Intuition and Creativity

This post is derived from a review article: “The Role of Intuition in the Generation and Evaluation Stages of Creativity,” authored by Judit Pétervári, Magda Osman and Joydeep Bhattacharya that appeared in Frontiers of Psychology, September 2016 doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01420. It struck me that in all this blog’s posts, creativity had almost never come up. Then I threw it together with Edward O Wilson’s 2017 book:  The Origins of Creativity, Liveright Publishing, New York. (See posts Evolution for Everyone and Cultural Evolution for more from Edward O. Wilson. He is the ant guy. He is interesting, understandable, and forthright.)

Creativity is  notoriously difficult to capture by a single definition. Petervari et al suggest that creativity is a process that is broadly similar to problem solving, in which, for both, information is coordinated toward reaching a specific goal, and the information is organized in a novel, unexpected way.  Problems which require creative solutions are ill-defined, primarily because there are multiple hypothetical solutions that would satisfy the goals. Wilson sees creativity beyond typical problem solving.

Petervari et al propose that there are good conceptual grounds and evidence for proposing a link between intution and creativity. Intuition is rapid and spontaneous, does not require extensive effort, cannot be voluntarily controlled, and does not necessarily follow logical rules. Further, the outcomes generated from the intuitive process are generally holistic, cannot be verbalized with sufficient details, and are made with  high confidence. When a problem is complex, multidimensional and no  clearly defined rules are available for solving it, a creative solution is often based on the problem solver’s judgment of what is an appropriate solution in the absence of any clear, reasoned path.

The authors propose that both idea generation and evaluation are critical for shaping the creative product of the creative process  and that the creative process is a dynamic one which can involve several iterations of generation and evaluation of ideas that a problem solver goes through before reaching an end state. Intuitive judgment is an important feature in the creative process since people often lack insight into how they generated a novel solution, and experience surprise. Petervari et al suggest that “with creativity a combinatorial explosion of possible choices occurs.”

Akin to constructive intuition (See post Intuition’s Four Parts), mental representations are constructed based on both current information and traces activated from long-term memory.
Figure 1 presents a schematic of a conceptual framework created by Petervari et al.

Path 1
During this first pathway, intuition maybe employed to recognize new elements or variation of elements by recognizing their value based on gut feeling. However, rational analysis may yield the same results through a less elegant, more time-consuming procedure. It is thus Path 2 in which intuition is more obviously featured in both idea generation and evaluation.

Path 2
In contrast, big leaps in knowledge occur if problem solvers create a novel paradigm to solve a problem and this can serve as the basis for solving future, related problems. The motivation for
doing so is that the existing framework proved to be unproductive for reaching a specific goal, such as there maybe empirical evidence at hand which does not fit the theoretical assumptions,
or a problem must be solved which cannot be asked/answered under the existing frame. It is also possible that a creator is not knowledgeable of existing procedures thus establishes their
own. The same applies to relying on chance and selecting ideas completely randomly. Rather what happens is that a creator gains a starting hypothesis relying on a gut feeling. He/she combines separate chunks of gradually acquired information about what could be working and boils them down to form a new coherent construct via associations. In this path, intuition cannot be replaced with analysis and it sometimes even precedes analysis. It is tightly linked to establishing new paradigms, not only in the idea generation phase but in the evaluation phase too.

In the Origins of Creativity Wilson sees creativity enabled by language as what makes us human. He sees creativity as the quest for originality and that we judge it by the emotional response it elicits. Wilson broadens the concept beyond problem solving and science to imagination and the humanities. Being creative involves our connections with other humans and our enjoyment of those connections. Creativity is a product of genetic and cultural evolution and Wilson sees it with great opportunity to bridge the sciences and the humanities in new ways. We are audio visually dominant and thus art including theatre and cinema,  literature, and music give us most of our archetypes. Wilson believes that as science progresses we will be able to translate an insect’s brain, understand its sensory perceptions and to some extent empathize with it. We will be more able to measure the world to better understand ourselves. We will better understand that our senses gather a tiny percentage of the information available. He believes that we will better understand what gradually happened in front of the evening fire over fifty thousand years or so. He sees metaphor as one key to creativity. The post Metaphor that mostly discusses the work of Keith Holyoak helps explain metaphor, but Wilson adds to this by suggesting that metaphors have meaning based on the impact on idiosyncratic human senses and emotion so that they are part instinctual, part learned, part genetic, and part cultural. Wilson believes that paleontology, anthropology, psychology, evolutionary biology, and neurobiology can help connect science and the humanities in a way that could help enlighten us.