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The Column icon The Column: Issue 7

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The Column is a monthly feature that follows the lives of creative people and explores the world of creativity.

The Creative Spark
Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable

Where does our creativity come from? Some believe it is a divine gift, others that it is exclusive to those with a particular predisposition. Form your own view after reading what I hope proves a thought provoking investigation.

'A creature could never be conscious without being creative, or vice versa'

Douglas Hofstadter

A Dog's Life

In common with all humans, I dream each day. I have no doubt it is in my dreams that the spark of creativity resides, but a fire is not created with sparks alone. To be creative we need the fuel of self-awareness to filter and select from the often random input of our daily lives.

I remember my surprise when I saw, for the first time, a dog dream. I'd presumed dreams were the exclusive domain of 'higher animals'. If dogs dreamed they imagined.

Our family labrador Sam was a powerful dreamer. He was a bright and demanding animal always planning his next move to place the families attention firmly on him. When he dreamed, although his eyelids would often stay open, he saw nothing but that which filled his dreamworld, his eyes darting from one scene to the next. His breath quickened, his muffled bark revealed the excitement of his journey, his legs raced while his torso lay heavy with sleep.

The Eye That Is Me

I am because I am self aware.

It is our ability to be self-aware that distinguishes humans from other creatures. While there is no doubt Sam imagined
and would make choices between different actions he might take based on past experience, he had no language abilities, and it is language that is the dominant force in our ability to be self aware.

Sam would look on at a table where a biscuit had been left. He could not articulate his thoughts as a human might: 'Will the trouble I get into for eating this biscuit be worth the enjoyment of the chase and the taste?'. Sam however had no such language capability so the process for him would be different.

There was a part of Sam's brain that stored important 'principles' that helped him enjoy a better prospect of survival. I guess we call that store 'experience'. We use experience as much as language in our decision making. Add to that the affects of temperament, intuition, physical predisposition (genes), and it's clear the process of taking that biscuit from the table remained a complex one, even for a dog.

People influence each other through their abilities to manipulate inanimate objects to their purposes, and to transmit ideas to one another and receive feedback. When we exchange ideas they influence the thought of others whose influenced thought may be returned to us and alter our original ideas in an incalculably complex web of ideas. Sam however could not exchange ideas. He was an island, cut off from the mainland of linguistic communication and all the advantages that provides. Sam was not creative, he could not look at himself as if from outside himself. He could not play with the idea 'the eye that is me', and it is this 'idea play' that is crucial in stimulating creativity.

Beneath The Covers

Her dreams crash like waves on the beach of her half-waking body. Her arms and legs twitch, sparked by the electricity of imagination. Her lips mouth the secret language of her dream life, then, slowly, as each salty wave collides with the next in its retreat to the sea of her unconscious, the morning bathes her room with early light.

She wakes but keeps well hidden, deep beneath the covers. A thought comes to her. Another, then another. Diverse, disordered images of the day before. 'It's warm', she likes the warm, 'how does this bed stay so warm? Perhaps someone from my dreams was here'. She draws a deep breath in. The scent of her sheet spreads, she smiles. Her hand slowly reaches out beneath the covers, her fingers guided by the familiar landscape of her bedside until she touches upon the key that punctures the smooth surface of her tiny metal music box. She gently pulls the box into her darkened wombworld then turns the key. 'I like this sound, it makes me think of flowers, I'll draw a flower now, a flower like no other'.

Bright Spark

If I'd ended the passage above with the words 'Marie is five years old' your feelings towards the passage might be very different than if I'd said 'Marie is ninety five years old'. Context is everything and the context clues that language, music, and visual art provide significantly alter our ideas and experience.

The bright spark that propels our creativity is ever present within all of us. Whether we awaken from the slumber to play with ideas and create is however very much up to us...


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Authors background
Mike de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable®. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author.

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