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Picasso's "Three Musicians"

The long-standing fear that robots will eventually surpass the intelligence capabilities of humans has been solidified. We saw our brain power beaten by IBM supercomputer Watson in 2011, and more recently Artificial intelligence “AlphaZero” took just a few hours to understand years of human knowledge and beat a pro-chess player at its game in 2017. The time of human superiority as far as intelligence goes is over.

What humans do have that robots and other species lack is creativity. This is not a uniquely human capacity, but it is a profoundly human quality. Unlike birds, who form their nests through the creative use of twigs, we take creativity to the next level – extreme problem solving and innovation, musical and artistic masterpieces, and emotional versatility are just a few things at the brink of our creative capabilities.

One misconception about creativity is its unique attribution to artists, or “creatives” as they have been coined – those who can produce great works of art or music. When we think of creative people we typically think of Picasso or Beethoven, not Alexander Fleming (the inventor of penicillin) or Robert Millikan (who measured the elementary electronic charge).

Why is it that scientists are excluded from the general opinion of creatives? If we take creativity to just be unique problem-solving abilities, then they are just as qualified for the title as any artist.

It is perhaps because creativity is associated with an “aha” moment – you know, when you’ve been pondering a problem for a while, and without any sort of deliberate systematic thinking the solution just comes to you. It is faster and more fluid than the trial and error process that is typically associated with science, thus taking those associated outside of the thought to be creatives.

Scientists are just as profoundly creative as artists – something that Penn State highlighted recently at Art’s Fest with the “Art of Discovery” booth. It is important to include all careers in mind when thinking about creativity, because it is not the path that a particular person decides to take that qualifies them as exceptionally creative, but rather their problem-solving abilities that they discover while preforming their respective tasks.

So, if being creative sets humans aside from the birds, bees, and robots, what distinguishes the very creative from the average man? According to TIME Magazine’s “The Science of Creativity” edition, one theory is that it is a combination of neuroticism, intelligence, openness to experience, and external challenges.

time magazine

You read that correctly: Neurotics are more likely to be more creative. I mean, it makes sense. If you are constantly worried about problems, of course one would have more fine-tuned problem-solving capabilities and a variety of creative solutions. Yes, many of the solutions may be designed to resolve delusions, but nonetheless it increases the creative aptitude. 

Neuroticism isn’t the only mental illness with a high volume of creatives. Those with bipolar disorder are more creative than those without. They also have a higher risk of suicide. The link between “madness and creativity” was also explored in TIME’s article.

The thought is that mania is a great contributor to creative success because of the “flight of ideas” that it brings upon those diagnosed. As John Campbell put it in TIME, they are “urged on by the pressure of ideas as well as well as an excess of physical energy.” 

While it does seem like mental illness is a contributing factor to creativity, as was mentioned before, it is not the only aspect. A high IQ is helpful to problem solving, and the more openness one is to challenges and the more of them one faces will naturally increase imaginativeness.

If you are worried that you will be doomed as uncreative forever, it is certainly not the case – once again, as humans, we are innately creative (believe it or not). Opening yourself to new experiences and ideas, problem solving, and attempting new skills will always increase individual creativity – be that you are in STEM, business, liberal arts or arts. 

Robots may have surpassed us mere humans as far as intelligence goes, but creativity is something that they have not —and will not—beat us on just yet.

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