chaos and creativity

chaos and creativityjeremy and i are having a cross-blog conversation about creativity. it all started with an article by jeremy that investigated the difficulty with explaining much of the creative process. my thoughts were that important aspects of creativity happen in “murky” places of the mind because it may just be in this very obscurity that new thoughts, images, sounds, shapes and words are born. jeremy’s response was

i’d argue that this murkiness is really a by-product of an exceptionally complicated process. people can’t explain their creativity because they don’t understand it themselves, and neither does anyone else.

this delights me no end because it brings up the subject of chaos!

john briggs and f. david peat say

the scientific term chaos refers to an underlying interconnectedness that exists in apparently random events. chaos science focuses on hidden patterns, nuance, the “sensitivity” of things, and the “rules” for how the unpredictable leads to the new. it is an attempt to understand the movements that create thunderstorms, raging rivers, hurricanes, jagged peaks, gnarled coastlines, and complex patterns of all sorts, from river deltas to the nerves and blood vessels in our bodies.chaos and water

… to the swirls of colour in a painting by van gogh, the soul-stirring screams of jimi hendrix’ guitar, and the awe-inspiring shapes of gaudi’s architecture? …

what is chaotic is not un-understandable but is infinitely complex and cannot be measured with ordinary measuring sticks. is that what jeremy might be alluding to?

indeed, “lesson 1”, the second chapter in briggs’ and peat’s seven life lessons of chaos is entitled: being creative: lessons of the vortex.

chaos theory is generally used to study what is called “open” and “self-organizing systems”. very generally speaking, an open system interacts with and is acted upon by its environment. there is a constant influx and outflow of energy and matter. self-organizing systems do not need to be passively “fed” by the environment (e.g. like a stove that needs to be turned on) but actively go out and make things happen (e.g. leave the cave and come back with a slain mastodon). all living things are self-organizing systems. self-organizing systems have certain boundaries and patterns of operation but exactly how they operate under which circumstances is difficult to predict (hence the problem with the weather man. incidentally, meteorology is a science that uses chaos theory quite extensively.)

a hug is a good example of chaotic interaction between two self-organizing open systems (people). the general idea of the hug is there but how exactly it will occur is anyone’s guess. who will approach whom first? how long will it last? will there be kisses? we don’t know. no two hugs are the same. the quality, length, and other aspects of the hug depend on many factors, including the environment outside of the two systems (is it happening at a bank? in a church?).

here are a few tidbits of what briggs and peat say about open systems, creativity and chaos in their book:

  • our brain self-organizes by changing its subtle connectivity with every act of perceptionvan gogh, turbulence, art and chaos
  • healing of mind and body in many traditional societies involves a descent into darkness, chaos and death … a creative self-reorganization becomes possible (is that the murkiness we were talking about?)
  • a drip of paint on the canvas, a slip with the chisel on marble … can create a bifurcation point, a moment of truth that amplifies and begins to self-organize the [art] work
  • moments of flow and exhilaration are the reward for the previous descent into chaos, uncertainty, discomfort, or shock at simply not knowing. the chaos hasn’t ended, of course. it’s still there, surrounding and feeding the creative activity, like the turbulence fluctuating behind rocks in a river continuously feeding the vortex it has generated
  • when out psychological perspective shifts – through moments of bifurcation and amplification – or degrees of freedom expand and we experience being and truth. we are then creative. and our true self lies there.

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