Creativity Is Participatory Sense-Making Which Begins Prior to Meaning Making

Crow standing on billboard of creativity

Creativity = participatory sense-making begins prior to meaning making.

Our creative process involves forms of participatory sense-making: we are experimenting with others – tools, concepts, people, infrastructures, ecosystems, habits, patterns, etc. in ways to allow for the co-emergence of new and different ways of sensing.

Often, we begin discussions of participation and collaboration at the level of human agents interacting through language, dialog and perhaps even mirror neurons. But this is quite high level – it rests upon many other far more embodied and affective practices. And it misses out on how we are also in a direct dialog with our socio-physical environment.

What does it mean to be in “direct dialog”?

Here the concept of information can be helpful. While there are many differing definitions and approaches to information, Claude Shannon in his early work on information defines information at it most basic as not conveying meaning – e.g. it has no content to covey. Information in this logic is the correlation of a state in one place with a state in another. The philosopher Jerry Fodor summarized this view “information is reliable causal covariance”. This extends information far beyond human minds, content, and representation.

There is a direct dialogue between things that can causally covary – and this is quite vast – it extends beyond living things. The earth, moon and tides come to mind.

We live in an active world continuously negotiating causal correspondences or covariances – information. As we shape environments, and they in turn shape us (niche-construction) – this is happening primarily at the level of information (covariance) and not meaning – vast dynamic assemblages of covariance in dialog. This is the basis of practices that participatory-sense making in our creativity builds upon and experiments with.

It is not that meaning and “aboutness” do not matter – they do – but given how well we recognize and interact at the level of meaning – it is easy to ignore how much that is critical to life and creativity is not about anything…

Aboutness is layered on top of information and emerges out of it. How do we work experimentally at the level of covariance – information prior to the emergence of meaning? This seems like a critical question for creative practices that needs more attention.

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