Creativity as a Diverse Complex System Jjenna Hupp Andrews July 8, 2010 Background Artwork: Emerging, a sculpture created by the presenter.
Creativity itself can be understood as a complex system, created through non-linear interactions with other complex systems as well as the environment within which is it is found.
Paper Overview Similarities: between SCS (David Schuldberg)and Complexity Theory. How creativity can be understood as a complex system. Possibilities of how this view of creativity can be applied in everyday life.
“Living Well Creatively: What’s chaos got to do with it,” by David Schuldberg Correlations between Chaos Theory and creativity. Schuldberg connects the concept of everyday creativity with Chaos Theory and what he calls SCS (Somewhat Complicated Systems). SCS are on a psychological level “small non-linear dynamical systems… that change with time, contain nonlinear relationships, and, when coupled together, form the building blocks of larger, more intricate systems” (Schuldberg 57-58).
Complexity Theory Comes out of Systems Theory and mathematical/computational theory so has mostly been discussed in the science and mathematics realms, but it is making inroads into philosophy and more social and cultural disciplines, mostly though the work of scholars such as Paul Cilliers and Mark C. Taylor (Heylighen, Cilliers and Gershenson 14). Complexity Theory takes into account the “relational character” of complex systems and the components of those systems (Cilliers, Tanya and Roodt 9).
SCS & Complexity Theory overlap What Schuldberg describes as “Somewhat Complicated Systems” aligns with the description of a complex system as a non-linear system which very basically “described as a system that is comprised of a large number of entities that display a high level of (non-linear) interactivity” (Uden, Kurt and Cilliers). Like SCS, complex systems are systems that consist of multiple elements that interact with each other and their environment in a non-linear way and that can produce affects that are not necessarily directly proportional to its size.
Difference between SCS & complex systems There is a clear distinction between the terms complicated and complex, specifically when looking at systems. Complexity Theory looks to how the whole is so much more than the sum of the parts and holds that it is the connections and relationships that exist within the system and between the system and its environment that make this possible. A complicated system can be broken down into units and rules and be understood. “that a jumbo jet is complicated, but that a mayonnaise is complex” (3).
The Complexity of Creativity Schuldberg defines creativity as “coming up with solutions to life’s problems, solutions that are both novel and useful” (Schuldberg 55). The term creativity is often used as if it is this unified, well-defined concept that everyone understands, and yet this is not the case. The problem lies in the common belief that everyone shares the same definition of creativity, when in fact the word itself can refer to many different things or actions and often the definitions are exclusionary of other definitions. On solution is to view creativity as an open and complex system in which there are many elements that interact in a variety of ways to create our different understandings of creativity.
The Complexity of Creativity Creativity can be understood not through a specific definition but as a complex system made up of a large number of elements/characteristics that interact and overlap with each other and are open to interaction with environmental factors, and thus create opportunities for novel connections and solutions to emerge.
Complex System vs. a Specific Characteristic or Act Creativity is no longer seen as a specific “thing” that is processed by some and not by others; instead it becomes a web of interactions and relationships that come together in such a way to serve the current purpose in a “novel” way. Definition is no longer closed and stagnant. It is in how the various elements and characteristics come together and interact with the specific environment that is being addressed. By definition, it is an open system (Cilliers 2005, 257). An open system is one that interacts with its environment and as such, it is often difficult to define the borders of the system. It provides for the environmental influences and interactions involved in creativity.
Objection to creativity as a complex system It is so open that it can encompass anything, therefore the term creativity looses all meaning. This is not necessarily the case. This is not an argument that creativity is relative and that “anything goes” but instead an argument that creativity is a system with a structure that cannot be broken down into a set of elements or simple rules that govern it and with boundaries that are not fixed but open to outside influences.
Limitations of creativity as a complex system Complexity Theory holds that all descriptions of a complex system by necessity must exclude elements; it is impossible to understand every aspect and detail of a complex system. One cannot predict with certainty how a complex system will function in the future, nor can we have complete knowledge of a complex system. We must make choices, creating frameworks, as to what to include and exclude from our understanding of the system, making it manageable for use to comprehend. The specific definitions of creativity are frameworks for us to make comprehensible the specific acts/events/things we categorize as creative.
Concept of Creativity Creativity is by its very nature is complex as evidenced by the wide variety of definitions and theories connected with it. Viewing creativity through Complexity Theory provides a framework from which to understand how one “term” can encompass so many different conceptions. Complexity Theory is not designed to “provide us with exact tools to solve complex problems, but show us (in a rigorous way) exactly why the problems are so difficult” (Cilliers 2005, 257). Derrida: “One shouldn’t complicate things for the pleasure of complicating, but one should also never simplify or pretend to be sure of such simplicity where there is none. If things were simple, word would have gotten round…” (Cilliers 2005, 266).
Creative Complexity in the Everyday….Diversity & resiliency in the system By viewing creativity as a complex system, creativity is no longer limited to specific domains but rather an open system of interactions and relationships between diverse elements that transcend domains. This holistic view of creativity creates a diversity that allows for more resilience in the system of creativity. The more diversity of elements within the system, the more able the system is able to respond in novel ways to input from outside the system.
Creative Complexity in the Everyday The conception of creativity as a complex system opens up the definition of creativity and therefore our narrow understanding of creativity changes. By viewing creativity as a complex system made up of elements/characteristics that interact with each other and are open to interaction with environmental factors, we are now able to see creativity in what was previously seen as mundane. This expansion of the understanding or creativity also has ramifications on how one view’s one’s self: Creativity can no longer be seen as the exclusive domain of the arts and creative disciplines. We would be able to recognize that “artistic” and “creativity” are two different systems (though they can and do overlap).
New boundaries: a beginning Complexity Theory provides a framework from which to begin to create a holistic approach to creativity. It is not a definitive solution but rather a view into “exactly why the problems are so difficult” (Cilliers 2005, 257). By approaching creativity as a complex system, we are able to understand the multiple and often conflicting definitions of creativity and we can accept that conflicting definitions can at the same time be valid and “true.”
New boundaries: a beginning Complexity Theory allows us to envision new, fluid boundaries for creativity, without destroying the integrity of this concept we call creativity. It becomes a diverse system of possibilities and new beginnings, always in touch with and responding to its environment. The key is to loosen our tight grasp on our preconceived notions and concrete definitions of creativity and open up to new creative possibilities.
Works Cited Cilliers, Paul. Complexity and Postmodernism: Understanding Complex Systems. London/New York: Routledge, 1998. —. "Complexity, Deconstruction and Relativism." Theory, Culture & Society vol. 22.5 (2005): 255-267. —. "Difference, Identity And Complexity: A Philosophical Analysis." Complexity. http://complexity.vub.ac.be/phil/drafts/Cilliers-diff.pdf., 2005. 1-11. Cilliers, Paul, de Villiers Tanya and VastiRoodt. "The Formation of the Self: Nietzsche and Complexity." South African Journal of PhilosophyVol 21.No 1 (2002): 1-17. Heylighen, Francis, Paul Cilliers and Carlos Gershenson. "Complexity and Philosophy." Complexity, Science and Society. Ed. Jan Bogg and Robert Geyer. Oxford.: Radcliffe Publishing, 2007. Schuldberg, David. "Living Well Creatively: What's Chaos got to do with it?" Everyday Creativity. Ed. Ruth Richards. Washington DC: American Psychological Association , 2007. 55-73. Uden, Jacco Van, Richardson A. Kurt and Paul Cilliers. "Postmodernism Revisited? Complexity Science and the Study of Organisations." Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science vol. 3.no. 1 (2001): 53-67.