CreativityIn the last post we saw how creativity and intelligence had a tri-partite structure and were paradoxically opposed to each other on a continuum. We also saw how creativity is associated with 'broad' while intelligence is associated with 'narrow'.

In this post we will see the underlying process that leads to creativity/intelligence.

A very well known theory of creative process is BVSR (Blind Variation and Selective Retention) theory of Campbell that was proposed in 1950's and is still championed by the likes of Dean Simonton.

I, myself, am very sympathetic to the BVSR theory and have alluded to it previously in my posts.

The BVSR theory is a two step process—the first step is that of unsighted generation of ideas or idea variants; and the second stage is that of subjecting these to selective criteria and retaining or elaborating the idea variant that proves useful/true.  

Healthy debate rages in the field as to whether the creativity process is a blind (unguided/ not utilizing knowledge of the domain) or is a sighted (driven by domain expertise and not random or inconsiderate of the fact as to what chain of thought may be most useful) process.

Dean Simonton has argued that while creativity per se is more towards the blind side of BVSR, the sighted  application of BVSR also leads to scientific discovery although the result may not be creative (i.e. new, surprising and useful). To me the sighted application of BVSR looks more like a theory of intelligence than a theory of creativity. More about that later.

Dean using various analogies, including how patent office evaluates patent applications, posits that creativity is characterised by something that is not only novel and useful, but also non-obvious. It should involve an element of surprise and a figurative leap and should not be incremental. Thus, if I were to revisit my tri-partite definition of Creativity, I would now say Creativity = Surprisability + Originality + Utility; with Utility being gauzed by either applying a subjective criterion of Beauty or an objective criterion of Truth). Please note that Surprisability as newly defined maps to NOVELTY as defined my earlier post; while Originality defined here maps to BEAUTY defined there.

So, how does BVSR lead to creativity?

Blind means unsighted or unplanned or something which comes out of such a blind process will not be expected but necessarily involve leaps and be non-obvious and surprise us with the serendipitous results. Thus blindness ensures Surprisability.

Variation means recombination or transformations or some such process that leads to new and novel variants. Thus variation guarantees Originality.

Selection means separating wheat from the chaff based on either subjective criteria like Beauty or objective criteria like Truth. In either case the idea retained will be either true or adaptive/useful. In other words, Selection necessitates Utility.

Retention means developing the selected idea to completion, validating it and using similar means again. Typical means may include trying to replicate the phenomenon. Given that the BVS part of BVSR may work unconsciously it is hard to replicate or deliver the same creative performance again; the same may not be true of a scientific discovery though. We will not focus on retention here which has to do with repetition of the act, in my opinion, and not that relevant to the creative process.

As you move towards more sighted variant of BVSR, you move from creativity to intelligence.

With that in mind I propose the following table for creativity and intelligence:

and for intelligence...

The next post will elaborate and hook up with consciousness (awareness/attention) research.


Creativity (Photo credit: Mediocre2010)

About the Author

Sandeep Gautam

Sandeep Gautam is a software developer and science writer at The Mouse Trap.

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