Cognition, Creativity, and Behavior: Selected Essays

By Robert Epstein | Go to book overview

2 GENERATIVITY THEORY AND CREATIVITY

Summary. Creative behavior is orderly and predictable. Previously established behavior manifests itself in orderly ways in new situations to produce new behavior, which in certain contexts is labeled "creative." The manner in which novel behavior emerges is describable by a set of transformation functions, each of which operates on the probability of every behavior that can occur in the situation. The functions predict continuous and probabilistic changes in behavior, which one might then label post hoc as interconnections. This concept, called Generativity Theory, has proved useful both in predicting and engineering increasingly complex, novel performances in nonhuman animals. It has also led to the development of an effective problem- solving algorithm derived from empirically-based principles of behavior, and it has allowed us to predict, with reasonable success, ongoing, novel performances in human subjects.

Novel human performances have recently been predicted with some success by equations and a computer algorithm, instances of a theory called Generativity Theory ( Epstein, 1985a). The theory asserts that ongoing behavior is generated as the probabilities of a large number of behaviors are subjected continuously to a number of simple transformation functions, which are presumed to have physical reality in the nervous system. It treats behavior as novel, fluid, and probabilistic, rather than as stereotypic and repetitious, and hence the theory is a departure from many conventional, learning-type theories of behavior. Generativity Theory grew out of a series of studies in which novel, complex performances were constructed with pigeons.


THE COLUMBAN SIMULATIONS

In 1978 at Harvard University, B. F. Skinner and I began a project called the Columban Simulation Project, after Columba livia, the taxonomic name for pigeon. We set about trying to get pigeons to do some of the complex and mysterious things that people do, and we were successful in several instances. The simulations are significant in the present context in how they differ from most previous research on animal behavior. Previous research was concerned

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