Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

The Active Force and That Which Is Its Recipient: A Bahá'í View of Creativity

Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

The Active Force and That Which Is Its Recipient: A Bahá'í View of Creativity

Article excerpt

We often think, naively, that missing data are the primary impediments to intellectual progress- just find the right facts and all problems will dissipate. But barriers are often deeper and more abstract in thought. We must have access to the right metaphor, not only to the requisite information. Revolutionary thinkers are not, primarily, gatherers of facts, but weavers of new intellectual structures.

-Stephen Jay Gould, The Flamingo's Smile

LAWFUL ORDER, UNCERTAINTY, AND THE DYNAMICS OF CREATION

This exploration of creativity begins with a perspective on fundamental reality derived from study of the Bahá'í Writings. At first, the Bahá'í view seems somewhat paradoxical. Reality has both a quality of "sameness" and a quality of "relativity," which means things can look very different depending on how one is looking:

earthly and heavenly, material and spiritual, accidental and essential, particular and universal, foundation and structure, appearance and reality and the essence of all things, both inwardly and outwardly-all of these are connected one with another and are interrelated in such a manner that we find that drops are patterned after seas, and that atoms are structured after suns in proportion to their capacities and potentialities. For particulars in relation to what is below them are universals, and what are great universals...are in fact particulars in relation to the realities and beings which are superior to them. Universal and particular are in reality incidental and relative considerations. ('Abdu'l-Bahá, "Tablet of the Universe")

All elements of reality are similar and radically different according to how they are perceived and connected to one another. Scientists believe that the causal laws that govern the universal system are really quite simple. However, the dynamics involved in the operation of these laws may be quite complicated, even for relatively simple situations. Dynamics that are easily understood and predicted when two objects interact-such as one planet orbiting one star-become excruciatingly difficult when more objects are introduced. The world we observe is full of variability, which arises out of the operation of simple invariable laws (Stewart).

The variability of things is due to the vast array of contingent events which interact many times with slightly different initial conditions, resulting in outcomes which differ, at least slightly, each time (Gleick; Briggs and Peat; Buchanan). It is the interaction of myriad elements and forces within a universal, ordered association that defines life and human beings, not a particular planetary matrix or physical prototype. As Abdu'l-Bahá suggests:

every single thing has an effect and influence upon every other, either independently or through a causal chain. In sum, the completeness of each and every thing- that is, the completeness which you now see in man, or in other beings, with regard to their parts, members, and powers-arises from their component elements, their quantities and measures, the manner of their combination, and their mutual action, interaction, and influence. When all these are brought together, then man comes into existence.

As the completeness of man stems entirely from the component elements, their measure, their manner of combination, and the mutual action and interaction of other beings-and since man was produced ten or a hundred thousand years ago from the same earthly elements, with the same measures and quantities, the same manner of composition and combination, and the same interactions with other beings- it follows that man was exactly the same then as exists now. (Some Answered Questions 46:6-7)

A more interesting question is what grounding laws and organizational principles govern the dynamics of these interacting forces. As a material entity, the universal system is defined by three primary characteristics: the composition of elements, motion, and causality. The reality of composition and motion has the inevitable consequence that all material entities are phenomenal, that is, temporary. …

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