Of Creativity and Intuition

by Truman G. Madsen
Meridian Magazine

What is meant by creativity?

Permit a tentative definition. Some years ago Doctor Frank Barron at the University of California wrote for Scientific American (September 1958) on what he called the psychology of imagination. Here are some of his conclusions:
"Creative people are especially observant, and they value accurate observation (telling themselves the truth) more than other people do."
One difference between the creator and the clod in all of us is that the creator often says, "Look at that." And the clod often replies grudgingly, "Look at what?" with the attitude of "Why should I?"
"They often express part-truths, but this they do vividly; the part they express is the generally unrecognized; by displacement of accent and apparent disproportion in statement they seek to point to the usually unobserved."
My daughter Mindy, when she was three years old, might well have staggered the world's poets after her first taste of ginger ale. "It tastes like my foot feels when it's asleep."
"They see things as others do, but also as others do not."
Take the unconventional comment of Hugh Nibley: "The righteous have always been persecuted and usually have deserved to be." Or the statement of a historian: "The Holy Roman Empire was not Holy, not Roman, and not an empire."
"They were born with greater brain capacities; they have more ability to hold many ideas at once, and to compare more ideas with one another - hence to make a richer synthesis."
Related studies suggest that creative people, almost without exception, have more linguistic interests, and seek more variation in the way they recall and verbalize, and more discernment in making distinctions.
"They are by constitution more vigorous, and have available to them an exceptional fund of psychic and physical energy."
The heady experiences of discovery and expression can become almost obsessive to the uncaring neglect of the so-called necessaries of life - sleep, food, recreation, exercise, even relief from the houndings of pain.
"Their universe is thus more complex and, in addition, they usually lead more complex lives.

They have more contact than most people do with the life of the unconscious - with fantasy, reverie, the world of imagination."
From the reports of creativity seminars here and abroad, there are related elements which at least accompany, if not fully define, the creative person:
  • a sort of self-sufficiency

  • an independence

  • insatiable curiosity mixed with a quest for variety

  • resourcefulness

  • persistence in the midst of setbacks

  • a tolerance of disorder and ambiguity

  • stubbornness in pioneering or pathfinding

  • catalytic influence on others of like inclinations

  • ability to endure marathons of sustained effort or thought.

Each of these can be deliberately exercised and developed. But behind them all - the most fragile and crucial quality - is openness to one's own impulses and inner feelings.

Three Impediments

(1) Synthetic Shortcuts
Some still claim, more today than ever, that by drinking alcohol, by shooting drugs and popping pills, one may escape all disabling externals and enter into a marvelously productive realm. The claim was made even among a coterie of students in Harvard graduate schools. Harvard awaited the outcome. It was a dud. The creative potions turned out to be poisons. Worse. Addiction became destructive of the higher noetic centers, as irreversibly as a frontal lobotomy. After three decades of observation, I could list dozens of first-rate minds who have been decimated by such artificial whips. One is left with a harsh truth: shortcuts cut you short and leave you short. Drugs and other so-called fixes, as Al Capp once said, expand consciousness in the same way the bomb expanded Hiroshima. There cannot be incubation if we abuse of mutilate or destroy the incubator.

(2) The Gap
As one looks around at would-be mentors who seem so assured and reassured in the command of their own lives, a "chasm" appears - the difference between him and me. Senior citizens in the realm of learning often demonstrate such a vast sum of erudition that it seems not only hard but impossible ever to begin to catch up. The forest is a rough place for a seedling.

The truth: those persons were once as inept and as ignorant as you. Their competence emerged from many separate acts and hours of work. The failure to recognize this has shipwrecked many a promising career. It is not required that we burn up the track, only that we keep appropriately working, paced, patient, laying in store.

(3) On Robots
Recent discussion of the right brain-left brain phenomenon tends to conclude that one can by habitual pressure all but cut one's self off from this realm of creativity by practical-technical preoccupations. We can be "blocked" by demanding from ourselves strictly public, repeatable, and conventional approaches to problems. Maslow summed it up "He that is good with a hammer tends to think everything is a nail." And when the hammer fails, he usually finds a bigger hammer.

Process or Processes

Having named some approaches that don't work, what can be said of some that do? Are there not at least some guidelines?

Brewster Ghiselin's The Creative Process is a stimulating collection of first-hand accounts. But one does not find a hip-pocket process. Instead he finds several processes. Ghiselin, himself a poet, draws a few common elements.

Four points:

(1) Whatever else you may think and do, you cannot simply sit on your hands and wait to be transported.

(2) Perspiration is still the price. You have to earn and learn your way up to the frontiers before you can advance them, or advance beyond them.

(3) Creative effort has two stages, and perhaps two levels, and they require each other: the flow or flash that comes somewhat unpredictably, and second, the midnight oil of shaping, refining, applying.

(4) An infinite capacity for taking pains with the materials and skills is not an evasion of intuition. It is one path toward it.

(edited by David Van Alstyne)

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