It is becoming increasingly obvious that the climate around us is not quite the way that we might remember it to be growing up. Although the cause(s) and extent of the current environmental changes are the subject of much debate, it would appear that our survival as a species on this planet requires that we modify our current lifeway to incorporate sustainability and cooperation. And while it is comforting to suppose that governments and corporations will come to our aid, the current chaos might very well provide the impetus for each of us to use our innate creativity to modify the manner in which we interact with the Earth and one another in order to survive.
In his book Creativity psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1996) includes a discussion entitled “The Making of Culture” in which he states that creativity has as much potential to destroy as it does to construct. This is a timely observation since humanity (particularly in the developed world) is at a point where it is imperative that we embrace principles of sustainability, cooperation, and community in order to survive. To do so we must guide our individual and collective creativity toward that end while being aware of the caveat that our creativity might produce the opposite of what is needed. And even though the destructive aspects of creativity applied on a large socio-economic-political-ecological scale may not be immediately apparent, at some point they will be revealed. In times of peril and necessity creativity emerges out of chaos. According to Rupert Sheldrake (1991) chaos is the hallmark of creativity. Sheldrake argues that human creativity “…depends on accidents, conflicts and needs, and is rooted in particular bodily, psychological, cultural and environmental processes” (p.185). Csikszentmihalyi concurred, stating that “The origins of culture can be easily explained by necessity. Technologies, science, even the arts were defensive adaptations our ancestors discovered to improve their chances of survival, or in order to increase their comfort” (1996, p. 341).
Sheldrake and Csikszentmihalyi both have incorporated chaos theory into their description of the manner in which creativity occurs. In their extremely accessible analysis of analysis and deconstruction of chaos theory, Briggs and Peat demonstrated that the creative forces of the universe are characteristically chaotic (1999). The framework of chaos is one that many people find uncomfortable because it is at odds with our traditionally held linear world view. Sheldrake (1991) argues that evolution is nonlinear as it is a process that responds to chaotic events. Mammals survived the cataclysm(s) that destroyed the dinosaurs because were able to adapt successfully to a changing global environment. Mutations and modifications occurred over extended periods of time in responses to environmental changes with each of these modifications manifesting an expression of primal creativity initiated in response to the need of keeping the species alive. Observed in this context, human creativity is a similar expression of primal creativity engaged in developing means by which the chances for survival of the species is enhanced. Therefore one could reasonably assert that if evolutionary creativity emerges to insure survival in response to necessity and is stimulated during times of stress and conflict, then our current global ecological situation is likely to ignite that creativity in order to meet the challenges before us.
This is a type of creativity that is not reserved for artists, scientists, and visionaries, but rather something that we all posses – that is an innate element of our humanity – that Ruth Richards referred to as “everyday creativity” (2009). For Richards, everyday creativity is “…for all of us. It is not only universal, but necessary to our very survival as individuals and as a species” (p. 109). Csikszentmihalyi (1996) also incorporated the concept of everyday creativity, and implied that evolutionary/everyday creativity is inherent in all humans. Like Richards, he combined elements of evolutionary/everyday creativity and chaos theory, calling on us to direct our creativity in a manner that involved “…developing mechanisms for monitoring new memes, so that we may reject those that are likely to be harmful in the long run and encourage alternatives that are more promising” (p. 326). In this manner Csikszentmihalyi invoked the so-called butterfly power that is a primary factor in chaos theory (Briggs & Peat, 1999). If we as sentient beings can individually make willed decisions to act and think in a manner that engages our evolutionary/everyday creativity to re-frame our Dasein and interaction with the Earth and one another, allow that creativity express itself in our daily lives through attitudes, actions and awareness, then we may in fact improve the chances of our continued survival on this planet. Briggs & Peat describe these subtle individual modifications as expression of the butterfly powerful which they define as a “subtle power” (p.367) rather than a series of sweeping systemic mutations.
Seana Moran (2010) wrote that “the role of creativity in society depends in part on the society in which a potential for creativity exists” (p.77). In this she echoes Richards, Sheldrake and Csikszentmihalyi, all of whom called upon individuals in our society to encourage their own evolutionary/everyday creativity in order to create a society aware and able to meet the challenges of a changing environment. If human creativity is motivated by necessity in order to survive, then each of us possesses the butterfly power to transform our current lifeway on the planet to one of sustainability and cooperation.
The late Catholic theologian Thomas Berry (2010) called upon us to rekindle what he called our “sense of wonder” (2009, p. 150). He defined wonder as “that which arouses awe, astonishment, surprise, or admiration: a marvel, a feeling of glory” (p. 150). If each of us employs the butterfly power as creators in our own right and therefore both the products and custodians of the primal creative force, then Csikszentmihalyi was on target in challenging us to nurture and use that creativity to innovate new ideas, structures, and processes in answer to our current challenges. The simple act of recognizing our own innate creativity as an expression of the creative force of the universe, and allowing it to guide us in new directions in our daily lives has the potential to create a paradigm shift in our interaction with the planet and one another that just might increase our chances of survival as a species.
Berry, T. (2009). The sacred universe: Earth, spirituality, and religion in the twenty-first century. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
Briggs, J. & Peat, F. (1999). Seven life lessons of chaos: Spiritual wisdom from the science of change. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity: The psychology and discovery of invention. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.
Moran, S. (2010). The roles of creativity in society. In Kaufman, J. & Sternberg, R. (Eds.) The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity pp. 74-92. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Richards, R. (2009). Everyday creativity: Our hidden potential. In Richards, R, (Ed.). Everyday Creativity and New Views of Human Nature. pp. 25 – 54. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Sheldrake, R. (1991). The rebirth of nature: The greening of science and God. New York, NY: Bantam Books.