Creativity and Constraints

Drawing of a Person surfing

Let’s address a fundamental question for creativity: How does change happen such that a novel form (order, organization, process) emerges, stabilizes and then persists?

Classically in the west we have answered this by one of two answers: imposition or essence expression:
1. Form is imposed from the outside
2. Form is already deep within things as a type of hidden plan that the thing expresses — if this mutates or is freed from some imposed constraint then it will express changes.

Both of these, even in their modern forms, are at their core theological. They are implicitly modeled after “god as shaper” or “god as seed planter”. Each of these are also very unsatisfactory answers in that they beg the question — the novel difference they seek to explain is already there in advance (in the mind of the creator, or in the essence itself).

In each of these models constraints play a critical roles:
- In the first we constrain something from the outside to take on a novel but pregiven form.
- And in the second we free the pre-given essence from an imposed constraint.

Both of these involve an externally imposed constraint towards an already known end. This is the “mold/model” logic of understanding constraints. There are a number of errors here: conflating all forms of constraint with things, assuming constraints are always externally imposed, and finally assuming a constraint has a purpose/goal.

Constraints take many forms — they can also be intrinsic and in such cases: “denotes the property of being restricted or being less variable than possible” (Deacon) that comes about spontaneously because of relational system dynamics.

In this case the constraint is not a thing whatsoever.

It is the negative outcome of a relational synergy: because of relations, less is possible, and thus the system comes to have a form (organizational logic).

Such relational constraints, from the perspective of the new are powerful precisely because we can only define them negatively:
- it is not something that is added or imposed on components and relations to produce an organized form (it is not a discreet thing— it is not actually any thing — the system and the constraint are identical
- “It” involves what is excluded — what won’t be possible in a given relational context
- Such a constraints says nothing directly about what could happen (this is entirely context sensitive)

The question: what novelty is possible in a given circumstance? — is left as it needs to be: an open question that can only be answered by relationally experimenting and following and stabilizing in a process of co-emergence. The emergent immanent constraint is something discovered in doing and is in this case nothing other than the relational logic of the system itself.

on What Is Innovation, and How to Innovate

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