Creativity: thinking with masks

Momus, aka Nick Currie, offers a bit of intellectual history in Wired by way of decoding what makes for effective brainstorming. In his view, creativity doesn't just churn through possibilities; rather, aided by "mask wearing," it taps into an emotional core. He concludes The Problem with Brainstorming with this thought:

The trouble with brainstorming is that it reduces people intoimpersonal little thought bites, little sound bites. It doesn't allow them to access their imagination the way they can with avatars [online personas, discussed previously], and it doesn't allow personal emotional investment. Its emphasis on nonjudgmental positivity prevents animus and its bitter, exciting battles.

Brainstorming... encourages hivemind rather than originality.

A lot has changed in 50 years. The internet has made us mask-formers, not brainstormers.

Emotional-investment-as-creative-requirement is a notion I encountered last fall while reading Sparks of Genius, a book about the ways in which we "school the imagination." The book argues - successfully, in my view - that great art and ideas spring first from an emotional center, which practice, talent and reason can then transform into something extraordinary.

I'm currently reading quite a bit from David Chalmers, who as a philosopher of the mind also works to understand the phenomena of consciousness. Chalmers, a self described dualist, is investigating the "hard problem" of consciousness studies, which is: how do brain functions like discrimination, report, integration and control give rise to first person experiences? His tentative conclusions are that consciousness is a non-physical property that can't be deduced solely from brain functions. In short, they don't. He surveys the competing theories in consciousness studies in his readable paper "Consciousness and Its Place in Nature," which I recommend if you're interested in these issues.

In my view, creativity, like consciousness, also springs from this first person encounter with the world. If so, masks provide - no pun intended - a cover for our emotional selves to emerge on the creative stage. Through our masks we can recognize, appreciate and begin to understand the paradox in quantum mechanics as well as Romeo and Juliet. I might suggest, though, that rather than making us mask-formers, the Internet brings out our existing and very human mask making skills.


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