Creativity: It was Never in Your Head

Surgeon cutting open brain

Ideas do not come from our brains, because thinking, properly speaking, does not come from our brains.

Thinking is grounded in acting. & acting is grounded in an environment. Our abilities to act in an environmental context emerge from our embodiment— the types of bodies we have & their unique capacities. Arms, legs, a vertical spine, opposable thumbs, wombs — both in their general & highly specific configurations/capacities.

But it is not our embodiment alone, our embodied actions are “of” an environment — an environment that has been shaping us as we have been shaping it (for a very very long time). This is what is termed “niche construction”: No living being passively adapts to an existing fixed environment. All creatures shape their environments — the beaver being a classic example. This is not a unidirectional action of simply making a home to fit one's needs. We “fit” because the environment is equally active & is shaping us such that over time it is proper to say that we are not simply in an environment by we are “of” this environment.

The loop between embodied acting, & the active environment goes down to the level of genes (of all involved). This primary “sense-making” is best seen as arising not from one or the other partner in this dance of mutual making but from the dance itself. The term for this is “enactive” — our world is being made by our actions while at the same time our selves are being made by our world.

We are continuously being lured, beckoned & drawn out by this dance. It is a beckoning that is neither in us nor outside us. What is beckoning us is what the dance allows us to do — what it affords us (an “us” that is a “self-environment dance”). Over time much of what emerges, if repeated, stabilizes into a form that persists in more robust ways: our bodies, our environment, our tools, our practices, etc.

Coming back to creative thinking, it, like all thinking, happens as/emerges from embodied acting & doing that is intimately coupled with/of an active environment. Our contemporary environment-selves are socio-physical — natural-cultural co-shaping extensions filled with transformative tools, & a vast social world of other people.

Novelty first emerges in a self-environment relation that momentarily reveals/congeals as odd. It is a worldly event. What is odd is emerging from what is also ordinary — something everyday is being co-opted in action towards a new heading (exaptation). Which can generate via attunement to what is luring us in a novel direction new environmental & embodied potentials (the creative process).

Ideas, those fully formed things, they come later. & those ideas that are the product of ideation sessions, well those are highly refined outcomes wholly reliant on pre-existing concepts (e.g. nothing novel), & are far removed from the locus of novelty: deeply engaged worldly collaborative attunement & experimentation…

on What Is Innovation, and How to Innovate

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