why “creative” domains are prototypically creative

Posted in Uncategorized by sarkology on April 11, 2011

Why are artists, musicians, film makers, designers, etc, why are they the “creative types”? Why aren’t also engineers, mathematicians, biologists, archaelogists, rocket scientists, among these “creative types”?

Well, what is creativity? Now that is an open-ended question, and so not very helpful. But for our purposes we need only pay attention to its one particular aspect.

Creativity is impressive. Why is that so? The hypothesis that creativity is a fitness indicator seems plausible. Creativity seems to be a ‘holistic’ trait, drawing upon many many cognitive functions, presumably also under the influence of many many genetic loci. A person being creative shows they have low mutation load and good condition, which makes they good mates for the opposite sex, and good associates for the same sex. Being impressed by creativity leads you to make better choices in mating and in courtship displays, hence improves your fitness.

But how does the product of creativity relate to creativity itself? Why is a novel, a play, a painting, creative? Here I speculate that creativity is an exponential (asymptotic runtime) algorithm, and the search through the space of creative products is a problem in NP. Roughly speaking, the search through the space is very costly, but once a solution is found it can be verified very easily. This vague metaphor offers two explanations for creativity being the way it is.

Firstly, the process behind creativity needs to be inherently expensive/difficult. This is because by signaling theory a good signal is hard to fake, and being expensive/difficult is one of the most reliable way to achieve that. If you don’t happen to have inherited a good set of genes from your parents, or if you don’t happen to have been not buffeted about by environmental aggressors until your body and brain have broken, then you won’t have what it takes to be creative.

Secondly, the quality of a product of creativity should be transparent and obvious to onlookers. If it takes as much machinery/resources to verify that an output is genuinely creative, as it takes to produce that output itself, well then it wouldn’t be worth the verifier’s time. The distinguishing between creative and non-creative outputs needs to be efficient, otherwise the signal is superfluous and will be superceded by a more efficiently checkable one. Someone insisting that it takes huge amount of efforts to understand their greatness is also probably trying to deceive you.

So back to our original puzzle. We immediately see that anybody can easily judge a “creative” work (bar pretentious modernist nonsense) for themselves. Good music needs no extensive musical training to appreciate. A beautiful painting can be found so by the most unimaginative philistine. A brilliant film is enjoyed by the laziest couch potato. But a good mathematical proof? An ingenious solution to the design of a nuclear power plant? A stunningly original hypothesis for the collapse of some mysterious civilization? They all require someone with at least a comfortable familiarity for the respective knowledge domains to appreciate.

This is not to say that those who can appreciate such wonders do not really find them creative. They do. The core logic of the creativity-signaling mechanism seems to carry over, as long as there is a difference between the effort required to produce and the effort required to check solutions.  But auditory/visual cheesecake or no, our capacity to appreciate good art is a universal feature among humans, requiring no training for their manifestation. Which is why we automatically trust such creativity-signaling independently. For the creativity of people working in obscure/technical domains, we are instead more impressed by their status among their peers.

Which is why the people who produce “art” are considered the prototypically “creative types”.


One Response

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  1. A3dfx said, on April 21, 2011 at 1:39 am

    Good point. I think this is the same reason athletes get more female attention than, say, programmers. Most girls can easily verify athletes as performing a difficult feat.

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