Reflections on Creativity
Last year I wrote a research paper on the philosophy of Mark Twain. Twain was a very cynical person. He thought that people are products of their environment and are entirely motivated by self-interest. Any man, he said, who does something good for his neighbor, is actually doing it to make himself feel better. Everything comes back to self. Also, he said, there are no new ideas. People are machines that simply process what they have heard and then spit it out again.This has been haunting me for the better part of a year.
I know that it’s not right. The logic is impeccable, but the feeling is gone. It just doesn’t seem to fit. Apparently, Twain’s philosophy did not work for Twain, either, because he later lost two of his three daughters and his wife to death, and it crushed him. Twain had no way to deal with his suffering. After the second daughter died (she was taking a bath, and the radio fell into the bathtub while it was plugged in), he wasted away to nothing. His philosophy could not save him then. It did not make him happy.
So, I have concluded, Mark Twain was wrong in his view of the world. Yet his logic is impeccable, and so many of the things he says are just right..so, why, why isn’t it right?
Interpretation, I think. It’s a difference in interpretation. Twain saw things clearly, but in my humble opinion (and humble it must be to make such a claim) he did not quite see it correctly. He looked at simple things and saw too much in it, I think, like a man looking at a drawing of a circle and saying it is a representation of the union of God and Man. It may be, but perhaps it is just a circle. Ask the artist.
Do people act out of self-interest, and do they do the right thing because it makes them feel good? Often, yes, but I would also say that the right thing often does not feel good at all. There is a big difference between doing something because it feels good and doing something because it is right. Truth does not so much bring joy as it brings internal clarity and peace.
People often do the right thing out of self-interest, but I really do think there are two different kinds of motivation at work here. If all motivation was the same, then there would not be a difference between people doing the right thing for the right reasons and the wrong thing for the wrong reasons. Yet there obviously is. “The last temptation is the greatest treason; To do the right thing for the wrong reason.” (TS Eliot)
But, stepping back, isn’t self-interest what decision making is all about? You choose A because you want to. It’s your choice. That’s what making a decision is. Is it wrong? I don’t think so. There are bad decisions, but the concept of decision-making is not wrong and should not be dissed.
So now we come to the real point of this long journal entry: the idea that there are no absolutely original ideas. It’s disheartening at first, but then I realized, well… He’s right. You can’t make something out of nothing. New matter and new energy are not created or destroyed, simply converted into something else.
That’s one huge point of the debate over God’s existence – that matter wasn’t always around, was it? Didn’t something put it there? God, of course, would have to be something out of nothing, too, but I, personally, would take an eternal God over an eternal universe. Think on this: if the universe has existed infinitely, then an infinite amount of time would have passed before now – that is, the world has been around for an eternity before now. Since stars have a finite lifespan, all the stars would have burned out in the eternity that it took to get to now.
Anyway, you can’t create something out of nothing. That, I think, is why so many people get writer’s block or spend years trying to come up with a completely original idea, as I did – it’s the ultimate dream, to create something out of nothing, but it’s just not possible. Psychologists know this, too. Creativity is measured not by the ability to make something out of nothing, but by the ability to look at things differently, to think differently. Creative people are outside the box. They’re different. They’re weirdos, too, but hey, if everyone looked at things the same way, the world would stagnate like, well, beer I guess, and it wouldn’t taste good at all.
Creativity, eh. I’m a unique person, and the experiences I’ve had are unique. All of that goes into the things I make. My creations are not something completely different from me that just popped into my head and out onto paper; they are things that have developed inside of me and now are expressed openly, and they are beautiful. Creativity, too, is the ability to look at things differently – “wow, I never thought of it that way before, but I guess it is.”
The real answer, then, is to develop myself and express myself, rather than wait for something magical to happen. I’m really proud of something when I’ve put everything I have into it. No completely original ideas? Bah, bah to that I say, that is only because people -have- to put a part of themselves into everything they make. It is no tragedy. It is beauty. Because of that, men express themselves – who they are, what they have learned and seen and heard – and that is what communication is.