Welcome to Emerging Futures -- Vol 89! You Are Creative – Sorry That’s Life...
Good morning fated-to-be-co-creative beings,
It has been quite a week for us, between being busy behind the scenes developing a new version of our website and delivering a number of virtual workshops (in Germany and locally).
But, let's put all that aside – for this newsletter – really the next three, as we have worked hard to develop a clear way to orient you towards sensing yourselves as inherently creative beings – as always active and always creative co-makers – co-adapters and NOT beings who creatively problem solve when called upon.
But, as a longer exploration, we had to cut it into manageable sections, leaving the ending of this week's newsletter a bit of a cliffhanger!
Over the last few weeks, we have been exploring:
Such an alternative cannot, in our judgment, simply be a better way of framing problems – it needs to be a robust alternative to the underlying assumptions that give rise to this approach. This has led us to explore with you the concept of affordances as a way to begin introducing a comprehensive alternative.
This week we want to step back and position this exploration of alternatives in relation to one of the major problems facing the development of a viable alternative – and that is our historical idea of our selves. How we see ourselves and its relation to the world profoundly shapes all of our implicit and explicit understandings of creativity. Without a clear understanding and critique of this sense of the self – any alternative risks simply being subsumed into the very approach it is trying to work out of. And so, this is where we start this week – with a critique of our historical sense of who we are:
Our approaches to creativity are strongly shaped by our historical sense of how we are in the world – basically, how we understand:
We can see this quite clearly in the patterns that keep arising in how we, as a contemporary culture, discuss and practice creativity: the individualism, the internalism, the linear logic, the focus on ideation, the insistence on problem solving, the blindness to qualitative difference…
From this, we can paint a picture – a useful caricature of this logic and what it imagines we are, how we work, and what the world is.
It is an approach where:
It is a vision of ourselves where we are more like a camera (our eyes) connected to a computer (our brain), attached to a tripod (our body) that is little more than a support system statically taking in an outside world (something worthy of being represented):
It is an approach that is full of strong unchanging dualities:
It is an approach where:
Wittgenstein would say that “a picture holds us captive,” and this picture is that of ourselves as a type of “camerabrain-on-a-stick.”
The ubiquitous nature of this approach to perception and our place, in reality does not end in one answer, in just one version of this model – it is a powerful model that flexes and can encompass seemingly different attitudes towards reality.
The two most common differing versions of this approach to perception are Realism and Idealism (and you guessed it – they form another binary opposition: Realism VS Idealism):
The world is just there, outside of us fully formed, and we see it mainly accurately via sense data that we materialize in our heads as representations. And while we do not exactly interact with what is out there directly, our internal representations are, most of the time, pretty accurate.
Flips this scenario on its head – it is pretty much the opposite: the world is dynamic – chaotic – and ultimately unknowable; thus, we form representations and experiences of it pretty much autonomously in our heads. You can think of this as the “Matrix” approach – nothing – or anything could be out there, and we will never know, but what we generate internally seems to work just fine.
Between the Realists and the followers of the Matrix – it is an endless “out-there” vs. “in-here” debate with many views splitting the difference (yes, there is a reality out there that our representations engage with, but for the most part, our brains determine what we see).
But, here again, it is interesting to look at what they both agree upon:
So realists and Idealists actually have the same basic logic. They just disagree on:
Ultimately in one direction you could go all the way to a brain in a vat with a machine inputting signals that give us any experience. Or, in a similar vein, there is the concept of simply downloading the brain/self into a computer. These are all idealist variations of this camerabrain-on-a-stick approach.
Or, just as easily you could take this in a more realist, more dynamic, more emergent, and more embodied way. Again, without changing the underlying logic. Many theorists of a more dynamic and embodied approach do this – they add to the basic model a number of new “influences.” Now “the body influences the mind” – and so does the outside, action, the environment, and much else… But this basic model remains.
And both of these positions, and many besides, are something you see across the board. There are a wide variety of adamantly opposed approaches to the question “How do we make sense of the world?” – that might agree on very little – but they implicitly hang onto the underlying logic of camerabrain-on-a-stick.
It is a very powerful and persuasive approach that can accommodate almost any addition, whether it comes from a complex adaptive system approach, evolutionary biology, or a vision of uploading the self into the cloud.
Now it is important to say that this is not simply an ideology, a mindset, or a worldview – these concepts (mindset, worldview, ideology) are themselves all logics internal to this approach.
Rather this is an enacted emergent outcome of a way of being alive. We, as a culture, live this and not simply believe it.
So – why challenge this?
For us, the answer is simple: In this approach, we are not really of the world. We are not really of our bodies. We live, what A. N. Whitehead termed “the bifurcation of nature” – alienated from ourselves, the world, and ultimately – creativity itself.
It is a view in which we are never really part of reality, but always at an impoverished subjective removal – a mind living in a sea of representations it is never quite sure about...
Most importantly, for us, it is a profoundly inadequate approach to help us creatively engage with reality – a reality we need to meet halfway.
Now, we are by no means alone in this – many of us intuit that this is not how things are at an experiential level – things are far more dynamic, intra-active, looping, and relational. And there are numerous critiques of this “bifurcation of nature.”
But, the real issue for us is: how do we translate this into a more dynamic and relational view without slipping back into the disembodied camerabrain-on-a-stick view? This is the difficult part. And it is a challenge most critiques of the bifurcation do not adequately meet.
Now there is no end to the suggestions. And often, these alternatives can sound like an infinitely long list of “better” practices that we should become adept at:
…after which, when one is stuck drifting somewhere between fulfilling a mad shopping list and an impossibly ambitious molecular gastronomy recipe – we give up, go mad, or simply patch onto our disembodied-camerbraina-on-a-stick to some seemingly practical corrections…
Trying to take on board such corrective lists is a bit like trying to learn how to ride a bike by separately learning first how to pedal independently of anything else, then how to squeeze the brakes, then how to turn the handlebars, then how to sit on the seat. No matter how good we get at each of these distinct practices – we will not be able to ride a bike.
Learning to ride a bike involves something quite different – we start by immersing ourselves holistically in a simplified version of the core qualitative experience of riding a bike – and this is one simplified activity: gaining a grip on being in “moving-balance.” Just coasting on the bike. Once we get this and can do this – we are on our way to riding a bike – and all the other skills (steering, braking, sitting, etc.) organically fall into place. Soon we are riding along with a coffee in one hand and texting with the other… Or auditioning to be in Kiki’s Delivery Service II:
What would the similar experience be like for an alternative to trying to master an infinite corrective list or falling back into being a pragmatically patched up version of the camera-on-a-stick?
Well! That is where we are ending this week – we did say it would be a cliffhanger!
Next week we will have an in-depth and experiential answer to the question.
But, rather than dwelling on what comes next, this is a good moment to dwell on how pervasive this camerabrain-on-a-stick – in all of its variants are – both implicitly and explicitly in how we approach reality and creativity. It is a moment to question how they appear in some of the most sophisticated approaches to complexity and some of the most well-funded research endeavors in brain science.
Take some time this week to do this critical work of disclosure and questioning – and we will see you next week for part two!
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