October 17, 2010

Creating Minds - by Howard Gardner

An anatomy of Creativity Seen through the lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Gandhi.

{His classic book is Frames of Mind]

While focusing on the moment of each creator's most significant breakthrough, Gardner discovers patterns crucial to our understanding of the creative process. he notes, that it almost invariably taken ten years to make the initial creative breakthrough and another 10 years for subsequent breakthroughs.

Approaches to Creativity
The key idea in the psychologist's conception of creativity has been divergent thinking. By standard measures intelligent people are thought of as converges.

After considerable debate and experimentation in the decades following Gulford's challenge, psychologist reached three conclusions.
1, Creativity is not same as intelligence. When these two traits are correlated, an individual may be far more creative than he or she is intelligent.

2. Creativity tests are reliable. That is, if an individual takes the same creativity test more than once, the person likely to get same score.

3.Despite a few suggestive findings, it has not been possible to demonstrate that creativity tests are valid.

Approaches in terms of personality and motivation:
In a representative study conducted by the Berkley Institute of Personality Assessment, 'creative architects' as distinguished from their less creative peers, exhibited a greater incidence of such personality traits as independence, self-confidence, unconventionality , alertness, ready access to unconscious process, ambition and commitment to work.

Psychoanalytic Perspective:
Having demonstrated the importance of sexuality in motivating human behaviour in general, Freud called attention to the sexual factors that under-grid a creative life. In Freud's view, creative individuals are inclined to sublimate much of their libidinal energy into 'secondary' pursuits, such as writing, drawing, composing or investigating scientific puzzles. Freud was impressed by the parallels between the child at play, the adult daydreamer, and the creative artist.

Behaviorist Perspective:
In Freud's account, artists seek power and money ad unable to secure these directly, find a haven in creative activities or they attain indirectly from their creative work some of the libidinal and Oedipal pleasures they crave.

Following analyze framework is followed in the 7 people's case study.

1. A concern with the universals of childhood as well as the particularities of specific childhoods
2. An examination of initial interest and its conversion into sustained mastery of a domain
3. The discovery or creation of novel or discrepant elements at some point after mastery has been obtained.
4. The ways in which the creator deals with the initial novelty and embarks on a program,m of exploration
5. The supportive or inhibitory roles played by other individuals during the period of isolation
6. The ways in which a new symbol system, language, or model of expression is gradually worked out
7. The initial reactions of the relevant critics and the ways in which these reaction are transformed over a significant period of time
8. The events surrounding a second, more comprehensive innovation that often occurs during middle life.

Definition of Creative individual: Is a person who regularly solves problem, fashions products, or defines new questions in a domain in a way that is initially considered novel but that ultimately becomes accepted in a particular cultural setting.

Freud - Alone with the World:
Freud was a very talented child and among the 7 people, he was probably the one with the greatest strength. He was moved by a sort of greed for knowledge and he read extremely widely. Freud's preoccupation with riddles and puzzles is notable.

Interpretation of Dreams - Certainly the most written about, and perhaps the most important finding was the centrality of the Oedipal complex. On his analysis, the young boy felt strong attraction, love and lust for the mother, contrasting with jealousy, fear and even hatred of the father. Also evolving at this time was Freud's theory of infantile sexuality. The dream analysis and his self-analysis and convinced him that from infancy youngsters are subjected to strong sexual striving.

Freud case perfectly follows 10 year rule. his work on dreams control almost exactly a decade after his initial apprenticeship. He had the faith that ultimately his discoveries would be seen as having a neurological and chemical basis. Most hard-nosed scientists do not take Freud seriously as a member of their fraternity. This situation would have disappointed Freud, but probably not surprised him, and he would have contended that in the long run, the scientific basis of his principal discoveries would be confirmed.

His cast study is a stunning demonstration that one may attain the heights of creativity through the use of a particular intelligence: through the intra-personal examination of one's own thoughts and feelings, and in his case, persistence even when no one else displays sympathy for or understanding of what one is doing.

Einstein - The Perennial Child
While not avowedly antisocial, Einstein seems from an early age to have marched to his own drummer. He is supposed to have walked through the streets of Munich by himself as early as age of three; he often played alone even when other children were around. Einstein once recalled, " I lived in solitude in the country and noticed how the monotony of quiet life stimulates the creative mind".

As Morris Raphael Cohen mentioned about Einstein, " Like so many of the very young men who have revolutionized physics in our day, he has not been embarrassed by too much learning about the past or by what the Germans call the literature of the subject.

Einstein's interest centered around the world of objects and the physical forces around them. Einstein seems to have had a special gift not always available to scientists - the gift of envisioning problems and situations of relevance and of carrying out those vivid and revealing mental puzzlement.

Simplified view of his relativity theorem is given by himself - " It was formerly believed that if all material things disappeared out of the universe, time and space would be left. According to the relativity theory, however time and space would disappear together with the things."

Hermann Minkowski's comment on the theory, is quite interesting and eye-opener; "From now on, space by itself and time by itself much sink into the shadows, while t=only union of the two preserves independence".

Comparison between Freud and Einstein:
Both men were preeminently scholars, thinkers and academics - individuals devoted their lives to the construction of knowledge. What we see at work in Einstein's formulation of relativity theory and in Freud's explorations of the unconscious is better thought of as system building. Though both were quite isolated during the years of their greatest breakthrough, they benefited from the cognitive and affective support of either a single individual as with Freud, or a small group of friends as with Einstein. Both transcended initial disappointments and preserved perhaps even gaining some pleasure from the controversies involving them. And they both sacrificed much in order to focus exclusively on their work.

Freud made the events of early childhood the principal propellant of the emotions and personality of later life. Einstein esteemed the mind of the young child, granting it powerful intuitions about physics and he encouraged his peer to investigate children's thinking in the physical realm. As Einstein often pointed out, the problems he pondered were those that children spontaneously raise, but that most adults have long since stopped thinking about it.

Picasso - Prodigious and Beyond.
He was a Prodigy (a gift that borders on the miraculous - like Mozart, Bobby Fisher, Carl Gauss, Wang Yani etc). His long time friend observed his childhood "Picasso wrote painting as other children wrote their a b c.. drawing was always his way of talking." It has been said that Picasso never mastermind certain scholastic skills and had trouble with abstract thinking. Another fact of Picasso's childhood may have contributed the most important contributor to his ultimate artistic accomplishment (earthquake at 3, death of his younger sister). He remembered with stunning vividness the appearance of events and persons from his first years.

Les demoiselles d"Avignon which many see as the most important painting of the century and of the critical turning points in the history of any art form (IMO, it was the beginning of modern art painting).

On his personal life, women were always with him. Mary Gedo calls Picasso a ' tragedy addict' maintaining that he was attracted to women who were fragile and that he reminded in their lives until tragedy occurred. Picasso can hardly be considered innocent in this matter. "When I die, it will be a shipwreck and as when a huge ship sinks, many people all around will be sucked down with it" - Picasso mentioned once.

Picasso's gifts and energies meant that with few exceptions, he was able to do whatever he wanted whenever and wherever he wanted, throughout his life. His virtuosity was never seriously challenged, let alone vanquished and he seldom met his equal, of either sex , in any sphere that he valued.

Stravinsky - Poetics and politics of music.
Though interested in music, Stravinsky was not a musical prodigy. He was not a good student and usually performed at or below the average level for his class. Unlike Picasso, who appears to have had genuine learning problems, Stravinsky was simply not interested in formal schooling and preferred throughout his life to educate himself.

However he believed in disciplinary regime. As Stravinsky mentioned, "No matter what the subject may be, there is only one course for the beginner; he mush at first accept a discipline from without, but only as the means of obtaining freedom for, and strengthening himself in, his personal methods of expressions."

In both the initial vision and the early sketches, Stravinsky had in mind what the overall piece should sound like. " I had imagined the spectacular part of the performance as a series of rhythmic mass movements of the greatest simplicity which would have an instantaneous effect on the audience, with no superficial details or complications. The only solo was to be the sacrificial dance at the end of the piece."

No other significant piece of classic music performed in modern times has been greeted with so overtly hostile a reaction as Le sacre.

In my view, Le sacre and Les noces are the two most important compositions by Stravinsky, comparable to Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake by Joyce, Les demoiselles d'Avignon & Guernica by Picasso and the two theories of relativity by Einstein.

Stravinsky described his own composing activities: "For me as a creative musician, composition is a daily function that I feel compelled to discharge, I compose because I am made for that and cannot do otherwise.... I am far from saying that there is no such thing as inspirations. Work brings inspiration if inspiration is not desirable in the beginning (likewise Freud said, "when inspiration does not come to me, I go half way to meet it'). Stravinsky remarked on the opportunistic aspects of composing. "I stumble upon something unexpected. his unexpected element strikes me. I make a note of it. As the proper time, I put it to the profitable use." In the paradox-packed closing lines of 'the poetics of music, Stravinsky declared: " My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful, the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraints, diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one's self of the chains that shackle the spirit."

He once remarked."I am the first to recognize that daring is the motive force of the finest and greatest artist. I approve of daring,; I see no limits to it."

Eliot - The marginal master.

Eliot was a somewhat sickly child whom his mother shielded. He was surrounded by women, - not only mother and sisters but more distant relatives as well as a beloved Irish nurse. Recognized as extremely intelligent and talented from an early age, he was expected t adhere to very high academic and moral standards. Young Eliot had a very capacious linguistic memory.

His poem - the waste land (the most famous English poem of 20th century) was striking. the poem was difficult and forbidding, filled with lines that only the learned could understand and allusions that even the extensive footnotes did not fully elucidate. yet, rather than mystifying or turning off readers, the enigmatic and abstruse quality of the The Waste Land seems to have contributed to the poem's effectiveness and to have carried readers beyond the evident snob appeal entailed in reading a doc. of such apparent profundity. As one read and reread the poem, individual sections may not have pellucid, but Eliot's elegiac mood came across with ever clearer convictions and power.

In terms of personality traits, Eliot was clearly an insecure introvert, and he risked leading a life in isolation from other individuals. Eliot continued to admire talent of the highest rank. Eliot retained an endearing childlike quality throughout his life.

Comparing Picasso, Stravinsky & Eliot:
All of these three personalities came from a family that valued the particular art form in which they worked. Their most radical works benefits directly from the aid of individuals to whom they felt personally and professionally close.

Martha Graham - discovering the dance of America.

Martha Graham's breakthrough entailed a reaction to two major strands of dance.
1 - classical ballet was a form that dated back several hundred years. With its five basic positions of the feet, prescribed positions of the body, and articulated geometrical relationship among he dancers, ballet epitomized precision in an art form.
2. dance associated with non-EU, particularly the folks dances of Asia, Africa and native American populations.
Graham's father once discovered that she was not telling the truth. " Don't you know when you do something like this I always know? There is always some movement that tells me that you are deceiving me. You see, no matter what you say, you reveal yourself - you make fists, you think I don't notice, your back gets straight, maybe you shuffle your feet, your eye lids drop. Movements does not lie". This insightful parental response to a youthful peccadillo carried an important message for alter life.

During here teen days, she happened to see a Ruth St. Denis's famous characterization of Radha, the beloved of the Hindu God Krishna. "For that moment on, my fate was sealed. I could not wait to learn to dance as the goddess did", said Graham.

Ballet has a highly linear design, whereas Graham's dances emphasize dynamic irregular forms. Ballet highlights legs and arms used as separate revolving members and it is taught through series of fixed positions. Graham's idiom strives to keep the body in constant flux with movement flowing from the pelvis to the head.

" I get ideas going. Then I write it down, I copy out of any books that stimulate me at the time many quotations and I keep it. And I put it down the source. Then when it comes to the actual work, I keep complete record of the steps. I keep note of every dance I have. I don't have notations. I just put it down and know what the words means or what the movements mean and where you go and what you do and maybe an explanation here and there."

Graham spokes openly about here incorporation of the ideas and images of others. " I am a thief and I am not ashamed. I steal from the best where it happens to be. I glory in it.....I think I know the value of what I steal and I treasure it for all the time - not as a possession, bt as a heritage and legacy.

Graham's friend, Agnes says, " Martha felt that she must cut down from her life, all deep emotional involvements, all attachments, all comforts, even moments of leisure and beyond that, love involving family and children. She gave everything to her work, withheld nothing, kept nothing part."

Gandhi - A hold upon others.
India under British rule; In 1600 the British East India Trade company was formed and a decade later, the Crown gave the company unlimited authority to trade throughout Asia. Over the next two hundreds years, the company's power and influence gave stability. Indian agricultural products and textiles were exported while English manufactured goods were imported, duty free to the Indian sub-Continent. In the wake of the decline of the Mugul empire, the company brought a firm ruling hand, a measure of stability and some industrialization to India, even as it provided huge profits to its foreign Owens.

As a child, Gandhi was puny, inclined to solitude and reluctant to engage in sports. Not a particularly good student, he found school unappealing. He once remarked."I am an average man with less than an average ability. I admit that I am not sharp intellectually. But I don't mind. There is a limit to the development of the intellectual but none to that of the heart."

Gandhi married at the age of 13 and that lasted for 50 years. Gandhi resented many aspects of this forced alliance in what he later called "the cruel custom of child marriage." Gandhi ardently desired his young wife and yet felt guilty about his lustful thoughts and deeds. These feelings were fanned enormously when Gandhi who had been at the bed side of his dying father, retired to have sexual relations with his pregnant bride, only to learn shortly thereafter that his father had died. Gandhi never forgave himself for this act of filial disloyalty.

By electing to study in England, Gandhi had chosen to follow a forbidden course. When Gandhi vowed to maintain his Hindu practices and sought to defend his decision, the headman of his community responded decisively." This boy shall be treated as an out-caste from today. Whoever helps him or goes to see him of at the dock shall be punishable with fine of one rupee four annas."

After coming back from England, when an opportunity arose to travel to Durban (South Africa)to provide advice about a law-suite, Gandhi hesitated little before accepting it and once again abandoning his growing family. One can see at work here an important facet of Gandhi's personality: when opportunity knocked, no matter at what distance and cost to self and family, he seized it.

The moment of truth: A defining event occurred when, after a week in Durban, Gandhi decided to take a train to Pretoria. A white man entered the compartment in which he was seated and refused to spend the night in the same space as the dark-skinned Gandhi. The conductor ordered Gandhi to a third class compartment, but Gandhi refused to comply. Gandhi was removed from the train and forced to spend the night freezing in a railway station. Gandhi decided that the position of Indians as second-class citizen and was acceptable. He organized a meeting of all Indians in Pretoria to discuss a position that he considered to be untenable. That begins his working for the Indians in South Africa.

With his good professional life, he did not feel a sense of accomplishment. If anything he felt frustrated and in the deepest sense, unfulfilled.

He moved away from the professional life and found Tolstoy farm - an 1,100 acre development farm two miles from Johannesburg. There he lived with his family and works whom he considered extended part of his family. Only by leading an exemplary life, and by attempting to influence those around him to do the same, did Gandhi feel like he ad attained the necessary degree of spiritual purity and only when such purity had been achieved did he believe that he had the moral authority to make demands on others within the public arena.

Part of Gandhi's personality led him to an ascetic life, removed from the centers of power; yet he also felt strongly to political involvement and protest. In 1909 he wrote Indian Home rule as he put it." The true remedy lies in my humble opinion in England's discarding modern civilization which is en-souled by this spirit of selfishness and materialism which is purposeless, vain and a negation of the spirit of Christianity"

[not listing the known part of Gandhi's story here]

Personal side of Gandhi.
Ram Nanda has characterized Gandhi's method of reflection. "In every case he posed to himself a problem for which he sought a solution by framing a proposition in moral algebra. 'Never again' was his promise to himself after each escapade and he kept his promise". Gandhi himself commented: "such experiments are an integral part of my life; they are essential for my mental peace and self-realization".

Being part of Gandhi's circle had its costs. In effect, Gandhi made all the major decisions and rarely allowed competing viewpoint to alter his course of thought or action.

Gandhi had very poor relations with his children and particularly with his eldest son. Gandhi held very high expectations from his children and when they failed to meet those expectations, he turned against them. Gandhi struggled against his wife for years. When she became ill, he was matter-of-fact, almost cruel allowing his idiosyncratic medical theories to take precedence over what common sense and prudent medical practice indicated. He paid grudging respect to here and in his own way, may have loved her, but her lief with him was long suffering.

Gandhi seems to have had unusual difficulties in sustaining long-term intimate relationship with those who should have been close to him.

in 1949 the year following Gandhi's assassination, Nehru (Prime-minster of India) visited Einstein. Einstein took out a pad of paper and wrote down a number of dates on one side and number of events on the other side. Decade by decade, he showed a parallel evolution of the nuclear bomb, on the other side, and of Gandhi's satyagraha methods and accomplishments on the other. The quite amazing parallels served as a list of human options available in the nuclear age. Einstein was struck by the analogy." Gandhi had demonstrated that a powerful human following can be assembled not only through the cunning game of the usual political maneuvers and trickeries but through the cogent example of a morally superior conduct of life. In our time of utter moral decadence, he was the only true statesman to stand for a higher human relationship in the political sphere. Generations to come, it may be, will scarcely believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth."

Creativity across domains.
From these 7 case studies, a typical 'Exemplary Creator (EC) will have following path of life.

EC comes form a locale somewhat removed from the actual centers of power. Family is neither wealthy nor in dire financial straits and the life of young EC is reasonably comfortable in material sense. Young creator often feels a bit estranged from here biological family and an intimacy build with a nanny or maid or more distant member of her family. Family is not highly educated, but value learning.

EC's areas of strength emerged at a relatively young age and here family encouraged these interests. As an adolescent adult, EC ventures toward the city that is seen as a center of vital activities for her domain. With surprising speed, EC discovers in the metropolis a set of peers who share the same interests; together they explore the terrain of the domain.

With greater or lesser speed, EC discovers a problem area or realm of special interest, one that promises to take the domain into uncharted waters. This is highly charged moment. At this point, EC becomes isolated from her peers and must work mostly on her own. She sense that she is on the verge of a breakthrough that is as yet little understood, even by her. Surprisingly at this crucial moment, EC craves both cognitive and effective support, so that she can retain her bearings.

In the happy period, EC succeeds in one major breakthrough and the field rather rapidly acknowledge the power of the breakthrough. She is now self-confident , able to deal with false stars , proud and stubborn and reluctant to admit mistakes. Given EC's enormous energy and commitment, she has an opportunity for a second breakthrough which occurs a decade after the first one.

Inevitably with aging, limits EC's creative powers and she sometimes exploits young persons as a means of rejuvenation.

ECs are indeed self-confident, alert, unconventional hardworking, and committed obsessively to their work. Social life or hobbies are almost immaterial, representing at most a fringe on the creators work-time.

/note: since the tables are not coming inline, I use () & [] for subsequent colomns

Person (Strength) [Weakness]
Freud (Linguistic, personal) [spatial, musical]
Einstein (logical-spatial) [personal]
Picasso (spatial,personal, bodily) [scholastic]
Stravinsky (musical, other artistic)
Eliot (linguistic, scholastic) [musical, bodily]
Graham (bodily, linguistic) [logical-mathematical]
Gandhi (personal, linguistic) [artistic]

[Freud has intra-personal ability and Gandhi has inter-personal ability]

Indeed, of the seven creators, only Picasso comes close to the classic view of the prodigy - an individual performing at a master level skills still a child.

Picasso represents the opposite extreme; he seems to have obtained sadistic pleasure, if not creative inspiration from inducing discomfort in others.

Disregarding others (Difficult toward others) [ Frankly sadistic]
Einstein, (Eliot Gandhi,Stravinsky) [Picasso]
(Graham, Freud)

Ordinary self-promotion Extremely self-promotion
Einstein Picasso Eliot/Graham Stravinsky Gandhi Freud

A notable characteristic of creativity, I have argued, is its special amalgam of the childlike and the adult-like. This amalgam can occur both in the sphere of personality and in the sphere of ideas.

These creative individuals were involved in at least five district kinds of activities.

1. Solving a particular problem
2. Putting forth a general conceptual scheme
3. Creating a product
4. A stylized kind of performance
5. A performance for high stakes

The triangle of Creativity:
Person or talent
Domain in which person is working
Field of knowledgeable experts who evaluate works in a domain

1 comment:

Nick Petrie said...

Hi VN Thomas, thanks for doing this. I am now studying at a school with Gardner and I really appreciated you taking a time to intro me to these ideas. THis is really helpful. Thanks