The General (lack of) Creativity - Part 1/4
Sunday, October 31, 2010 7:35:25 PM
So far my talks and writings were mostly concerned with the lack of creativity and unsupportive environment in schools. I would now like to make a wider argument in a series of articles in which I want to describe how I understand creativity at this point, and what it is needed to achieve it. Today's blog post is about what I find the most important:
A Clear, Focused and Uncluttered Mind.
It's been said somewhere that we receive more information in a week than an average person in 18th century would consume in his entire life. Even if this is only half-true, it is still somewhat of a trouble, not because of the sheer amount of it (your brain can handle even more), because most of that information is pure rubbish. In physical terms; it is not a signal, it is simply noise!
"Journalism," as a market expert Nicholas Nassim Taleb puts it, "may be the greatest plague we face today" (Taleb, p. 39). The reason is that journalism is more on the side of the entertainment than real reporting. Over the decade they made huge alarms about mad cow's disease, anthrax, terrorists and similar things, while only few people actually suffered. The amount of attention dedicated to those problems is disproportional to the actual size of the problem. Meanwhile malnutrition in Africa is getting less and less attention. Hungry black kids simply don't sell adds anymore. Or try to remember when was the last time heart attacks, which kill more people than all of those threats (including terrorism) combined, made big headlines... It is not about reporting, it is about keeping you in a state unease.
“It's amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper.” - Jerry Seinfeld
But what is really important for this argument is the amount of noise media outlets produce. News are FULL of events every day (not all of them are that big, but almost all of them are unimportant). Think about it: it is not like another Google is founded every day. The really big events (the ones that matter) happen very rarely, but the paper needs headlines every day. So they make headlines out of small bulshit events. A a result, they produce noise in a pure physical term. Just think how much time you waste watching, reading and contemplating trivial daily news that have absolutely no relevance to your life, thinking that they actually do. In what way is your life affected by a random murder in the next town, unless you are scientifically (law, forensics..) or personally involved? In what way is your life affected by the results of sports' competitions on another continent? And why the hell should you waste your time thinking about what is going on with Brangelina!? There is a lot of unnecessary psychological stress waiting for you in everyday news (of which you might not be even aware of, many people take it for granted, they even love it); you worry about things that have nothing to do with you or can't do anything about. It is a waste of time, energy and more importantly; your attention. There are people and things around you to which that attention should be addressed.
"Oh," you might say, "but news helps me to understand the world and predict (my) future." No it doesn't! It is exactly the opposite. News is just the noise which clutters your vision. You are so close to the mosaic, that you don't see the real picture, not even the individual 'pixels' - you see the dust that is collected on them.
"It takes a huge investment in introspection to learn that the thirty or more hours spent 'studying' the news last month neither had any predictive ability during your activities of that month nor did it impact your current knowledge of the world. // ...people often think that it will surely be the next batch of news that will really make a difference to their understanding of things." - Taleb, p. 61
But should the argument rest on wasting time only, then watching TV and reading newspapers would still be justified as entertainment. But the damage which exposure to the media noise does to your brain is so significant, that it is best to put wax in your ears and avoid any contact with news whatsoever. It is not just the time you spend consuming the news, it is also the time that noise stays in your head and dominates your thoughts.
"Finally, I reckon that I am not immune to such an emotional defect. But I deal with it by having no access to information, except in rare circumstances. Again, I prefer to read poetry. If an event is important enough, it will find its way to my ears." (Taleb, p.67)
So the void of information should then be replaced by reading poetry, novels, good books, watching paintings or photographs, pondering design or technical innovation or just by admiring the beauty of the nature. Just how much of that do we miss because we are too occupied by nonsense. The general awareness (in a buddhist sense) should rise as a very good side effect.
The second positive side effect is something that was taken for granted in renaissance, but it is now very rare; being interested in a lot of things. It was scientifically proven, that people who are knowledgeable in more than one in more than one field, produce more and better ideas... (Burt, 2003)
By not thinking about noise, your brain has now more time and space to think about things that actually matter. It is very well known, that most ideas don't come when you work in a lab or studio - people get ideas while driving a car or during a shower. An that is when most people think about noise instead of something that actually holds a value. Every creative man or woman you can name didn't achieve his or hers achievements by reading and worrying about what was on the TV or in the news. All of them were deeply involved with their projects instead.
When I talk about these things, many people think I want them to ponder difficult questions of nuclear physics or Shakespeare when they are having leisure time. That would be nice, of course, but it is not necessary. It is enough to think about how beautiful is the tree over the street or to think how deep could the sea is by the place of your last vacation... anything, but the noise.
Main references: Taleb, Nicholas Nassim: Fooled by Randomness, The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and Markets, Penguin Books, 2004
Burt, Ronald S: Social Origin of Good Ideas, University of Chicago, 2003 (PDF)