The paradoxes of creativity

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Creativity is the crowning jewel of human cognition, the ability that most uniquely characterizes our species. At the heart of subjective accounts of creativity are three deeply paradoxical features. First, creative acts are widely considered acts of self-expression, yet by many accounts the creative experience is selfless and only partially volitional. Second, creative activity is often hypnotically engrossing, while psychological theories about creativity emphasize loose, defocussed thinking. Third, loose associations during creative acts might be profligate and degenerate, but creative products are often highly specific and optimal. Here we present two novel hypotheses which might explain the paradoxical nature of subjective accounts of creativity. First, we suggest that creativity requires a “quiet mind,” simultaneously focused and disinhibited. Second, we describe how this paradoxical activity in the cerebral cortex might support the Darwinian selection engine, a previously-proposed network-level mechanism for organizing and developing mental representations.


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