On Creativity

I collected some blogposts I wrote about David Bohm and ordered them on different subjects. This page is about David Bohm on Creativity. Links to all posts can be found on the page David Bohm Blogposts.

Creativity in the Whole of Life

After I wrote my previous post, I read the chapter ‘Creativity in the whole of life’ for the second time. The chapter from a book called ‘Science, Order and Creativity’.

And this time I was even more convinced that it reflects my thoughts on many things that I want to write about on this blog.

It is a book by David Bohm and David Peat and it is suggesting more creativity and better communication in science. More emphasis on ideas instead of formula. More about the whole than about fragments and more about meaning than just mechanics.

Now as interesting as the whole book was, I was especially amazed by that specific chapter about creativity. But there is so much, I just don’t know where to start. So I think it is best to just start with the beginning of that chapter.

But first I will give an overview:

  • Creativity and what blocks it.
  • Blocks to creativity in the generative order of society.
  • Dialogue and culture.
  • The individual, the social and cosmic dimension of the human being.
  • The responses of east and west to the conditioning of consciousness.
  • Creativity in science, art and religion.
  • A new order of creativity.
  • Summary and outlook.

I don’t know yet if I am going to write about each chapter chronological. But this way I have a better idea for myself where I am going.

Creativity is natural but…

In the previous chapter of the book, the writers came to the conclusion that creativity is something very natural. It is a potential for every human being. But what is also very natural for a human being, is an attachment to fixed programs.

And rigid attachments to what is known, just do not mix with creativity.

So they want to find out what blocks this natural creativity and what are the conditions behind those blocks. One of the essential tools in exploring that, is free dialogue. In order to do that, they need to consider everything.

And with everything they mean the individual as well as the collective. The eastern view as well as the western view. The scientific as well as the religious and the artistic view.

And so they start with why creativity seems to be blocked. Which is the first part of the chapter I want to analyze in my next post.

 

How Creativity is Blocked by the Need for Approval

Creativity is a natural potential energy in humans, which becomes destructive if it is blocked. This is a conclusion of a chapter in the book that I want to review in this post.

The first part of the above conclusion says that creativity is an inherent characteristic in humans, which is shown by experiments with apes and very young children.

The second part of the conclusion says that if creativity is blocked, it becomes destructive. According to the writers, David Bohm and David Peat, this is because creativity is not only a characteristic of humans, it is an essential need.

For creativity is a prime need of a human being and its denial brings about a pervasive state of dissatisfaction and boredom. This leads to intense frustration that is conductive to a search for exciting ‘outlets’, which can readily involve a degree of force that is destructive.

I will go into this potential for destruction in another post. But here, in this post, I want to focus on the last part of the conclusion. Why not just use the creative energy that seems to be so natural, why would it be blocked?

What blocks creativity?

I really think the book here touches on something very important. If I would have to pin it down to one major block that prevents us from being creative, it is actually very simple.

Other people.

Of course there is more to it than that. And there is even a paradox, as other people might even fuel our creativity in a certain way. But not in the usual sense. Not by rewards or praise.

In the book this is shown by the example of an extension of the experiments with apes, where the researchers started to reward them for their paintings.

Very soon their work began to degenerate until they produced the bare minimum that would satisfy the experimenter.

Also with young children this can be observed. Their creativity also gets blocked by praise.

they become selfconscious of the kind of painting they believe they are supposed to do. This is generally indicated to them by subtle and implicit rewards, such as praise and approval

And not just that, they also do not want to be different from others.

and by the need to conform to what other children around them are doing. Thus creativity appears to be incompatible with external and internal rewards or punishments.

So apart from this need for creativity, there is another need that seems stronger. Maybe not always and maybe not with all children, but with many children, the need for approval seems to be stronger than the need for creativity.

Now earlier on in the book, in the chapters about order, it became clear that creativity has its own inherent order. But this order gets disturbed by other people. Other people who (unconsciously) impose their own order on the child.

To do something for a reward, the whole order of the activity, and the energy required for it, are determined by arbitrary requirements that are extraneous to the creative activity itself. This activity then turns into something mechanical and repetitious, or else it mechanically seeks change for its own sake. The state of intense passion and vibrant tension that goes with creative perception then dies away. The whole thing becomes boring and uninteresting, so that the kind of energy needed for creative perception and action is lacking. As a result, even greater rewards, or punishments, are needed to keep the activity going.

So the most important thing to do, to get connected to this creative energy, is to become free. Free of demands of others, but even more important, free of the desire for approval.

Creative Development

Now this freedom is not there at once. It is something that develops over time. With a young child it is natural that approval is more important than creativity. They have to become confident with themselves. For that they might need encouragement.

But the creativity does not need this encouragement, this creativity is so very individual and dependent only on the person self. Every outside interference can harm the creativity.

But the development goes on. If someone can more and more rely on this creative essence, other people certainly do get to play a role. It might even get to be a very important role.

But only after a certain period of individual creative growth.

 

The Danger of Praise and Reward as Fuel for Creativity

This post is going to be centred around several sentences. A few lines from the book Science, Order and Creativity.

The moment I read those lines, I really felt this was true. By analyzing it here in this post, I hope to emphasise the very important distinctions that I think are essential.

I will let the text intact and just pull it a bit apart and give it headlines. That way I hope the subtle differences become more clear.

No interference

“Thus creativity appears to be incompatible with external and internal rewards or punishments. The reason is clear. In order to do something for a reward, the whole order of the activity, and the energy required for it, are determined by arbitrary requirements that are extraneous to the creative activity itself.”

Passion needs to come from inside

“This activity then turns into something mechanical and repetitious, or else it mechanically seeks change for its own sake. The state of intense passion and vibrant tension that goes with creative perception then dies away.”

Danger of dependence from outside

“The whole thing becomes boring and uninteresting, so that the kind of energy needed for creative perception and action is lacking. As a result, even greater rewards, or punishments, are needed to keep the activity going.”

Adapting outside structures without understanding

“Basically, the setting of goals and patterns of behavior, which are imposed mechanically or externally, and without understanding, produces a rigid structure in consciousness that blocks the free play of thought and the free movement of awareness and attention that are necessary for creativity to act.”

Certain rules are important

“But this does not mean that rules and external orders are incompatible with creativity, or that a truly creative person must live in a arbitrary fashion.”

Some examples

“To write a sonnet or a fugue, to compose an abstract painting, or to discover some new theorem in mathematics requires that creativity should operate within the context of a particular artistic or mathematical form.”

“Cezanne’s particular creativity in art, for example, was directed toward the discovery of new forms and orders of composition within the context of a particular form of freedom that thad been previously established by the Impressionists.”

“Some of Bach’s greatest works are similarly created within the confines of strict counterpoint.”

Insight and understanding

“To live in a creative way requires extreme and sensitive perception of the orders and structures of relationship to individuals, society, and nature. In such cases, creativity may flower.”

No growth on external goals

“It is only when creativity is made subservient to external goals, which are implied by the seeking of rewards, that the whole activity begins to wither and denegrate.”

Fuel has to come from INDIVIDUAL insight and understanding

So creativity has an inherent order. That inherent order grows on insight and understanding. It has to develop and grow according to that. During that development it might need certain rules and boundaries to keep growing in a certain  direction. It might need ideas of others to grow even further….

BUT

…all that only after a certain independent growth on its own. Without interference from others. Without criticism. Without punishment. Without imposed rules.

Even, and maybe even most of all, without praise and rewards.

Because praise might be the biggest trap. Praise and rewards from others might be so addicting, that it becomes more important than creative growth. And as a result the fuel comes from outside instead of from the inside. With the risk that, one day, the fuel gets cut off.

 

Creativity and the Need for Free Space

Money prevents creativity.

This was one of the conclusions in the previous post.

Another post was about something else that prevents creativity: the need for approval.

Both conclusions were based on sound research. Of course it is all a bit more complex than that, but still the conclusions were very interesting.

I think this is especially interesting, because at first it seems counter intuitive. Almost everyone would say that encouragement in the form of money or praise, motivates people. But obviously that does not count for being creative.

From the book in this post:

To do something for a reward, the whole order of the activity, and the energy required for it, are determined by arbitrary requirements that are extraneous to the creative activity itself. This activity then turns into something mechanical and repetitious, or else it mechanically seeks change for its own sake. The state of intense passion and vibrant tension that goes with creative perception then dies away. The whole thing becomes boring and uninteresting, so that the kind of energy needed for creative perception and action is lacking. As a result, even greater rewards, or punishments, are needed to keep the activity going.

From the video in this post:

As long as the tasks involved just mechanical skill, bonuses work as they expected, the higher the pay the better the performance. Once the task called for even rudimentary cognitive skill, a larger reward led to poorer performance. For simple, straight forward tasks, the kind of incentives of, if you do this then you get that, they are great. Tasks that are algorithmic, a set of rules that you just follow along and get a right answer, if then, rewards, carrots and sticks, outstanding. But when a task gets more complicated, when it requires some conceptual, creative thinking, those kind of motivaters don’t work.

Does that mean that people should not be motivated to be creative?

I still think that people might need an encouragement to be creative (those who forgot we are already creative by nature) but at the same time, that is exactly where our motivation should stop.

We, not being the other person, can never know HOW they should be creative. We can never know what their interest is. What their talents are. Where their passion lies. What the other is so obsessed about, that he wants to practice it over and over and over again.

So in order to be really creative, the only thing someone needs is free space. The rest has to come from within, not from outside in the form of rewards. Not in the form of rewards like money and not in the form of rewards like approval or praise.

 

How Creative Energy becomes Destructive

From the moment I started reading this chapter in the book Science, Order and Creativity, I knew it would be on my mind for a long time.

Looking at the posts now, I see that I read the book in June. And still, everything I do, read and hear is in the light of that chapter.

Most of the chapters in that book were, although very interesting, way over my head. But somehow I just kept reading. And when I finally came to the chapter about creativity, I was really glad I did.

In several posts, I already looked at the aspects of that chapter that were the most remarkable.

Remarkable in the sense that creativity seems to be a basic need of humans, but because of several reasons, often does not get the change to develop in a healthy way. The main reason was the need for approval that blocks creativity.

But the book is even more shocking. It says that if this basic need of creativity is suppressed, it becomes destructive.

What is even of greater danger to the child, in such an approach, is that it eventually brings about violence of various kinds. For creativity is a prime need of a human being and its denial brings about a pervasive state of dissatisfaction and boredom. This leads to intense frustration that is conductive to a search for exciting ‘outlets’, which can readily involve a degree of force that is destructive. This sort of frustration is indeed a major cause of violence in that the senses, intellect and emotions of the child gradually become deadened and the child loses the capacity for free movement of awareness, attention, and thought. In effect, the destructive energy that has been aroused in the mind has been turned against the whole creative potential itself.

Reading this I get all kind of ideas how that might work with different types of people. For those of us who are more outgoing, it might be easy to see how this destruction gets manifest in the outside world. But for others I can imagine this destructive energy to be going inside.

I think this is really serious. So based on that book, I wonder if the following conclusions would be too extreme.

  • Everyone is creative.
  • Everyone also wants to be accepted.
  • To be accepted, it is better to do what others expect from us.
  • As a result we never get to develop our creativity.
  • So this creative energy stays undeveloped, but therefore not less powerful.
  • It becomes destructive, going inside resulting in depression, or going outside resulting in violent behavior.

That would mean that creativity (in a broad as possible way) is so much more important than we all tend to think.

 

Other groups of posts about David Bohm

David Bohm on Creativity

David Bohm on Confusion and Inner Conflict

David Bohm on Language and the Rheomode

David Bohm on Communication, Dialogue and Thought

David Bohm on Science and Information

David Bohm on Art and Aesthetics

David Bohm on the Individual and Meaning

 

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Richard

Thanks for bringing Bohm to me. Your gloss on his more extensive writing is exactly what I need.

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