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ETHOLOGY of CREATIVITY. Neil Greenberg University of Tennessee. WISDOM!. DETERMINISM, FREEDOM, CONTROL . . . What are the causes of behavior . . .? . . . grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can,

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ethology of creativity

Neil Greenberg

University of Tennessee


DETERMINISM, FREEDOM, CONTROL . . . What are the causes of behavior . . .?

. . . grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference. (from Reinhold Neibuhr’s adaptation of a 14th c English prayer)

domains of ethology
Domains of Ethology
  • Morphology
  • Development
  • Ecology
  • Evolution
  • Physiology

DEEP ethology

development individual organisms cope with the challenge of change
DEVELOPMENT: Individual organisms cope with the challenge of change
  • individuals cope with change during:
  • ontogeny -- the genetically programmed developmental changes in the organism
  • life-experiences -- the enduring behavioral changes attributable to neuroplasticity
  • solutions for dealing with change can be transmitted to future generations by culture
  • Innovation that affects the environment can trigger a positive feedback loop that evokes even more change
ecology the context of development the editor of variation
ECOLOGY: the context of development, the editor of variation . . .
  • During development, ontogeny, there are often protected phases (as in the egg or uterus) and exposed phases (out in the ever-changing world)
  • During life-history, organisms experience the context in which needs must be met. Successful traits are termed “adaptations,” they contribute to fitness
adaptation is
  • “The processes by which organisms or groups of organisms
  • maintain homeostasis in and among themselves in the face of both
  • short-term environmental fluctuations and long-term changes
  • in the composition and structure of their environments.”(Rappaport, 1971)
evolution the changes in a line of ancestors and descendents
EVOLUTION: The changes in a line of ancestors and descendents

During evolution, success is recognized when one line is more successful than another in meeting its needs, culminating with self-actualization . . .

being all it can be, particularly with respect to its own or related progeny.

change challenges species cope
CHANGE challenges. . . Species cope
  • Long-term coping strategies involve changes in the genome across generations
  • How do ontogenetic changes in behavior become fixed in the genome?
  • Behavioral changes can place species in new adaptive zones where different selection pressures act on them.
physiology the proximate cause of all behavior
PHYSIOLOGY: The “proximate” cause of all behavior
  • Organisms cope with change by changing themselves –maintaining homeostasis.
  • When physiological compensations fail, behavioral compensations may be evoked
  • Behavior always involves activation of neural pathways which are themselves profoundly influenced by the internal state of the organism (endocrinology)
creativity adaptations meet needs
CREATIVITY: adaptations meet needs . . .
  • Physiology (food, drink, exercise)
  • Safety (security, order, protection)
  • Belonging ( sociability, acceptance, love)
  • Esteem (status, prestige, acknowledgment)
  • Self-Actualization (personal fulfillment)
          • Maslow’s need hierarchy
change the personal scale
CHANGE the personal scale. . .
  • Berman equates change with “modernity”
  • “To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world -- and, at the same time, that threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are.
change the personal scale1
CHANGE the personal scale. . .
  • Modern environments and experiences cut across all boundaries of geography and ethnicity, of class and nationality, of religion and ideology: in this sense, modernity can be said to unite all mankind.
  • But it is a paradoxical unity . . . it pours us all into a maelstrom of perpetual disintegration and renewal, of struggle and contradiction, of ambiguity and anguish. To be modern is to be part of a universe in which, as Marx said, "all that is solid melts into air.” (Berman 1982)
  • A formula for STRESS
creativity defined
Until the Renaissance, the prevailing view of creativity followed the Socratic tradition of creativity as theophany – “manifestations of a transcendent deity who inspired the work and whose glory was expressed within it”

Socrates’ denied the utility of imagination . . . “Poetry, like all art, is not always rational and may even approach the point of insanity. BUT even for Socrates, the arts are not without insight or value, and it is for this reason that the artist’s madness must be laid at the feet of the gods.”

Creativity defined . . .
traditional definitions of creativity
“create” is a verb from Latin creatus and crescere --to grow, also, to originate or invent, from at least the 14th century. In its transitive senses it means first “to cause to come into being, as something unique that would not naturally evolve or that is not made by ordinary processes” --

Transcendence: to go beyond

. . .to bring into existence as in, “God created the heaven and the earth.” . . . Or the cause or occasion of a natural phenomenon,

A later definition deals with the sense most familiar to scholars: “to produce through imaginative skill,” or “to cause to happen; bring about; arrange, as by intention or design

Traditional Definitions of Creativity
  • is a potent biological adaptation in that it catalyzes or facilitates a regulatory or advantageous change in response to a real or perceived challenge or stress.
  • Creativity consequently results in higher fitness in terms of one’s direct or indirect contribution to future generations.
  • involves the expression of unprecedented or novel perception, thoughts, or actions . . .
  • by which an organism or group of organisms copes . . .
  • with present or potential changes in the composition and structure of the environment.
  • reflects a spontaneous or elicited increase in the intensity of cognitive processing . . .
  • that enables the relating and integrating of variables . . .
  • not ordinarily associated with each other.

The qualities that contribute to creative behavior are evoked and facilitated by processes of

input, integration, and output

that are managed by

cognition, affect, and motivation

that are energized by STRESS . . .

  • Solves problems
  • Copes
  • Integrates 1o and 2o processes of cognition
creativity integration of levels of consciousness
CREATIVITY: integration of levels of consciousness?

Primary and Secondary Process Cognition

“ . . . primary process cognition of dreaming, reverie, psychosis and secondary process cognition involving the abstract, logical, reality-oriented thought of waking consciousness” (Fromm 1978)

creative individuals can more easily shift gears from primary process, unfocused attention (associated with low levels of cortical arousal), to more focused secondary process(higher levels of cortical arousal) for the expression or implementation of creative insights (Kris 1952).

  • Joan:. . . you must not talk to me about my voices.
  • Robert:How do you mean? Voices?
  • Joan:I hear voices telling me what to do. They come from God.
  • Robert:They come from your imagination.
  • Joan:Of course. That is how the messages of God come to us.

Thomas Alva Edison

Genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration.

theories of creative behavior

Phenomenological theories involve “unconscious” processes that occur in discrete stages such as preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification (Poincaré; Arthur Koestler's "bisociation")

Behaviorist theories of creativity identify more mechanistic stages such as generalizing of old responses to familiar aspects of new situations and random responses to truly novel aspects of new situation (Watson)

discovery or invention
Are phenomena out there waiting to be discovered?

Or are they constructs of our imagination?

Or both?

"Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world. In our endeavour to understand reality we are somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. He sees the face and the moving hands, even hears its ticking, but he has no way of opening the case." (The Evolution of Physics, by Albert Einstein & Leopold Infeld)

creativity heals
  • The therapeutic benefits of activities that involve the experience of creativity provide powerful evidence for a biologically adaptive function that may be independent of any specific kinesthetic, visual, or musical art form.
creativity enlarges potential
CREATIVITY enlarges potential
  • CREATIVITY involves making connections, enlarging one’s potential.
  • ART is recognized when perceptions, thoughts, or actions are communicated passively (modeling) or intentionally (teaching) and foster creativity in others.
  • One’s creative experience may (or may not) be relevant to others
art and artifact
  • CREATIVITY resides within one . . . It is the knowledge and capacity to invent or discover and act upon new connections
  • The EXTRASOMATORY self . . . The corporealization of the psyche . . . the making of the implicit explicit . . . the parts of the brain communicating with each other through an external loop.
art and artifact1
  • ART is an ARTIFACTof the workings of the organism, a BY-PRODUCT of the CREATIVE PROCESS: it is recognized when perceptions, thoughts, or actions are communicated passively (modeling) or intentionally (teaching) and help or foster creativity in others.
  • As medieval physicians used by-products of the body to determine the underlying state of health . . .
art intentional
ART: intentional ?
  • In the views of many critics, to qualify as art, there must be evidence that a craftsman has intentionally gone “beyond what was strictly necessary for utility. . . “
  • But utilitarianism is implicit in the evolutionary treatment because if no advantage is realized from an act of art, it cannot be regarded as an adaptation subject to evolutionary forces.
  • Ethology teaches us that utility may be proximate or ultimate.
artist the eyes and ears of society
ARTIST: the eyes and ears of society?

SOCIETIES often manifest adaptive divisions of labor – specializations to most efficiently serve specific needs.

“ Artists are the antennae of the race. . .”(Ezra Pound, 1954)

art an extreme expression of creative communication
ART: an extreme expression of creative communication


"The best things cannot be told, the second best are misunderstood. After that comes civilized conversation; after that, mass indoctrination . . . .”(Jos Campbell, 1968)

creativity unmet needs are stressful eureka
CREATIVITY: unmet needs are stressful: EUREKA!
  • Rewards are commensurate with the intensity of the need satisfied, with the tension or dissonance resolved.

"...nothing holds me –

I will indulge my sacred fury...”

(Kepler announcing the discovery of his Third Law)

the spiritual dimension of truth and beauty
the spiritual dimension of truth and beauty

Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know


A thing of beauty is a joy forever: Its loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness.


"It was as though I had looked for a truth outside myself, and finding it, had become for a moment a part of the truth I sought...” (CP Snow)

And if truth is immortal . . .