Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Mapping Creativity with a Capital "C."

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Mapping Creativity with a Capital "C."

Article excerpt

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, professor of psychology at the University of Chicago and author of the best-selling book Flow, spent five years (between 1990 and 1995) interviewing a selected group of one hundred exceptional individuals in an effort to make more understandable the mysterious process by which men and women come up with new ideas and things. He published his results as a book titled Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention (New York: HarperCollins, 1996). Each of the interviewees was chosen because he or she made a difference in a major domain of culture, e.g., Robertson Davies, Mark Strand, Nadine Gordimer in the arts; John Bardeen, Stephen Jay Gould, and Rosalyn Yallow in the sciences; John Read, Robert Galvin, Irving Brooke Harris in business. Through them, the author illustrates what creative people are like, how the creative process unfolds over a period of a lifetime, and what conditions encourage or hinder the generation of original ideas.

Using his well-known "flow" theory, which he based on his study of those conditions that make life meaningful and enjoyable, Csikszentmihalyi explores how these individuals have found ways to make flow a permanent feature of their lives and at the same time contribute to the evolution of our culture. According to the author they have become creative with a capital "C."

He also identifies two other types of creativity. The first type, most often encountered in ordinary conversation, refers to persons who express unusual thoughts, who are interesting and stimulating - in other words people who appear to be unusually bright. A brilliant conversationalist, a person with varied interests and a quick mind, may be called creative in this sense. Unless they also contribute something of lasting significance, Csikszentmihalyi would label them as "brilliant" rather than creative.

The second type of creativity refers to people who experience the world in novel and original ways. These are individuals whose perceptions are fresh, whose judgments are insightful, who make important discoveries that only they know about. The author refers to such people as "personally creative" and writes about them in a chapter of his book ("Enhancing Personal Creativity").

Creativity with a capital "C" involves individuals who, like da Vinci, Edison, or Einstein, have changed our culture in some important respect. Their achievements are by definition public and it is this group that interests Csikszentmihalyi the most. He believes that creativity at this level can be observed only in the interrelations of a system made up of three main parts.

The first of these is the "domain," which consists of a set of symbolic rules and procedures. Science is an example of a domain, or in a more refined sense we can view chemistry and physics as domains. Domains are in turn part of what we call culture, or the symbolic knowledge shared by a particular society, or by humanity as a whole.

The second component of creativity is the "field" which includes all the individuals who act as gatekeepers to the domain. It is their role to decide whether a new idea or product should be included in the domain. For example, in the visual arts the field consists of art teachers, curators of museums, collectors of art, critics, and administrators of foundations and government agencies that deal with culture. It is this field that selects what new works of art deserve to be recognized, preserved, and remembered.

The third component of the creative system is the "individual." Creativity occurs when a person using the symbols of a given domain such as psychology, mathematics, engineering, or medicine has a new idea or sees a new pattern, and when this novelty is selected by the appropriate field for inclusion into the relevant domain. The next generation will be exposed to that novelty as part of the existing domain and if they are creative they will change it further. …

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