested by horses": that must be one of your lamest ever replies.

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  5. @d"that must be one of your lamest ever replies."

    Oh dear - it was a joke: if you are not careful, I shall have to start using emoticons on you, as if you weren't British...

    A more serious answer would be that it is an error to frame creativity questions in the Why Not? form. Such questions are unanswerable. And indeed show a lack of appreciation of the nature of creativity.

    All the greatest creative breakthroughs are obvious AFTER THEY HAVE BEEN MADE - but this does not make them easy or trivial.

    That is the essence of creativity - it is hard to do and rarely done, becuase creative individuals are rare (especially in relation to a specific sub-field, like horse technology) - but once the breakthrough has been made it is usually easy and obvious and can be widely copied and exploited. Often the creator gets no advantage at all from his breakthrough (especially in terms of reproductive success) - and almost never gets anything like the full value of it.

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  6. @C "If the incidence of reasonably bright people is 2 percent, what is the incidence of reasonably creative people given the skew ?"

    Well, the baseline is continually moving, due to selective ongoing sweeps that do not usually reah equilibrium.

    But the way you have framed the question demonstrates that the answer is going to be a small number.

    However, the role of intelligence in creativity relates more to world historical geniuses - and I don't think intelligence is anything like such a barrier in terms of smaller scale domains.

    In other words, the minimum intelligence for making breathroughs in simple technology is probably a lot lower than in something like theoretical physics.

    And, in a very IQ selective field such a theoretical physics, it is quite possible to find near zero creativity - as at present (of course, such people find it easy to fake creativity enough to fool most people - but setting that aside).

    "How about the incidence of people both reasonably bright and reasonably creative ?"

    I think that there probably are very few 'reasonably creative people' - and that there is more of a dichotomy: either creative, or not-creative.

    Presumably this implies a clear threshold of P, but blurred due to deficiencies/ inaccuracies in measuring P.

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  7. I can't speak to creativity in other fields, but one of the reasons creativity in the arts is so rare is that you need to possess both empathy and psychoticism at the same time.

    Much the same thing goes for being generally chaotic, yet able to focus on the work when need be.

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  8. Well I am impressed by the long periods of stasis which are detected in human technology in some periods and places - periods of many, many generations when flint axes and other tools are (apparently) produced to exactly the same patterns, when 'art' (or decorations) are stereotyped and so on.

    Interestingly, this appeals to me, perhaps partly because stability is one thing so lacking in modernity. To grow, live and die within the context of a society in which things were stable and predictable appeals mightily to me, and I wonder how many people would say the same.

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  9. Interesting stuff. I wonder how much creativity plays into the likelihood of a creative finding their way to this site? I wouldn't suppose creatives were necessarily better at searching out such things but perhaps more motivated in searching out such things. Or perhaps more interested in the kind of discussions that might, eventually, include a link to this site.

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  10. My observations suggest that most people are incapable of creative thinking, and cannot understand it. They accept that somebody or something is creative only because the fact is asserted by those they regard as authoritative - this is merely obedience, not recognition.

    This is insightful and becomes apparent at some level to all those engaged with refined cultural pursuits, such as high art. For example: I believe the greatest Western Classical music is incomprehensible to most people, they give it platitudes merely due to consensus and (its) authority.

    The sounds are of course still pleasant for nearly everyone but actually understanding the language of the music (something totally divorced from a strictly technical understanding) seems to be beyond most. To play such music expressively, with understanding, and to be able to listen to it and appreciate it are rather uncommon qualities. I would suggest that both the creation and appreciation of such art is a consequence of creative talent (a Normal distribution) and I believe it would correlate with Psychoticism.

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  11. My guess is that having a high percentage of creatives in the population would be destructive, or at least a waste.

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  12. @Th - "one of the reasons creativity in the arts is so rare is that you need to possess both empathy and psychoticism at the same time."

    I agree in the sense that the creative artists needs to be able to *feel* human emotions powerfully - but agreeableness/ empathizing does not actually correlate with this - it is more a matter of having an interest in such matters, and participating actively in social situations as a major life focus - and that is *not* a feature of creatives.

    For example, women will come out higher than men in self-rated empathy/ agreeableness - but if you actually test the ability to infer emotions in other people, and to 'read' social situations - men (especially the best men) are more skilled and able at this - even though they don't express so much interest in the subject.

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  13. it is more a matter of having an interest in such matters, and participating actively in social situations as a major life focus

    Most arts require such an interest though, and a good deal of first hand experience of the human world, at least at the highest levels.

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  14. An artist who has low empathy/agreeableness in daily life and feels this acutely to be a problem may, indeed, be motivated to attempt to make the kind of conscious effort to understand other people that happens to be necessary for powerful art.

    Then the question becomes whether they are able to succeed at this.

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  15. @Th and A - I am sure that high self-rated empathizing is unimportant in creativity - there are just so many un-empathic creatives, and so many empathic creatives - and the sex differences (Baron Cohen regards empathizing as a major personality differential between men and women) go against the idea of empathizing being important in creativity. A little big of human society goes a very long way.

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  16. Thanks for the response, Bruce.

    So if its binary, what is the proportion of creative people - in total, and non-deranged creatives ?

    Is the non SE Asian third world likely to be a source of creatives given lack of selection for conscientiousness in some regions?

    If African genotypic IQ should be in a bull market (due to monogamy, and to eugenic breeding) would one expect a rising incidence of genius from this region over the next two centuries (from a very very low base)?

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  17. “In general - creative people are not much interested by horses.”

    You are often amusing, but this was one of the few times I think I've found you hilarious. It just got me chuckling as soon as I read it, and the more I read it, the funnier it got. Especially the "In general -" which seemed to imply some sort of fact, like you can negate the possibility of a person's creativity based on their interest of horses!


    I imagine a college admissions interview where a prospective student was seated facing a panel of austere looking professors, where the one in the center, the most austere looking of them all, asks: "And what do you think of horses?"

    A light would glimmer in the prospective student's eyes as they beamed, excitement and optimism bubbling forth, a hopefully aura blooming through their young innocent face, and although the professor then looks away from the nervous youth and instead peers down at a piece paper of in front of him, the excited teen cannot contain it anymore and blurts out: "I just love them! Why -you know!- my grandfather has a ranch, just twenty kilometers from here, where we used to ride and train our riding skills on-"

    -the unperturbed professor abruptly holds up a finger, never looking up from the sheet in front of him, causing the hopeful but naive youth to just shut up about those damned boring horses for a moment.

    "Mmmmhmmm... I see..." he mumbles as the other professors raise their eyebrows, squint their eyes, and look knowingly at him as he makes a quick and sharp mark on the sheet. He finally looks up at the cheerful yet nervous youth and says with a tight, somewhat painful looking, smile: "Well, thank you, I think we're done here. You will receive a letter within two months letting you know if you've been accepted or not, alrighty then?"

    The student smiles the brightest smile manageable and says "Wonderful! And thank you!" although it isn't fully true, as the poor prospect's stomach has taken a turn having noticed one of the other professors take his hand and with it held level to the horizon make a sharp horizontal motion right in front of his neck...

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  18. @FHL - Ha!

    (Except of course Professors don't want anybody creative).

    I'm racking my brains to think of a creative person who liked horses, but I can only think of the somewhat creative modern English philosopher Roger Scruton, who is supposedly very keen on foxhunting (on a horse); although I have always assumed this was an affectation.

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  19. I fully agree with that. But I would like to complement both seem to relate to each other, because you find that the empathy of a creative person deteriorates from the moment that there is reciprocal, resulting in disappointment and doses of psychoticism, feeling of inferiority, hatred etc ...
    These signals are perfectly matched to bipolar disorder, but in a creative genius, bipolar disorder is different from that observed in people who do not fall into this category. I realize that bipolar disorder presents classic big mood swings in a short amount of time, ie, occurs an abrupt change of mood. In contrast, in a part of the creative geniuses, I believe, bipolar disorder is moderately high, making the possibility of a creative surge more likely than a person who needs to be constantly medicated. In other words, the creative geniuses in bipolar disorder, not a disease but a lead mechanic-organic adaptive gives insides of creativity.
    I also think that mental disorders in general, cause a high mental excitement.

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  20. @G - "because you find that the empathy of a creative person deteriorates from the moment that there is reciprocal, resulting in disappointment and doses of psychoticism, feeling of inferiority, hatred etc "

    No, I don't think this. I think creativity is personality, character, temperament - hence mostly hereditary.

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  21. ''No, I don't think this. I think creativity is personality, character, temperament - hence mostly hereditary.''

    I also think it is, which said different?
    I just meant that some people are more susceptible to these rampant emotional, that like the vast majority (if not all) of our traits are hereditary.
    Yes, moderately high bipolarity is a result of our inheritance, so that it is common to happen within families. But I just wanted to suggest how some of these mechanisms as intense mood changes may occur.
    But do not worry about the old argument, nature and nurture, I am one of those that I am totally in favor of the idea that it is nature that determines us largely'm practically a deterministic genetic.
    I'm glad you're debating on this subject because I feel directly related. After some time believing that creativity can be resilient to any individual, today I'm sure that is not so and I see it all the time.
    Thank you for this important work, because I don't see that there seem to be many voices that seek to discuss the real traces of creative genius within the HBD community, currently passionately enamored iq tests.

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  22. @G - Sorry I misunderstood you.

    I would not use the term 'bipolarity' which has come into psychiatry as a crude and incoherent justification for marketing patented drugs which are inferior to previous treatments, sometimes actively harmful.

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/side-effects/200904/bipolar-disorder-and-its-biomythology-interview-david-healy

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  23. Mr. Charlton,
    remedies that do not heal are not remedies. And especially when we have the machine subjectivist, as an alibi for such action.
    I do not understand your point about bipolarity.
    Well, I think that most creative geniuses are not classic bipolar, because this is a disorder intellectually exhausting. Despite having famous cases of bipolar geniuses like Van Gogh, I believe that most creative geniuses need some balance, even if tenuous, to organize your thoughts.
    If we lived in a society where true creativity was truly valued, then we could identify them and for verifying through our own eyes what we are proposing.

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  24. Nicholas Fulford26 August 2013 at 02:08

    I think that creative genius is rare, but the capacity for creativity, though to a more limited level, is within the realms of many.

    What is required for creativity is a vexing enough problem, and the necessity of a means to deal with the problem. For example, when Apollo 13 encountered a problem which endangered the lives of the crew, many people stretched themselves to develop a solution in real-time with only the materials at hand in the command module and LEM. That they managed to do that required tremendous outside the box thinking, and yet it happened.

    More prosaic problems are encountered by most of us on a day to day basis, and sometimes all it takes is thinking about a problem from different points with enough tenacity for a creative impulse to germinate into creative expression. I had this happen when dealing with a particularly complex programming problem, where after a lot of thinking and no solution, I woke up at 3:00 in the morning with a totally new take on a solution, (and it was based on a very different discipline--photography, and the use of layers and masks.) It was an 11th hour discovery, and radically changed the process under development, making it much simpler and flexible.

    Limited creativity is within the reach of most people, given the right impetus. The difference between that and the creative genius is that the creative genius seems to be operating at that level more often, and with greater elegance.

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