Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Creativity and Innovation

RIT, where I teach, is hosting a big festival this coming Saturday: the 1st Annual Innovation + Creativity Festival. It's expected to draw a crowd in the range of 30,000 people (okay, that seems pretty optimistic).

© Steve Miller

The Philosophy Department is providing support to a student project, and I'm the faculty coordinator. The project is a sculptural installation that's subtitled "A Philosophical Analysis of Creativity and Innovation." We solicited short reflections (poems, etc.) on the topic of creativity and have recorded them. They'll be played back through speakers on the sculpture. The project website is here, containing photos, video, the submitted creativity statements, and an artist's description of the intent of the project.

© Steve Miller

What's noteworthy about the pieces written by philosophers is how each person's "reflection on creativity" is as much a statement of their philosophical perspective: a poetic response to Dogen from the specialist in Asian philosophy, pragmatic guidance from the American philosopher, cryptic skepticism from the Pre-Socratic expert, wistful optimism from the retired philosopher of religion, and dark metaphysical speculation from the resident German Romantic. Does our training so shape our psyches, or are we drawn to a specialty that coincides with our personalities?

Here is my short piece on creativity:

The Life of Ideas

The evolution of new creatures is a magnificently creative process. Animals, plants, bacteria, fungi—we live in a world teeming with unique lifeforms.

The creation of new life has two stages. First is the creation of novelty. This happens through mutation, which creates untested changes to the genetic code and also through sexual reproduction, which puts genetic material together in new combinations. The second stage is the brutal process of selection, which puts to death nearly all of those experimental ways of living. The new life that does survive is a better fit with its surroundings, able to solve some problem that its forebears could not.

Likewise, our culture improves by the creative generation of newness. We can foster and accelerate creativity on the model of sexual reproduction by encouraging communication between diverse people with diverse interests, identities, abilities, and life experiences. Their exchange of ideas will lead to innovation.

But most innovations will not survive. Again, we can help the process along by nurturing fragile ideas, and by not pre-judging them until they have had a chance to prove themselves.

Together with open-mindedness to new ideas, giving them a chance to find their niche, it’s appropriate to practice critical evaluation. Communities of inquiry should judge ideas on their merit. Our standards should be fair and themselves subject to criticism and change. In this way, we innovate both new ideas and the process that nurtures them.


Noumena said...

And the American philosopher of science writes something that sounds like Dewey! Most excellent.

Khadimir said...

Yes, that does sound like Dewey. As for mine, I am most interested in the practice of philosophical hermeneutics (as opposed to the theory of such).

Evelyn Brister said...

Thank you for the compliment!

Khadimir is a former student in the RIT philosophy department, and I asked him to contribute one, too.

Are you going to post it here, K?

Khadimir said...

I'm taking that as a hint, EB. Mine was:

The creative mind always creates itself anew, for the birth of each thought is a fragile life. We should not ask someone to be more creative, but to be a mother of thoughts. To birth, care for, and raise each thought as its own life.

The uncreative mind creates only itself. It births the same, stillborn thoughts. Thinking the same thought differently is a macabre dance of twisted limbs. The same thought does not grow, is not nurtured, is not alive. It is dead.

I am particularly interested in the practice of hermeneutics, and I find my practice, which consists in particular ways of thinking and writing, most informed by Plato, Kant, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Heidegger.

For an example, consider my comment on a post of a few days ago. It seems that few thinkers seriously reflect upon what metaphors, diction, and style that they use. My concern, among others, is that thought will be subtly guided by the underlying root metaphor more than by a critical analysis. This should be a familiar thought to feminists, e.g. people are unconsciously guided by gendering. Although in this case, I am saying that thought itself is so guided, and we should be aware of and attend to this.