Thoughts on Creativity

(This blog post came out of a conversation I had with Scott Alexander, so I’ll be quoting him extensively.)

Jaron Lanier, Hipsters, and Hesse

I recently finished reading Jaron Lanier’s book You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto. There’s a lot I could say about this book, but I’ll focus on one particular point. Lanier claims that today’s youth, who are members of a digital culture, lack the creativity of previous generations. Lanier notes that most of the “artwork” produced on the internet is derivative. Popular youtube videos are not creative new short films made by aspiring directors, but instead are often mashups of pre-existing artwork created by external, commercial sources like the film industry. Lanier claims that culture/artwork froze sometime around the beginning of the internet era, and that today’s young people have no defining style of music or fashion. They just rearrange existing pieces made by actual creative geniuses, and call these mashups works of art.

Lanier wants to see young people transform and revitalize the world of art and thought, instead of simply recombining the aesthetics and ideals of previous generations. The internet has transformed society, and has overall reshaped the world completely. Why hasn’t it given rise to entirely new forms of artwork? Modern technology has not inspired completely new artistic media – in particular, Lanier is surprised that there hasn’t been much focus on creating immersive, interactive virtual worlds as a form of art. Presumably there are many other possible artistic media that we haven’t dreamed up yet, but which would be quite popular if invented. According to Lanier, digital culture discourages the kind of creativity that would lead to such advances.

I’m not sure I agree with Lanier that modern culture in general lacks creativity, but his criticisms definitely apply to hipsters. Hipsters look on modern culture in despair, and fleeing from it, they retreat into a world of nostalgia. Because hipsters think that modern, commercialized culture lacks anything worthy of aesthetic appreciation, they reappropriate the aesthetics of past ages. But they do so ironically and haphazardly; each of their outfits is a hilariously mismatched collection of miscellaneous past items, whose conjunction succeeds at looking ridiculous. These clothing-mashups are analogous to the youtube mashups that Lanier so disdains. (I am not free, by the way, from the barbs of this criticism. I, too, despair of the commercialized, super-stimulated, plasticized culture we live in, and look back with longing on bygone eras.)

I suspect Lanier would say that hipsters are channeling their objections to modern culture in the wrong direction. Hipsters say modern culture is lacking in aesthetic value, and so they look to the past. Instead, they should look to the future. If hipsters are dissatisfied with modern culture, then they should create an entirely new culture that better fits their sense of aesthetics. They could make new styles of clothing instead of relying on creations from the past. This would revitalize culture much more than trying to overlay outmoded aesthetics onto it. What we need is something new and fresh, something creative, something people will get excited about. But I suspect that hipsters’ irony and cynicism prevents them from such a sincere endeavor. Perhaps they doubt that such a thing can be accomplished.

All of this reminds me a bit of Hesse’s novel The Glass Bead Game. The future society he describes is a culture that has grown old and stagnated. The members of this society believe that they can’t create art of the same vitality as past ages, and so they abstain from artistic pursuits altogether. Instead, they only focus on analyzing and reanalyzing what’s already been created. Our current society may also head in this direction, if we lose faith in the human ability to create, and scorn any sincere attempt at creativity and originality.

Creativity: Does it exist?

But does creativity even exist? Is originality possible? Or have we already completed an exhaustive search of artspace? In our conversation, Scott suggested that perhaps “there are no untapped artistic primitives, and the new forms of art that can be invented are all just recombinations of existing ones, in the same way there are lots of words that don’t exist but probably many fewer completely novel human-conveniently-producible phonemes that don’t”.

I suspect that this is a natural question for readers of LessWrong. In particular, there seems to be a sense, among such intellectuals, that there’s no such thing as originality, and all attempts at it are naive. For instance, there are countless LessWrong posts/comments revealing that, although people might think they are dressing to “express themselves uniquely”, they are actually dressing in predictable manners to signal allegiance to various groups. I imagine there’s a large group on LessWrong that would claim all artistic endeavors are just attempts at signaling.

And there’s a certain perspective on creativity that I adhered to for a long time: nobody comes up with truly new ideas; we’re all just distilleries, sitting atop a confluence of influences, mixing old ideas together into new ones, with maybe a bit of Gaussian noise thrown in. Nietzsche, for example, seems profoundly new and revolutionary, but one can find pre-echoes of his ideas in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and even as far back as William Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell. There are intellectual tides, and the brilliant geniuses are the ones riding at the foremost edge of those tides, who advance it slightly further. But their ideas aren’t as new and creative as we believe them to be.

Similarly, I’ve read a lot of Joseph Campbell, and one can interpret his writings as saying that “all originality in stories is a lie”. People may write things that seem creative, but underlying all their works are the same few basic archetypes. [1]

But maybe recombination is what creativity is. As Scott points out, saying “there is no creativity, just novel recombinations of artistic primitives and existing ideas” might be like saying “there’s not really any rain, just drops of water falling from clouds”. The problem is that LWish people read things similar to the above and think “creativity is impossible”, and perhaps give up being creative or original after being exposed to this ideaplex. As a result, they produce things that are less creative! I’m speaking from experience, here, because I myself only recently escaped from this trap, and am now trying to re-cultivate my own creativity.

What are the artistic primitives?

If creativity is just the novel recombination of artistic primitives, it’s worth investigating these primitives in a bit more detail. What are the primitives, exactly?

Let’s look at primitives for writing. One possible answer was given above – the primitives of stories are archetypal characters and narrative segments, put together in a new arrangement.

For another possible answer, we look to a book that I’m reading, More than Cool Reason by George Lakoff and Mark Turner. It’s an analysis of metaphor as used in famous poetry. If someone had deliberately set out to write a book that specifically appealed to me, they could hardly do a better job than this. It’s a whole book where they take poems I love, and identify the metaphors people rely on for processing these poems cognitively! And yet… I find myself disagreeing with some things they’ve said. (Note: I’m about 40 pages into this ~200-page book, so it may be premature for me to be discussing it/disagreeing with its contents.)

One of Lakoff and Turner’s main observations is that the same metaphors appear over and over again. Poets extend and combine these metaphors in new and beautiful ways, but the same metaphors continually recur: life as a flame, or life as a year or a day, or time as a thief or devourer, for instance.

Here’s a quote from the book:

At this point, we have seen life and death understood metaphorically in terms of many different concepts – journeys, plays, days, fluid, plants, sleep, and so on. We have seen many complicated mappings of knowledge, images, reasoning patterns, properties, and relations. This diversity may be overwhelming and suggest that anything can be understood metaphorically in terms of anything else, or that all of our concepts are understood metaphorically in terms of concepts from different domains.

But that is not the case. Although human imagination is strong, empowering us to make and understand even bizarre connections, there are relatively few basic metaphors for life and death that abide as part of our culture. And there are tight constraints on how their mappings work. For example, PEOPLE ARE PLANTS gives us a basis for personifying death as something associated with plants [such as a reaper], but not just anything associated with plants will do. The structure of the metaphor exerts strong pressure against any attempt to personify death as an irrigation worker or as the baker who bakes wheat bran into muffins. There are reasons, which we will explore in chapter two, why death the reaper seems apt but death the baker does not.

What is remarkable in what we have seen so far is not how many ways we have of conceiving of life and death, but how few. Where one might expect hundreds of ways of making sense of our most fundamental mysteries, the number of basic metaphorical conceptions of life and death turns out to be very small. Though these can be combined and elaborated in novel ways and expressed poetically in an infinity of ways, that infinity is fashioned from the same small set of basic metaphors.

This tells us something important about the nature of creativity. Poets must make the most of the linguistic and conceptual resources they are given. Basic metaphors are part of those conceptual resources, part of the way members of our culture make sense of the world. Poets may compose or elaborate or express them in new ways, but they still use the same basic conceptual resources available to us all. If they did not, we would not understand them.

Both Scott and I feel very strongly that in these paragraphs, Lakoff and Turner underestimate the potential for new metaphors to be created. Just because we typically conceive of death as a reaper, or the driver of a carriage, doesn’t mean we can’t personify it as a balloon-seller or a fisherman’s wife instead.

Scott points out that “of course a casual reference like “the Reaper came for Jack” will have to use commonly understood terminology; if someone said “the Balloon-Seller came for Jack”, that would make no sense. But if we wanted to, we could establish a metaphor for Death as a balloon-seller. Like for example we take the balloons and then float up to Heaven. It would just be something that could only fit in a novel or a longish poem that established that particular metaphor, not as a throwaway reference.”

In fact, one could argue that the most creative people are those who can establish completely new metaphors and analogies. And I’m not just talking about artistically creative – I’m also talking about scientifically creative. A scientist can recognize the metaphors underlying his own worldview, and thereby become more aware of the paradigms constraining his thought processes. He can then explore alternatives to the traditional perspective. For me, this is one of the biggest appeals of reading Lakoff’s work.

I think that part of what Lakoff and Turner are saying is that we can’t make metaphors which conflict with how we already conceptualize something. We see death as destruction, dissolution, decay. But baking is the process of building something up. Baking is a subclass of making, and in Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff and Johnson observe that making is often metaphorically identified with birth. The creation is born from the materials. If baking is already identified with birth, that makes it much harder to identify it with death. So even though baking, like death, involves turning a living organism into a sort of food, it’s hard to conceive of Death as the Grim Baker. People who wanted to speak of death transforming something living into food would be more likely to pick “Death the Butcher” or “Death the Reaper”, since both of those focus on the dismemberment of the living, instead of the transformation of the body into sustenance. (Many apologies to Lakoff and Turner if this is what they’re saying in Chapter 2, which I haven’t read yet.)

So yes, it seems there are constraints on the metaphors we can create. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make any new metaphors! A truly creative author could come up with new metaphors that even find their way into the culture. And obviously, new metaphors arise all the time as new technology arises. For instance, the preface of Julian Jaynes’s book contains a beautiful discussion of how, in every era, prominent technologies/advances in the hard sciences provide new metaphors/models for the mind.

How to Be Creative

So here we’ve established one possible source of true creativity: the creation of new metaphors. But how does one go about creating new metaphors? One possibility is to use some kind of randomness. For instance, the balloon-seller example from earlier exists because I, looking for a concrete example, said “We often describe Death as a reaper, but we never talk about him as a balloon-seller.” And Scott replied “But we could”, and proceeded to generate an image of death as a balloon-seller. Thus, one could randomize metaphor-generation by opening to a dictionary, picking a word, and comparing a given concept (like Death) to that word. This obviously requires some amount of innate creativity. But it can help with thinking outside of the brain’s normal patterns. Upon thinking of Death, for instance, you might immediately think of “Reaper”, and really weird metaphors like “balloon salesman” won’t even occur to you.

Another possibility is to just start paying attention to what metaphors you use in your daily conversations. If you start to write a sentence, and find that it contains a cliche, then reword it! I started doing this a few months ago. Eventually, my brain figured out what I was up to, and slightly reoptimized its sentence search procedure for weird new metaphors. Now they come far more naturally. (Or, to be less machine-learning-y about it, I practiced a skill, and then got better at it!)

Obviously, new metaphors are only one possible form of creativity, and it’s worth analyzing others. One method involves consciously identifying the dimensions of a certain artspace, and varying them. Scott gives the example that if a certain style of art can be described as “representational, serious, pointillist, with lots of bright colors, photorealistic”, then one could create a new style by picking a new value for any of those dimensions.

Furthermore, at one point in our conversation, Scott objected to my notion of true creativity as “generating new metaphors”, because I was still relying on the preexisting abstract categories imposed by language. Generating new metaphors is still just a matter of rearranging primitives. He then described his ideas about true creativity, which I’ll quote here:

“My idea of an artistic revolution would be…well, imagine some Europeans who had never seen Asian architecture before and just had a lot of European architecture inventing something like Asian architecture. It looks completely different, it’s just as beautiful, but it’s beautiful in a totally different way. I agree that they’re both made out of things like walls and roofs and stuff, but my brain classifies them as two totally different categories, in a way that ‘Nara period Japanese architecture’ and ‘Kamakura style Japanese architecture’ aren’t. And it bothers me that even architecture in fantasy worlds seems more similar to European architecture than Asian architecture is, because that suggests either we’ve run out of architecturespace or everyone’s just incredibly boring.”

But how does one go about starting such an artistic revolution? This would seem like an impossible-to-answer rhetorical question, but Scott has a brilliant suggestion:

“Also, I’ve found that if you’re optimizing for something other than creativity, you usually end up much more creative than if you’re optimizing for creativity. Like my constructed societies were super boring elf clones until I thought ‘You know what, screw making something beautiful, how about I make a perfect society I would actually want to live in’ and then it got super weird. Actually, the same might include Asian architecture – they were optimizing for different materials and a different tech level and trying to solve the ‘make buildings that don’t fall down’ problem without optimizing for difference-from-Europe. Also, calligraphy apparently is kind of what happens naturally if you use a pen with the shape of a quill feather. I never realized that before. And Gothic lettering is what happens naturally if you try to cram as much text into as little space as possible because it’s the Middle Ages and you have to kill a calf for every sheet of parchment you want.”

And this fits with Lanier’s idea that new technology should inspire new art forms, because new technology provides vastly different startings condition.

I am interested to hear everyone else’s suggestions for artistic primitives, and for methods of “rational creativity”.

[1] I’m pretty sure Joseph Campbell would strongly object to this interpretation of his work, by the way. He very much emphasized the role of the individual artist in the creation of myths, and he directed his writings at artists, hoping that they would help someone to create myths that are suited to the modern age. Interestingly, though, I’ve heard many people express a frustration with Joseph Campbell, since his works have inspired many unoriginal stories that simply copy the hero’s journey in a formulaic fashion.

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13 Responses to Thoughts on Creativity

  1. rdn32 says:

    There is the saying that “necessity is the mother of invention”. Gothic lettering being a response to the economics of writing would be a good example of that. So, whilst new technology might make new art forms possible, that in itself not be sufficient. (There’s another saying, that “restriction is the mother of invention”, but that’s a whole different argument.)

    The importance given to novelty is itself rather problematic. Consider the idea that, by modern standards, Geoffrey Chaucer was a shameless plagiarist. Or that readers of Regency romances are generally well aware that the genre is derivative of the work of Jane Austen, but don’t let that spoil their enjoyment.

    It also occurred to me that, on the question of how people dress, expressing oneself uniquely and signalling allegiance to various groups may not be contradictory: a person’s sense of identity is in part a matter of the group or groups to which one has allegiance. Signalling this can be done more or less artfully, but that’s a different matter.

    • Darcey Riley says:

      Oops, sorry that I never replied to this! It’s quite interesting how much importance our culture places on novelty (and uniqueness), often at the expense of art actually being aesthetically pleasing. I wonder when our cultural obsession with originality started, and why. Clearly it ties into individualism, as well as our belief that art is created by a person (and not, for instance, a muse or deity speaking through a person). But other than that, I have no idea when this started. Do you know anything about it?

      Also, I completely agree with your last paragraph. And it’s fascinating how deeply we internalize these group membership signals into our sense of aesthetics, so that most people, when getting dressed in the morning, can simply ask themselves “does this look good?” to decide between various outfits. (Of course, we often do take group membership into consideration, as in “does this look professional enough?” or “will I stand out too much if I wear this?”, but still.)

      • rdn32 says:

        > I wonder when our cultural obsession with originality started, and why.

        This is a big question, and it would be ridiculous to attempt to answer it by providing an specific date. So here’s a ridiculous answer: 1759, when the English poet Edward Young wrote his “Conjectures on Original Composition”.

        To make this marginally less ridiculous, Romantic literary theory in the 18th century developed a number of key concepts – originality, sympathetic genius, creativity, imagination, organic form – that set the terms of debate about literature in a way that is largely still with us. Moreover, it was around the same period that the purpose of copyright law shifted towards ensuring authors profited from the sales of their works. In time, this made literary authorship a plausible profession, so giving novelty an economic significance.

        The relationship between individualism and Romantic literary theory isn’t straightforward. On one side you have – for example – the use of the word “creativity” which had theological overtones, implying that authors were god-like beings, creating their works out of nothing. But on the other you have, particularly in Germany, the idea of literature as a collective endeavour: hence the interest in folk-tales, and the suggestion that Homer might never have existed and that the Iliad was somehow the product of the entire Greek people.

        • Dues says:

          I wonder how we would measure how interested people were in creativity over time. My assumption was that the obsession with creativity went hand in hand with big commercial art. Books as a genre seem less ‘creatively bankrupt’ compared to video games and movies and the presumed reason is the inherent risk of making creative decisions. An individual can take a creative risk, but the bigger the budget you have the more temptation there is to play it safe.

          I wonder if it is a coincidence that you date the beginning of the ‘originality obsession’ with the beginning of the industrial revolution. :3

        • Darcey Riley says:

          Ooh, this is very interesting; it’s exactly the sort of answer I was hoping for. (Not a year, I mean, but an intellectual movement to which the phenomenon could be traced.) So, thanks!

          • Let me add a few points.

            I agree with many things Jaron Lanier says, but I think he mischaracterizes what’s going on. First a bemoaning that all the creativity has been used up, that all we do is re-order fragments we mine from the past is hardly new. That’s basically what _The Waste Land_ is about, no? And one could say the same of the super-dense James Joyce, ie Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake.

            More important, I think, is to ask why these sorts of panics occur. I think the answer is technological.
            People want meaning in their lives. Meaning comes from multiple thick connections between things. So meaningful art (literature, images, whatever) are those that have hundreds of resonances because of constant repetition in different contexts. This means that the past was full of meaning because it suffered a paucity of options in art. You just did not encounter much variety in your images, your poems, your stories; and so when someone quoted a line from Homer or Shakespeare or the Bible it was meaningful (in the sense that it carried resonance).

            This sort of thing is still possible — you can find meaning by burrowing deep into the Marvel Universe or everything ever written by some minor poet — but it’s a very personal meaning because even if you find a partner, or a small community, who shares your obsession, you aren’t embedded in a world that shares your meanings. Mostly most of society no longer has meaning of this sort. We, the educated STEM folks don’t see that, because we have a substitute bundle of ideas, phrases, images that all have deep connections with each other, and our community is large enough that it feels like the world. But it’s not. Most folks feel something is missing, even though they can’t say what, and it’s this lack of meaning, resulting from a lack of repetition, resulting in turn from technology.

            Blame capitalism if you want, and ultimately capitalism has its reasons for constant novelty in the arts, but the deeper issue is that we THINK we want novelty, and technology allows us to follow that whim, but it’s not what we want. And it’s not something we can individually opt out of — vide my Marvel Universe example.

            I think people respond to this sort of fragmented situation with collage-like art. We saw it at the start of the 20th C when the educated became aware that they were losing a shared cultural universe, that a set of references that had meant something to “people like us” for a thousand years and more were no longer shared, because the world of culture had become large enough that you and I could simply have little in common even though we were both educated well read people from the same society.
            And since then it has only become worse as the realization has trickled downwards, from the high culture of the early 20th C literary modernists to the middle culture of movies and TV (Zucker Brothers, Simpsons), now to absolutely everyone (as when Joe Average goes to college and discovers that his room-mate, who seems like a decent guy, has never watched the same movies or TV shows as him, has played different video games, listens to different music, …).

            So that’s where we are. My guess is that after a generation or so, people never get past this lack of shared meaning and shared community BUT they also become bored with collage art because it’s no longer new, it’s been there their whole lives. And so we get new art forms (yay for art) but the underlying issue doesn’t go away.

            And THAT is what matters, not the art forms. It’s the fact that too much choice leads to lives that feel meaningless that leads people to a politics that offers little choice, and which promises meaning in grand changes to the world…

  2. 2obvious says:

    So you went from definition…

    …to deconstruction…

    …to the early stages of a how-to manual on creativity?

    That is…efficient.

    However, reducing the process to a series of Mad Libs is a twinge soulless, don’t you think?

    I’ve posed a similar concern before, as a play on words:

    “What comes after post-modernism?”

    (Wishy-washy at it sounds) From an existentialist viewpoint, I believe the answer is: whatever you FEEL.

    • Darcey Riley says:

      “Whatever you FEEL” has always seemed like the most sensible answer to existential dilemmas. In particular, in an era of complete relativism, when we have no absolute moral framework in which to ground any rational decision-making process, trusting emotions and intuitions seems to be the only way to go. This was the essence of my personal philosophy for a couple of years, after philosophical confusion removed my ability to make decisions rationally. But later, that same confusion seeped all the way down to my emotions, and I found that I had no clear feelings to guide me either, and thus I became completely lost. And so, if you have a solution to this dilemma, I would absolutely love to hear it.

      Also, yes, I agree the approach I proposed here is a bit soulless. Any reduction of creativity to a simple mechanistic process seems to remove something beautiful from our humanity. Creativity is supposed to be spontaneous, unpredictable, ephemeral: a flash of light that suddenly illuminates the answer, or a gust of wind that stirs all our thoughts into whirling eddies. But if there is a mechanistic process of creativity (and I’m a computational cognitive scientist, so it’s basically my job to believe there is), then at the very least it’s hidden from our conscious awareness by some veil. This means that even if the process itself is mechanistic, the results will be unpredictable to us, because we cannot see our ideas as they unfold. They jump into being fully formed; our creativity will always surprise us. I’ve always liked those worldviews that portray these flashes of insight as revelations from some muse or deity; it feels arrogant to claim these ideas as my own when I had little conscious part in their creation. I am the foreman of the factory; I am not the humble workmen, nor am I the massive, rusted, inexorable gears of the creative machine.

      But even if the creative process is mechanical (and I think it ultimately is), there is a sense in which randomness and spontenaiety still play a role: our thoughts do not arise in a vacuum, but are influenced by the context of our surroundings. To a large extent our minds work associationally – we see something, which reminds us of something else, which reminds us of something else, and so on. We jump from thought to thought, our movement through the mental realm powered by changes in scenery. This means that any particular artistic creation does not follow deterministically from our previous thoughts, but instead is an alchemical mixture of our deep, slow, fluid reserves of knowledge with the flitting light-dance that the world sprinkles on our senses.

  3. Dues says:

    One of the problems with measuring creativity, is your familiarity with the work in question. For instance I saw my favorite mash up on YouTube: “Psychosocial Baby”. I thought it was really creative, until I started going through his videos. He had sound 100 other mashies that he had done before, and you could see how he had slowly improved through small increments. This also suggests that if someone wants to appear creative, they could spend a lot of time iterating and improving their project in secret.

    I also think you touched upon what I think really causes creativity, it’s having something to say. If I wanted to explain consequentialism, I would just quote Scott Alexander. But if I wanted to make consequentialism more available to your average person, I would need to write a story about a person or a society triumphing through consequentialism. (Which actually sounds like an interesting idea for my next project.)

    • Darcey Riley says:

      Yeah, it’s definitely worth pointing out that originality is a two-place predicate, and that almost anything could be perceived as original by a sufficiently naive observer. This suggests an interesting alternative explanation for Lanier’s claim that people have gotten less creative since the internet age began: maybe artists are just as original as they’ve always been, but the average observer has been exposed to vastly larger quantities of art, and so any new individual artwork merely seems less creative than art used to.

      And yes, I agree with your second paragraph as well. The mind needs more direction than “think of something new”; “think of something new” is the same as “don’t think of anything old”, which has all the same problems as “don’t think of an elephant”. We need some positive directive to spur us on towards creativity.

      (Did you ever end up writing the story about consequentialism? It sounds interesting.)

      • Dues says:

        I wrote the first chapter, lost the file, then moved on to drafting up my alien abduction reality show rp. Hopefully I will at least get that off the ground some day.

        Before the siren song of an internet full of other people’s creativity, I often find it hard to create, rather than just consume.

        • Darcey Riley says:

          Heh, an alien abduction reality show also sounds interesting. Good luck with it.

          I empathize with your second paragraph, because I find that siren song similarly alluring. There is just so much to read that it’s hard to tear myself away from it to write. Reading a lot of blog posts (and then having ideas about them) gives me a false sense that I’m actually participating in the dialogue; in order to motivate myself to write, I have to remind myself that none of these people even know who I am, and I really better write if I actually want to contribute.

  4. nadith says:

    I am likely again speaking from an entirely different vantage.
    I am not interested in luster, sirens or evocat[ive/ion]. So I am not trying to find something to obscure, so much as speaking to what is there, which is much of how my philosophy works anyhow.

    I think you may have the tip of it in some of your commentary, that we are exposed to a great deal more, so less is seemingly novel to us. Then too, so are artists, we are becoming much more one large community than disparate ones each struggling and creating for their local social and actual climate. I think this availability and unification of cultures as well as the availability of such products removes a lot of what may be seen as leaps.

    I clearly have some conflict with people circumlocuting and more so of people being circumspect of their own values and conflicts. As I took a step back and saw some of my own frustration with people oversimplifying and blaming. This is because often it stems from a lashing of their own ignorance rather than anything concrete.
    The question then of what it is one is looking for is really the issue at hand, not creativity.

    As for creativity, it is something one is hardly prepared to judge particularly of a society. As you said, those that are truly creative, would like be misunderstood or simply of little to no interest to society. People relate to what they can already connect with and it is not terribly common for people to go out of their way to make the connections or relations lest it be tied to something Already evaluated as important or crucial, so again, it must generally be overtly familiar. So while on one hand we look for novel, the truth is we often look for what we think we know with a twist, novelty is all around us, we just most often don’t and don’t care to understand yet. That is of course presuming we are lamenting a lack of creativity or originality.
    So yes, I do see creativity as a spin on what is there, the material is all around us and we are not prone to creating entirely new realities. The novelty is in our ability and willingness to relate with that which is outside and within us, and particularly in ways we (or others) blinded ourselves to or simply overlooked.

    I do believe the lack of death metaphors may be both part of our anxiety with life and death, but more so in our culture. Look beyond Europeans and their stylings and there are many hues and varieties therein. Not as many people want to read about death metaphors as the general flotsam and light spins on simple concepts. If you are looking elsewhere for death metaphors, try reading it in not english, and/or speaking with those from other cultures. I’ve met some that have quite a panoply of death and life.

    As for the relations of seemingly random words and concepts, since they are all obviously based in the same framework, it seems a mite redundant to me. There is growth in the random spouting of a child as they learn words and emphasize and exercise their uses and myriads of flavors, but I see that as more an exercise of framework and consolidation rather than expansion.

    Personally i always liked the story of solitons, with Korteweg-de-vries equation being derived from John Scott Russels work. [] There are several stories, each creatively spun, but what brings it to mind is his fascination with solitons to the point so I’ve heard it told, where he setup a device to study them in his backyard. His work was done in the early 1800s and by the late 1800s some people kicked it around a little with no real value discerned. In the mid 1900s though the work laid out became a crucial aspect for working with fiberoptics, and solitons became quite important.
    History is riddled with fascinations both unappreciated by others, or simply turned aside, to be turned up again later when a use is found to tie it into our lives more directly, or simply lost. So I wonder if that lamentation is truly that of creativity, or that there is a homogeneity within the tastes of societies and that they subscribe and are often circumscribed by it of their own choosing.

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