"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Lovely garden or barren desert ?- The evolution of creativity

I think it was probably Graham Wallas who first put forward the idea that the progress of human creativity may follow the Darwinian laws of natural selection,(1) that creativity has a part to play, for good or ill, in our evolution, in determining the future of the human race on this planet.
Dean Keith Simonton, professor of psychology at the University of California at Davis, provides an updated perspective on Wallas in his book, Origins of Genius: Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity,(2)where he further explores this idea and agrees that ‘creative genius, or the ability to produce highly original ideas with staying power, is a fundamentally Darwinian process that enhances the adaptive fitness of the individual and the human species.’ In other words, creativity ‘can be understood as a process akin to natural selection that leads to the survival of those ideas that prove their hardiness.’(3)
At the same time Hungarian psychology professor and leading researcher on positive psychology Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was in 1996 linking creativity to biological evolution. His view is that units of information or memes, (the word coined by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene, in 1976), are passed down through generations by learning. Cultures develop over time by creative people changing these memes and if the changes are seen as useful to a developing culture so they will continue to be handed on to new generations and become entrenched.
Because of this, Csikzentmihalyi argues that we have taken over from God as the creator in this world and it would help, he warns, ‘if we realized the awesome responsibility of this new role…’ He continues:

Whether this transformation will help the human race or cause its downfall is not yet clear...The gods of the ancients, like Shiva, like Yehova, were both builders and destroyers. The universe endured in a precarious balance between their mercy and their wrath…The world we inhabit today...teeters between becoming either the lovely garden or the barren desert that our contrary impulses strive to bring about. The desert is likely to prevail if we ignore the potential for destruction our stewardship implies and go on abusing blindly our new-won powers. (4)

Lovely Garden or Barren Desert? The choice is ours.

1. Graham Wallas,The Art of Thought, 1926.
2. Dean Keith Simonton, Origins of Genius: Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity, USA: Oxford University Press, 1999.
3. Publishers Weekly editorial review of Simonton Origins of Genius 
4. Csikszentmihalyi Mihaly, Creativity – Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention (New York Harper Perennial) p. 6-7 cited in Jenya Krein on Creativity: Theories, Beliefs, and Discoveries in Speaking in Tongues Guided by Voices

Image from Amazon by Juyle 

© Eleanor Stoneham 2011

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