I’m fascinated by how people describe the act of creation to outside
observers. What exactly is happening “in there” when a writer tries
to tell us Zorba’s anguish is so great that he must dance, that the
weight of modern life can only be expressed in rich tonal hues (e.g.
Rothko), or that an
if/else construct can be elided if the
determining evaluation is made more ignorant 1? Who is
it that solves problems when we’re trying to puzzle something out? Who
is it with whom we argue to decide whether to add or take away a dollop
of paint (or, for that matter, eat a cookie)? It’s a wonder that we’re
able to go through these ineffable states to arrive at abstractions that
help us create new solutions, but it’s an even greater feat that we’re
able to abstract that process and communicate it by gestures, sign,
and metaphor to one another. In sum, how do creators go about creating?
Consider a hard problem in a creative endeavor; I’ll consider
programming, the field with which I’m most familiar. It’s become very
clear that the thing that “solves” a problem is not really under my
control. If I think about my “ritual” to enter the “dream state“
where problems are resolved, I realize that it’s all a form of cargo culting: I’m doing rituals that I believe make my brain, over which
I have only nominal control, offer up a solution such that I can utter:
“I know!” or “I had an idea.” While I do my best to not let my mind
stray, I’m certainly not “wiring up” connections a la a 1960’s
switchboard operator nor am I drag-clicking mental components as if I was
seated in front of the Smalltalk or Self or Interface Builder
graphical programming environments.
Is there a thing I could do that would more directly produce “Eureka!”
moments? No. Is there a communicable process whereby I could tell
someone to execute a series of steps in order to come to the same
insight? No. I have to try to perform a dance of cargo-culted
behaviors (charts, blog posts, poor drawings on whiteboards) in order to
convince their own unconscious processes, over which they too find
it convenient to believe they hold control while having only little, to
offer up to them a “Eureka!” moment.
It is clear that we are not in control of our own insight capabilities.
Nevertheless we tend to use ego-centric, originative language to
describe our ideation process e.g. “I had an idea” or “Oh it just came
to me.” Despite our clear lack of control about ideation, we find it
very attractive to let our egoes claim credit for it. Who is the “I” in
those exclamations about successful ideation?