strained and most natural ways of the soul are the most beautiful; the best
occupations are the least forced. Lord, what a favor wisdom does for those
whose desires she adjusts to their power! There is no more useful knowledge.
his words were written when the concept of intelligence as we think of it
today had barely begun to jell, Montaigneís excerpt catches the essence of
creative thinking: The ability to apply oneís thinking with aptitude and
versatility to a problem. The key to the preceding statement, however, is the
words "aptitude and versatility," for they connote success, or at
least productive failure.
Methodical study of uncommon ability had no
place in the natural sciences until Francis Galton attempted to explain it
by heredity. That neat explanation stood for years, as most psychologists were
too occupied with the mechanical model of the brain to be concerned with
creative mental processes. Helmholtz did propose his four stages to
creativity, which failed to excite much interest.
Of course, the first successful tests of intelligence
(such as Binetís and Termanís) early
in the 20th century were not concerned with creative thought.
Anyway, isolated studies had noted a disturbing lack of correlation between
inventive thinking and measurable intelligence. Separation was
easier. Thus early psychologists adapted the
notion that intelligence was a separate component of the personality,
unsullied by other characteristics.
In the 1920s, Graham Wallas adopted an
anecdotal approach to understanding creative events. Wallas studied accounts by recognized geniuses and, as had Helmholtz,
proposed four steps to the creative episode. Ready?
|The problem is formulated |
during the preparation phase
|Germination, often unconscious, |
occurs in the
|Insight is achieved in the illumination |
|Finally, in the verification phase, |
the solution is tested.
These generalizations, logical as they
appear, have been difficult to demonstrate experimentally. Already the creative process was
proving hard for science to pin down. Some began to emphasize prediction
over explanation. It was found that creative development is not uniform
throughout life. Both favorable environmental conditions
and, interestingly, practice were found to increase creativity. Changes in
performance are measurable and somewhat durable.
Thoughts about thinking took another turn
with Wolfgang KŰhlerís work with chimpanzees. Presented with problems, successful chimps grasped solutions to their
quandaries upon perceiving relations among the components. These solutions
could take many forms. Max Wertheimer fleshed out the concept in his
work Productive Thinking. He described two methods of learning:
productive. The first is mechanical, learning by rote; the
second is learning in such a way that lessons may generalize. Through
experiment with common folk and interviews with Albert Einstein, Wertheimer
too noted processes common to thought that can be made explicit. Features of
thought are not piecemeal but rather related to whole characteristics, and
function with reference to them. Structural truth arises from a grasp of the
entirety. At that point, the thinking process could be cast in the Gestalt mold.
This brings us to the dichotomy in the
perception of creativity. People tend either to disassemble or to
idolize it. That is, people believe either that creativity is trainable or that it is
conferred by something, if only by serendipity. Consider a comparison.
Allen Poe describes the writing of "The Raven" as a logical,
deductive process, calculated in its entirety for best effect and constantly
under his control, while Samuel Taylor Coleridge describes his poem "Kubla
Khan: Or, a Vision in a Dream" as the product of inspiration so
pervasive that several hours were lost to him forever. Although neither description tells the whole story, these and other
individual accounts are nothing if not diverse.
(showing your friends)
The concepts of incubation and illumination
are not new. There has been a progression of thought about those intervening
stages since the Greeks, who considered them external and supernatural. When Pythagoras proved his theorem, he sacrificed 100 oxen to
the god he deemed responsible. Later, we internalized the
process. Now, the concepts of incubation and illumination are
disputed, and todayís theories tend either to incorporate or ignore
|How should the creative
process be defined? It has been said that there is no such thing as creative
thinking, only thinking; but thinking occurs so seldom that when it does it
is labeled "creative." Nevertheless, like pornography we all know what it is. Sternberg asked subjects both in and out of
the field of psychology to list characteristics of an ideally intelligent or
creative person. He found that people seem to have systematic, although
normally implicit, theories about intelligence and creativity with which
they evaluate themselves and others. And there is consensus about what
constitutes those behaviors. Thus, even if we canít verbalize it, we seem
to share an inherent understanding of creative behavior, at least within
one's own culture.
Creative thinking can be considered a type
of problem solving. The problem-solving tasks to which we apply ourselves
run the gamut from the well-defined, such as puzzle problems, to the
ill-defined, such as how to support oneself during graduate school.
Adaptivity has remained a more or less consistent
component of creativity theory. Humor has its part in
successful creative thinking. In fact, Koestler sees it as a major
ingredient. A spirit of play can lend detachment and diminish fear of
failing. There is a potpourri of other slants: It has come to mean a person,
a process, a product, or a combination of those things.
Assuming that creative thinking indeed
exists, let us borrow a bare-bones
definition from Parnes and Brunelle:
Creative behavior is the
production and use of ideas that are both new and valuable to the creator.
Of course, this definition begs the disputed contribution of insight.
Aside: When I was a student in
the biomedical illustration program, a professor from another department, in
casual conversation one day, said, "Of course anybody can be taught to
draw, correct?" Correct he is. But the unspoken belief I
believe he conveyed is that of Edward Watson's "give me any child, and given
time and resources I will make him or her into whatever we decide to
create." (To some extent, this appears to be the belief promulgated
by recent graduates of various university Education departments.) This
fails to take into consideration the head-start provided by inborn talent, or
proclivity, or ability, or whatever you prefer to call it, that is unmistakable when observed. I am at a
loss to understand why the notion of inborn abilities receives such a bad rap
these days. Hey, if you can't do one thing, odds are that somewhere lies
a field or an ability in which you did indeed receive the head-start. I could go
on about this, but will let it lie.
|Continued: The attempt to apply order
to what some condemn as bedlam.