Monday 15 July 2019

Interdisciplinary Creativity in Marseille

Last week I was lucky enough to go to this year's Social Ontology conference in Marseille. I've been going to southern France for a few years now to sit with economists and management theorists (no cyberneticians apart from me!) and talk about everything. Academic "authority" was provided by Tony Lawson (whose Cambridge social ontology group was the model for the meeting) and Hugh Willmott, whose interdisciplinarity helped established Critical Management Studies. Three years ago, I hosted the event in Liverpool, and more and more it feels like a meeting of friends - a bit like the Alternative Natural Philosophy Association ( which I'm hosting in Liverpool in August, but with management studies instead of physics.

This year, Tony didn't come, but instead we had David Knights from Lancaster University. It's always been an intimate event - and usually better for that, where the discussion has been of a very high level. Gradually we have eschewed papers, and focused entirely on dialogue for two days on a topic. This year's topic was Creativity.

If I'd read David Bohm before I'd started coming to these conferences, I would have known exactly what this was and why it was so good. Now I know Bohm, and I know he would have absolutely understood what we were doing. And with a topic like creativity, understanding what we were doing, where we were going, or where we would end up, was often unclear. Dialogue is a bit scary - it's like finding your way through the fog. Sometimes people get frustrated, and it is intense. But it is important to have faith that what we manage to achieve collectively is greater than what could be achieved by any individual.

So what conclusions did we reach? Well, I think I can sum up my own conclusions:
  • Creativity is not confined to human beings. It is a principle of nature. It may be the case that creative artists tune-in to natural processes, since this would explain how it is that their labours can result in something eternal. 
  • Creativity is connected to coherence. It is an expression of fundamental underlying patterns. In an uncertain environment, the necessity for the creative act is a necessity to maintain coherence of perception.
  • Creativity can be destructive. However (my view) I think that "creative destruction" needs unpicking. Creativity may always create something new which is additional to what was there before. This creates an increase in complexity and a selection problem. The "destruction" is done in response to this increase in complexity - often by institutions ("from now on, we are going to do it like this!")
  • The difference between creativity with regard to technical problems and creativity in human problems was discussed. Technical creativity is also driven by the drive for individual coherence - particularly in addressing ways of managing complexity - but it loses sight of the institutional destructive processes that may follow in its wake. 
  • The conversion of everything to money is, I think, such a "technical" innovation. On the one hand, money codifies expectations and facilitates the management of complexity. However, it prepares the way for the destruction of richness in the environment. 
  • The idea of "origin-ality" was explored. "Original" need not be new, but rather, connected to deeper "origins" in some way. This relates directly to the idea of creativity as a search for coherence.
  • Time is an important factor in creativity - it too may feature as a fundamental dimension in the coherence of the universe to which artists respond (particularly musicians, dancers, actors). Time raises issues about the nature of anticipation in aesthetic experience, and the perception of "new-ness"
  • A genealogy of creativity may be necessary - a process of exploring through dialogue how our notions of creativity have come to be. 
  • The genealogical issue is important when considering the role of human creativity in failures of collective decision-making and the manifest destruction of our environment. I'm inclined to see the issue of genealogy as a kind of laying-out of the levels of recursion in the topics and discourses of creativity, and this laying out may be necessary to provide sufficient flexibility for humankind to address its deepest problems.
  • Psychoanalytic approaches to creativity are useful, as are metaphors of psychodynamics. Michael Tippett's discussion of his own creative process had a powerful effect on everyone. However, the value of psychodynamics may lie in the fact that similar mechanisms are at work at different levels of nature (for example, cellular communication).
Michael Tippett from Directors Cut Films on Vimeo.

I took my Roli Seaboard with me, which inspired people to make weird noises. Music is so powerful to illustrate this stuff, and I invited people to contribute to a sound collage of the conference... which you can hear here. Actually, it's the first time I've heard a reflexology technique being used on the Seaboard!

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