Mindstorms & Brainbows

“Not the kinda thing you should be thinging about..."
James Joyce, Finnegans Wake

Creativity is obviously no thing.
Even though people keep trying to package it.
Psychologists hunt for factors, brainiacs search for locations in the cortex, engineers formulate it for insight chips, innovation routines, inspiration nets.  But they have not bottled it yet because there really is nothing very thingy about creativity.

Look at the cases and you find that creativity is wildly inconsistent: Michael Faraday had a lousy memory, John Stuart Mill had a formidable one; Goethe was a star student, Edison a failure; Mondrian painted like a mathematician, Kepler thought like a poet.  Darwin spent years piecing together the details of a theory that Alfred Russell Wallace seems to have seen in a flash. 

The social, political, and financial particulars of time and place argue against thingness too.  Degas was rich, Van Gogh was poor; Picasso was healthy, Proust was not; Kant lived a simple life, Hugo a tumultuous one.  Freud was an only child, Bach the last of fourteen children.
 Keats died at 26, Coco Chanel was active until she died at 88.  Dickinson was unrecognized in her lifetime, Dickens famous.

There really does not seem to be any neat set of factors that encapsulates creativity – that thingify it.  The more you look, the more variations you find.  The very idea of creativity seems to morph depending on our focus: innovation, intelligence, dumb luck, cleverness, whimsy, hype, craziness, courage, stubbornness, even imbecility.
Any of these can be part of the creative process.

So if it does not come in a bottle, has no sharp edges, and cannot be easily defined…what is this unthinglike thing that makes paintings, gizmos, symphonies, and cathedrals possible?  How should we think about it?  One approach is not as a thing at all but more like a system.  Like the weather, for example.

Storm systems, warm fronts, temperature loops, cloud covers...the news now gives us a global view of something we used to only get in snatches.  Onscreen and all at once, you get a sense of the whole system not just the local commotion.  We see weather now as a kind of mega-thing…a system of atmospherics that surrounds us with its 1800 thunderstorms at any given moment, lightning striking 100 times a second, massive energy in every single photon of sunlight.  More power in ten minutes of a single hurricane than in all the nuclear weapons on the planet.  An interactive, roiling, unendingly dynamic system of solar heat, wind turbulence, earthbound pressures, and the cycles of moisture, all around the planet, all the time.

That is creativity in no nutshell, where untethered interacting forces act as a kind of meteorology of the imagination.  A wily mix of chaos and pattern, noise and melody, all constantly changing and transforming.  And like the weather itself, creativity is also full of expected surprises...mindstorms and brainbows, floods of ideas and dry spells, sudden clarity, flashes of insights, bolts from the blue.
 A whoopdedoo of whooping activity…whether hugging the planet or lining the inside of the mind.

If we want to make a working model of it, we need to avoid plans for a thing like a machine, so constricted by dry components and neat subroutines.  Instead we need a whizbang of some kind, like a big fat bin with the right ingredients.  Set it all in motion and then study the forces at work, notice the patterns, improve our predictions, accept our limitations, and harness the energy.
 Like one of those self-contained ecosystems…a desktop terrarium.  You do not build it finished or run it done.  Instead, you start it up and watch it grow.  Some things you control, others you merely admire.  Some you cheer, some you rue.

An Ingenarium let’s call it, an eco-system of the mind and no thing worth thinging about.  We will toss in some moist urges, a few kernels of cognition, flakes of forgetting, cultural media, quirks of personality, gene pools, sprigs of innate talent, and pure blind luck.  Sparks of insight.  Under the right conditions, we should get a nice growth of creativity that we can nurture and play with.

If it works, it won’t work perfectly.  Only dull devices do that.  This is dynamic and bound to be unruly, unreliable, unpredictable.  A permanent work in progress and a permanent process…not without pitfalls.  The chance of being thunderstruck is perfectly countered by the likelihood of being swamped.  Just like the weather.  Expectations balanced by unknown repercussions.  Plans countered by rowdiness.

But what the heck.  It should be fun to try.