I was discussing the research for the AIDS and California post with a friend the other day, and they reacted with what I recall as shock and horror, protesting that San Francisco was home to Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs (formerly,) and all kinds of fabulous innovations. I thought about this for a moment, and replied something to the effect of, “Creatives are Psychotic.”
Now, I do not mean that creative people are stark raving bonkers and lost connection with reality, nor that they are violent, dangerous, malicious, or anything like that. I do mean that their minds do not function the same as everyone else’s.
Normal people, as I’ve mentioned before, (seem to have) neurological feedback loops that make them imitate other people. This is deep in the wiring of the brain; it’s crucial for things like learning to talk. People who imitate other people are normal, functional humans; people who fail to imitate others generally have severe life impairments. Understanding how these feedback loops work and influence our decision-making processes is crucial, IMO, to understanding the vast majority of humans.
But creative people, by definition, are not imitating others.
There are two obvious ways to be creative:
- Not know what other people know/think about something. Therefore, you are completely unable to have any conformist thoughts about it.
- Not care what other people know/think about something.
Most people who don’t know what other people know/think are small children, and small children are wonderfully creative. To get the same effect in an adult, in any useful sort of way, your best bet is to look for outsiders. Outsiders aren’t deeply tied into and invested in your way of thinking and doing things, and so can easily see things you’ve overlooked. I tend to think of Jayman’s creativity, for example, as springing at least partially from his semi-outsideriness, giving him a perspective other people lack. (Jay, if I’m wrong, forgive me.)
Creatives who don’t care what other people know see past what everyone else sees. They see new ways to combine things, new ideas, new stuff other people haven’t tried yet.
Normal people either cannot see this stuff, or when they do see it, their neuro feedback loops punish them for having deviant wrongthought.
The normal person experiences reality like a fish experiences water. A creative person is a fish with wings.
A normal person cannot escape from reality. They struggle to produce novelty because their brains only like doing things that are already being done. Normal is their programming.
Creatives lack some aspect of this programming. The normal feedback loops aren’t there. They are disconnected from reality. Not totally, of course–if they were totally disconnected, they’d probably just walk in front of a car and then we’d never hear from them again. They are usually connected enough to function, to eat and sleep and not get run over, but to be frank, all of that normal stuff is often a struggle for them.
Paul Erdős comes immediately to mind. Yes, mathematicians are creatives. This is obvious.
From the Wikipedia:
“Possessions meant little to Erdős; most of his belongings would fit in a suitcase, as dictated by his itinerant lifestyle. Awards and other earnings were generally donated to people in need and various worthy causes. He spent most of his life as a vagabond, traveling between scientific conferences, universities and the homes of colleagues all over the world. He earned enough in stipends from universities as a guest lecturer, and from various mathematical awards to fund his travels and basic needs; money left over he used to fund cash prizes for proofs of “Erdős problems” (see below). He would typically show up at a colleague’s doorstep and announce “my brain is open”, staying long enough to collaborate on a few papers before moving on a few days later. In many cases, he would ask the current collaborator about whom to visit next.”
Just one case; you may provide many others. Artists who cut off their ears or seem obsessed with vaginas; rock stars with their fiery careers and often spectacular ends; scientists or engineers obsessed with tiny, obscure bits of the world that no one else pays attention to, like eels or gyroscopes.
For San Francisco to be both the source of great technological breakthroughs and improvements, and a place where a good percentage of the population decides to just throw social norms out the window, heh, norms, who needs the damn things? seems entirely sensible. Sometimes not caring what other people think leads to good ideas, sometimes to bad ideas, sometimes to really strange but ultimately neutral ideas.
- If you want creativity and innovation in your society, you have to tolerate some crazy, socially-deviant behavior from your creatives.
- A certain percentage of “outsiders” will probably help maximize society’s creative output.
- Creatives are not always very good at taking care of themselves. If a peripatetic mathematician arrives suddenly on your doorstep, it’s probably best for humanity if you let him sleep on your couch and do math on your table. Society at large may want to keep this in mind, as well.
- Don’t believe *everything* creatives say. Sometimes they have great breakthroughs; sometimes they just don’t see the underlying logic for doing things the normal way.
This was not originally my idea–I think it was Bruce Charlton‘s. If not, I apologize.