Mini-Feature: Limited Creativity?
Are there limits to human creativity?
There are limits to everything human. Humans are circumscribed by our limits and cohere within them. Anything more or different is “supernatural,” as we understand instinctively—a point made clear enough by the occult worship of creativity as that-which-is-unlimited.
While this instinct has been with us always it was activated and catalyzed by the advent of electricity. No coincidence that the occult and seances and all the rest caught on in Britain and the US and elsewhere as electricity took over the world.
But whereas in Europe this occult turn resulted in mass death and destruction, in the US it led to broad prosperity and power: Disney instead of Hitler. Our American cult of creativity, of the “boundless imagination,” flowed largely through channels of “positivity.” Digital technology, in taking over the world, overthrows this electric ethos: in this sense, “bad news” for America! But we have always done pretty well in the face of bad news. Time to think creatively about the limits of creativity!
-James Poulos, executive editor of The American Mind
The idea that a thousand monkeys typing for a thousand years would eventually produce the Works of William Shakespeare is a fallacy. You could let an infinite number of monkeys type for infinitely long and there's no guarantee they would produce anything but infinite gibberish, because that's the nature of infinity.
Human creativity, as opposed to random banging on a keyboard, implies some thought and direction and is probably pretty close infinite, within bounds. Linguist Noam Chomsky suggests that most sentences of more than a few words are unique—that is to say, nobody has even said them before. If that's true, then everyone comes up with an original utterance all the time and is therefore a creative genius.
-Seth Barron, managing editor of The American Mind
We can probably figure out how to create anything we can imagine. I wouldn’t put it past us—for good or ill. But we cannot create what we cannot imagine, and we cannot imagine a lot of things. There is indeed that which “eye has not seen, ear has not heard,” and the questions during the rest of this week will touch on some of those things.
Imagination is the control we exert over our phantasiai—over the forms of things we can see in our minds. But ultimately those phantasiai come to us from the material world, and as Aristotle observed much imagination consists in remixing those forms into new combinations: centaurs, for example, or mermaids. Try and imagine a color you’ve never seen: you can’t. It stands to reason you won’t paint in one, either.
For what it’s worth, this is why I said last week that angels and demons might well already be among us—if their existence is of a kind that our perceptive apparatus is simply not equipped to process, what then? The influence they exert on our lives would be felt, but not they themselves, and our own influence over them would be limited or by proxy at best. There are more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy, which is a good thing—it limits the scope of our more destructive tendencies.
-Spencer Klavan, associate editor of The American Mind