A Model for Creativity

Take the Joni Mitchell line:

Late last night I heard a screen door slam

and a big yellow taxi took away my old man

Now let your mind generate a variant:

Late last night I heard a GREEN door slam

And a big yellow taxi brought me a GREAT BIG CLAM.

And see if that variant is any good.

The model of creativity this presents us with is that our unconscious mind is constantly coming up with variations according to some formal restraints (in this case English with rhyme and meter) and presenting them to consciousness, and then we figure out if they are any good.

It’s a pretty good model of creativity except it doesn’t tell us:

(i)where the original constraints come from

(ii)where the variations come from


(iii)what it means for some versions to be good and others not and how we decide that.

Which, of course, are the only things we want to know.


4 thoughts on “A Model for Creativity

  1. An interesting rumination. Creativity requires that we break out of our customary patterns of thinking. But the reason we have those patterns is that we learned them from past experiences in which they were successful. If we encounter situations that fit one of the patterns we know, we can recognize the situations and deal with them faster and more effectively than if we had to analyze them all over again. But the patterns also partially blind us to situations that *don’t* fit them, because we’re trying to shove novel situations into patterns formed from past experiences. Anything that breaks us out of the existing patterns can help us look at things in new and creative ways, even if some of the new ways aren’t productive. “How is this situation like a stapler?” is a pattern-breaking question (unless the situation is about a stapler).

  2. Reading this, my mind presents me with a picture of the unconscious as a kind of dough, and the formal restrains the bake pans consciousness has at its disposal. Given this is an acceptable analogy – which I’m not sure it is — we could say (i) we know where some bake pans come from and how we to acquire them, but not all yet (ii) the variations would come from the bake pans we have available and either the need or willingness to try them out (iii) we’d have to come to an understanding and agreement with ourselves and/or others about what is good; or maybe simply bake all we have until we find out what better suits our purposes: nutrition, taste or just food to survive on.

      • I’d rather assume that you are good and thus able to see good in others. Actually, I’d like to affirm that you are good, but I’m afraid that it would take away your liberty (even if only in my mind) not to be so. What if you are very, very good here but not so good there? What if this or what if that? And to be honest, I’m not sure good, as a word, is good enough to describe itself. But to be even more honest, I’m very sure only of very little. And there is, of course, what you call a call…

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