On Constraints, Attractors and Creativity

Crow talking about creativity

In regards to novelty, while there is an infinitely small likelihood that a system could be engaged with such that it could do “anything”— rather dynamic systems have statistical regularities — patterns that they will settle into. These are a quite regular set of semi-stable patterns such that if you agitate the system it will spontaneously move towards one of these many stable pattern states.

We define these with a potentially confusing language of “attractors” and “constraints”. What can be confusing is that these terms suggest object-hood — that constraints and attractors are types of things like ropes and magnets. But both these terms designate only statistical regularities: given a subtle disruption the system will more likely than not spontaneously tend to one of these processes states — the system is, so to speak, “constrained” towards, or “attracted” to these states. Our everyday actions are like these pushes.

The constraint/attractor is not some additional thing in the system but simply the relational dynamics of the system that intrinsically entrains the system to more likely have certain tendencies and propensities over others.

In this manner all dynamic systems have propensities that are expressions of how they are statistically constrained to move towards certain dynamic states over the infinite possibility of all states.

The “state” of a dynamic system is a regular stable process (an outcome).

The relational dynamics emerge between the component parts which consist of tools, environments, institutions, habits, practices, humans and other inter-subjective living agents, concepts etc. What matters is less the exact components (or their internal states) as the dynamic relational logic of the system.

For creativity this is quite interesting:

  • The tendencies (constraints or attractors) cannot be known without agitating/perturbating/probing the dynamic system.
  • Experimental perturbations can move the system into a state that has always been there but never realized.
  • Experimental perturbations can move the system into a novel state by shifting the relational dynamics such that the “topology” of attractors shifts (this is rarely a shift towards just one novel state— but a set emerges, often categorized as unintended consequences).
  • Deliberate blockages can be experimentally introduced to reconfigure the system into a new set of attractors

But this is just the beginning of experimenting with constraints, attractors and the dynamics of systems. What is important is, as an approach to creativity, it moves beyond the classical western logic with its inordinate focus on humans, individuals, minds, and ideation as what drives creativity.

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