Creativity and the ability to come up with intelligent solutions to problems are things that seem to be uniquely human. This kind of thinking has been the driving force of our evolution and our cultural development and it has helped us to create such marvels as medicine, the printing press, the automobile and the internet.
Creativity is the magical spark that set us on this incredible path as a species, but where does it come from? What do psychologists really know about creativity? And what of those who believe that it’s all down to divine intervention? Read on to see what we know about creativity, and how it has seemingly mystified us since the dawn of civilisation.
How We Saw Creativity in the Early Days
These days we are taught to have an internal locus of control and to take ownership of our own ideas and actions. When we do something good we are congratulated, and when we do something wrong we are often punished. When we create something amazing, we are praised as a genius and others wonder how we mustered such foresight and inventiveness.
However it hasn’t always been this way, and especially with some things that seem to almost come from ‘beyond us’. This was the case with creativity, which decades ago was believed to be the work of God, or of some kind of supernatural creature. Did you know that the word genius actually comes from the Roman and used to describe a divine creature who would protect a person or society almost like a guardian Angel for creative types? You were not a genius, rather you had a genius. A comparable concept is the ‘daemon’ – a benevolent spirit that once again would push us in the right direction and aid in the creation of great works.
Others have described great artists and inventors as channelling the work of God. Did you know that the chant ‘ole, ole’ is believed to actually have the same etymology as the word ‘Allah’. This was first used as early chants that ‘Moors’ spectators (who invaded Spain) made when watching shamanistic dancers. The word actually means ‘God’, and so when a dancer would do something particularly incredible and appear to ‘transcend’ above the other dancers, the crowd would point and say ‘Allah!’… ‘God!’.
The Mystery of Creativity
Of course few of us think that way today and as I mentioned at the start of this article, it is much more common these days for us to take ownership of our own creativity and ideas. We praise the individual for their creations rather than blaming it on some outside, divine intervention.
But it’s understandable that we might once have given God – or Gods – the credit for our creative breakthroughs and our amazing bursts of creativity and ingenuity. Our best ideas sometimes seem to come from nowhere, and often great writers will describe feeling as though they are ‘channelling’ the words of their characters rather than writing them. Many musicians will describe hearing music in their dreams and having to quickly write it down on waking, and often the stories of our ‘eureka’ moments will become as legendary as the actual ideas themselves.
So what is actually going on inside the brain? While we can’t answer that question definitively, there have been some recent studies and theories that go some way to shedding a little light on the topic. These are all just theories of course, but they are certainly interesting ones that make a lot of intuitive sense. In part two we’ll take a look at one of the main theories regarding creativity: synaesthetic abstraction. And in doing so we may just be able to pinpoint the exact part of the brain responsible…