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“I would say that the simple reason why the majority of scientists are not creative is not because they don't know how to think, but because they don't know how to stop thinking. There is clearly an intelligence at work that is far greater than the mind.” Eckhart Tolle
Editor's note: The following constitutes a summary of the research by Harman and Rheingold.
coming from beyond consciousness
Certain people seem to have extraordinary experiences which literally make history and change the world – with insights so far-reaching and profound that they revolutionize science, the arts, and society itself. G.N.M. Tyrrell, an early British investigator of inspiration, expressed it well in The Personality Of Man:
It is a highly significant, though generally neglected, fact that those creations of the human mind which have borne preeminently the stamp of originality and greatness, have not come from within the region of [local human] consciousness. They have come from beyond consciousness, knocking at its door for admittance: they have flowed into it, sometimes slowly as if by seepage, but often with a burst of overwhelming power.
This “breakthrough experience” has long been honored, if not explicitly, by a wide variety of terms, such as creativity, inspiration, poetic imagination, intuition, mediumship, and revelation; also “channeling,” implying that the image or information is coming via some unspecified source outside, what we consider to be, the normal bounds of consciousness and awareness.
the spectrum of creativity: from the mundane to the miraculous
"The action of the child inventing a new game for his playmates; Einstein formulating a theory of relativity; the housewife devising a new sauce for the meat; a young author writing his first novel - all of these are, in terms of our definition, creative, and there is no attempt to set them in some order of more or less creative." Carl Rogers, On Becoming A Person
a small element on a vast continuum
One of the great discoveries of physics was that the ordered array of different colors in a rainbow, light refracted through a prism, constitutes but a narrow portion of a vast, continuous electromagnetic spectrum.
A similar momentous discovery has been emerging over the last century with regard to the human mind. Through the ages there had been instances of “genius” or “inspiration,” superior capabilities of the mind, manifesting. Gradually, through the scholarship of men such as Sigmund Freud, F.W.H. Myers, and Carl Jung, it became apparent that these recognized instances of creativity are, in a sense, the “visible spectrum” of a far vaster range of manifestations of the creative subconscious mind.
nature or nurture
Were the breakthrough experiences of Descartes or Mozart the result of some inborn capacity – or did they somehow learn to break through? Are there innate capacities we all possess but lack only the knowledge and training to make use of them?
In the following case histories of scientists, we find that not only many scientific discoveries but the very foundation of science itself were built on “breakthrough” experiences. It is indeed ironic that science, the institution that has most strongly branded these mystical experiences as daydreams, delusions, and hallucinations, appears to have been born in just such a state – in a fever dream, in a flash insight, to one who could not solve a problem with the conscious portion of the brain.
the etymological detective
A history of language offers clues to certain kinds of preserved meaning, an encoding mechanism, in the face of changing cultural values.
“Intuition” can be interpreted as “knowing from within.” “Inspire” literally means “inner breath.” A group of related words, including “knowledge,” “gnosis,” and “ignore,” hint at an active but subtle contrast between knowing something and ignoring it. “Insight” seems to acknowledge the linkage between attention and understanding. By cultivating insight, by looking at what is in our own minds, we gain insights, in the sense of new and useful understanding.
The word “genius” contains an allusion to an older word “genie.” A genie is a magic spirit, sometimes benevolent, now considered to be mythical, able to grant miraculous favors. This notion lives today in the sense that people believe that certain talented individuals possess the aid of some extraordinary benefactor, a resident genie.
Perhaps what we call “genius” is a learned state of consciousness. Perhaps many more of us could hear inner melodies, find guidance and inspiration, achieve breakthrough insight, if we would pay more attention to the fleeting images and quiet intuitions presented to us by the creative mind.
the difference between mere talent and genius
Creativity researcher John Curtis Gowan, in “The Journal Of Creative Behavior,” draws our attention to the fact that:
"When Michelangelo did the Sistine Chapel, he painted both the major and minor prophets. They can be told apart because, though there are cherubim at the ears of all, only the major prophets are listening. Here, exactly stated, is the difference between genius and talent."
Editor’s note: Is this not a remarkable and profound distinction between talent and genius?
listening to what
If the people who experience the "breakthrough state" are all listening, what are they listening to? Can we all learn how to tune in and listen?
tip of the iceberg
As various persons in diverse walks of life have undergone their own breakthrough experiences, they have all wrestled to describe these insights. “Inner listening” is the term they seem to use most often – a capacity to hear the “speech” of the “other self.”
Other metaphors express a sense of tapping into a “flowing” source of creative imagination, an “underground river,” or “wellspring of inspiration.” Others have spoken of “opening the mind’s gate,” or a “lightning flash” of intuition.
Few theories in the psychological sciences are now so well established as the discovery that only a small part of our total mental activity takes place in the conscious part of the mind, while a vast portion takes place somewhere in our unconscious. This portion involves continual processing, night and day, of images, ideas, and sensations.
There seems to be something almost “unconscious” about the way nearly everybody ignores the existence of their unconscious. The very word “unconscious” connotes a region where we have buried all manner of rejected and denied memories and urges. Our culture has not encouraged us to think about the creative side of the unconscious, and this bias is mirrored in a similar bias in scientific thought.
Freud versus Myers: the unconscious as rubbish heap or gold mine
One of the earliest conflicts in the history of research into human consciousness was between two concepts promoted by Sigmund Freud and Frederic Myers.
The Freudian concept was a product of psychopathology, emphasizing the negative role of the unconscious, the inhibiting, the repression, of the full flower of human potential.
Myers, on the other hand, emphasized the role of the unconscious as the source of intuition and creativity. As Myers put it, the unconscious might more profitably be regarded as “a gold mine as well as a rubbish heap.”
Myers’ 1903 book “Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death” laid out a daring map of a vast terrain, at that time little explored by science. He spoke of unconscious processes, sleep and dreams, hypnosis, creativity and inspiration, psychic phenomena, and evidences of the survival of the personality after physical death. William James, the father of psychology in the United States, was “disposed to think that Frederic Myers will always be remembered in psychology as the pioneer who staked out a vast tract of mental wilderness and planted a flag of genuine science upon it.” But history had it otherwise.
Carl Rogers, On Becoming A Person
Carl Rogers, in his respected work, "On Becoming A Person," offers the following set of internal and external conditions that must be present to ensure that creative inspirations will be constructive instead of destructive:
"To the extent that the individual is denying to awareness (repressing) large areas of his experience, then his creative formings may be pathological, or socially evil, or both. To the degree that an individual is open to all aspects of his experience, and has available to his awareness all the varied sensings and perceivings which are going on within his organism, then the novel products of his interaction with his environment will tend to be constructive for himself and others."
What are the conditions for constructive creativity? Rogers listed three “inner conditions” and two “outer conditions.” The inner conditions are:
1. Openness to Experience: Extensionality. This is the opposite of psychological defensiveness, of rigidity and rigid boundaries in concepts, beliefs, perceptions, and hypotheses. Openness to experience implies a tolerance for ambiguity where ambiguity exists, and the ability to receive much conflicting information without forcing closure in the form of “I agree,” “I disagree,” “I believe,” “I don’t believe,” “It can’t be true,” “Science says…,” “My religion teaches…”
2. An Internal Locus of Evaluation. The value of a creative person’s product is established not by the praise or criticism of others but by oneself. This does not mean that the person is oblivious to or unwilling to be aware of the judgments of others. But the final evaluation lies in the person’s own organismic reaction to and appraisal of the creation. It is right when it feels satisfying and authentic.
3. The Ability to Toy with Elements and Concepts. The ability to play spontaneously with ideas, colors, shapes, relationships – to juggle elements into impossible juxtapositions, to entertain what might seem to be wild hypotheses, to take the standard view as problematic, to express the ridiculous, to translate ideas and principles from one form to another, to transform opposites into improbable but logical equivalents. From this toying and exploration there inevitably arises the hunch, the vision of life in a new and creative way.
These are the internal conditions we must foster in order to encourage the breakthrough insights.
But we do not live in a void. If we find ourselves in a destructive [cultish] environment, a certain amount of this negativity will influence us and disrupt the creative process. Therefore, there are also two external conditions we must seek for:
1. Psychological Safety. This may be established by having an environment in which the person is accepted as one of unconditional worth; no external evaluation, no one is criticizing; and there is empathetic understanding from others.
2. Psychological Freedom. Creativity is fostered when the individual enjoys complete freedom of symbolic expression – the freedom to think, to feel, to be whatever is most true for oneself. This should not be confused with permissiveness, which is soft and indulgent. It is permission to be free, which is also permission to be responsible. It is permission to be afraid, to be wrong, to be confused.
“Satan got to you”
Editor’s note: There is no such being as Satan. But this does not mean that a mental construct of a fabled “Satan” will not continue to ravage and destroy the lives of true-believers – until they are set free by a clearer view of non-cultish reality.
The general population in the past, and even today, had a negative image of any talk of “insights” or the creative muse. This is “Satan deceiving you,” they proclaim, a metaphysical position encouraged by demagogic clergy as part of their power-and-control, their fear-and-guilt, mind games.
case studies: what the creative ones of history have said about their own breakthrough insights
We will be reviewing many of these testimonies.
When the personal statements concerning great creative breakthroughs are examined, we find that certain elements are present in every one of these accounts.
One of the earliest investigations was made by British writer, Graham Wallas, in his 1926 book, “The Art of Thought.” He proposed that the creative process consists of four components:
John Curtis Gowan discussed the Wallas paradigm:
"By 'incubation' he meant any technique of relaxation of the conscious cognition (left-hemisphere function) [but, instead, to permit or encourage] dreams, daydreams, fantasy, hypnosis, meditation, diversion, play, etc., which allow subliminal processes (right-hemisphere functions) to operate. He saw 'preparation' (academic discipline) as the necessary, and 'incubation' (relaxation) as the sufficient condition for creative insights to emerge."
Most people are accustomed to thinking of achievers like Brahms and Beethoven as “naturally inspired.” Yet these achievers themselves took pains to point out that certain inspirations seemed to come from some place other than what they normally thought of as “self.”
Young Mozart's companions learned that he was likely to halt their games at any moment, admonishing his playmates to be silent while he scribbled out the melodies that rushed into his mind.
And the great mathematician Ramanujan, a sensitive and beautiful spirit, kept a notepad next to his bed to write down the formulas that, he believed, were revealed to him by a goddess of his native Indian village. (See the movie of his life's work, “The Man Who Knew Infinity,” and the great emphasis Ramanujan, through the filter of his own belief-system, placed on sacred intuition as the source of his astounding mathematical achievements.)
Poets and writers have always been particularly aware of the elusiveness of inspiration and have often noted how the creative muse can come, unbidden, and virtually dictate entire lines, passages, or works.
Editor’s note: See the testimony of songwriter Paul Stookey (of “Peter, Paul, and Mary”) concerning the “channeled” transmission of the extraordinarily beautiful music and lyrics, “The Wedding Song.”
The writer, George Eliot, told J.W. Cross that, in all of what she considered to be her best writings, something that was not herself spoke through her; that, she felt her own personality to be merely “the instrument through which this spirit, as it were, was acting.”
"Music isn't written, it's given to them."
Hank Williams, Sr. (attributed)
And George Sand, in a letter to another writer, offered: “The Wind plays my old harp as it lists… It is the other who sings as he likes.” All of the ancient biblical prophets spoke in this vein: "The burden of the Lord was upon me, and I was required to write..."
Editor’s note: Despite the beauty and wonder derived via the creative muse, some fundamentalists will insist that such marvel is the product of Satan. This is a serious problem – for those thus deluded. It is this identical prevaricating, the very same untoward dynamic, that prompted Jesus to sternly address his attackers who attributed the good that he was doing to Satan. He called this kind of cultish obtuseness, this willful despising of the obvious creative energies of God, “the unpardonable sin.”
preparation, the in-put mode
Your unconscious “idea processor” is waiting at your beck and call. All you have to do is assign it a problem, instruct it, and it will immediately work toward a solution.
It does this for you most of the time anyway, whenever we have a problem that the conscious is to solve. But the more clearly, completely, and intently you formulate a question and direct it to the unconscious, the more quickly and effectively the unconscious can come up with an answer.
1. Clearly, because the more precisely you can state any problem, the more swiftly and accurately your unconscious “idea processor” can churn out the solution.
2. Completely, because the more fully and thoroughly you program a computer, the more sophisticated and precise its answer will be.
3. Intently, because the strength of the intent affects the priority our “idea processor” assigns to the problem.
According to Strauss:
"I can tell you from my own experience that an ardent desire and fixed purpose combined with intense inner resolve brings results. Determined concentrated thought is a tremendous force… I am convinced that this is a law, and it holds good in any line of endeavor."
Puccini told one biographer:
"The conscious purposeful appropriation of one’s own soul forces is the supreme secret… I feel the burning desire and intense resolve to create something worthwhile. This desire, this longing, in itself, implies that I can reach my goal. Then I make a fervent demand… This perfect faith opens the way for vibration to pass from the dynamo, which the soulcenter is, into my consciousness, and the inspired ideas are born."
Regarding "intent," in my own way, I have experienced the same, many times in my efforts to analyze various questions concerning how life works. However, one of these breakthrough insights, for me, was most dramatic and wondrous.
I’d spent almost ten years attempting to “crack the code” of “The Wedding Song.” Along the way, one by one, its cryptic and runic phrases disgorged their hidden messages. But, at the very end of the writing of this book, one phrase, laden with metaphoric impulse, stubbornly held out against decryption. I couldn’t finish the book without its clear resolution.
The phrase just didn’t make sense to me. I couldn’t see how it fit in with the already-captured territory, the hard won exegesis. Vividly, I recall what happened next – and, mind you, I’d just spent nearly ten years trying to unravel this knotty issue – I calmed myself, I relaxed my mind and stopped “trying hard” to understand, I “opened a channel” (as I wrote about in the “surrender and acceptance” article).
And then, astoundingly, shockingly, like ripe fruit falling unbidden from a tree limb, the answer simply dropped into my head! – and this, maybe, only a minute or two after I’d registered my ardent desire and fixed purpose to know! All the more overwhelming and startling, at least to me -- to say it again -- as I’d just spent nearly ten years trying to nail this down, and then, in a hot-flash moment, it all comes together in a rush via "special delivery." Go figure.
Today, I marvel that both the lyrics and the interpretation of “The Wedding Song” were offered in a manner expressly designed to disallow mortal agency taking any credit.
incubation, the processing mode
At a certain stage in any creation, "preparation" ceases, the ingredients have to be left to “cook” allowing the subconscious to work on the problem.
Going into the “processing” mode can involve anything from turning the problem over to the subconscious and forgetting about it, to various methods of going “offline,” such as relaxation, daydreaming, meditation, or sleep.
illumination, the out-put mode
Having consciously engaged “preparation” and “incubation,” a mysterious process produces the solution, in a flash, seemingly, from nowhere. This is the “breakthrough state.”
Many have spoken of a feeling that their greatest inspirations came from somewhere “not myself” – from outside themselves or from some other source or being altogether.
verification, the testing mode
The out-put is now compared to reality, held up to the rules of reason, critics are allowed to opine, work is checked and double-checked.
Editor's note: We're reminded of the advice of the apostle John: "Test the spirits whether they be of God." Sounds like Reagan and Gorbachev: "Trust, but verify."
Poincare, a first-class mathematician of the nineteenth century, painted a picture of the kind of intensely concentrated conscious work that proceeds a revelation. His memoirs reveal a series of punctuated attempts to apprehend, a fitful intensity of effort, often without result, but then, in moments having seemingly abandoned his quest, answers fell upon him, as Carl Jung used the phrase, with “acausal synchronicity.” Here is one brief example from Poincare:
"For fifteen days I strove to prove that there could not be any functions like those I have since called the Fuchsian functions. I was then very ignorant; every day I seated myself at my work table, stayed an hour or two, tried a great number of combinations, but produced no results. One evening contrary to my custom, I drank black coffee and could not sleep. Ideas arose in crowds; I felt them collide until pairs interlocked, so to speak, making a stable combination. By the next morning I had established the existence of a class of Fuchsian functions… I had only to write out the results, which took but a few hours."
How mundane, how casual can seem the moment of illumination. An idea of great complexity and theoretical importance occurs while stepping onto a bus – and with such self-evident conviction that the mathematician confidently waited to verify the revelation only later, at his leisure. Poincare had concentrated, had worked and had given up working (preparation plus incubation), then suddenly and unexpectedly the solution occurred to him (illumination), which later passed muster of formal proofs (verification). Possibly, even more interesting, was that he did not suspect that the initial mind bursts were but first pickings of an entire series yet to manifest. It came to him, drip-drip-drip. The entire process of discovery took many years to run its course.
A biographer reports:
"In 1869 D.I. Mendeleev went to bed exhausted after struggling to conceptualize a way to categorize the elements based upon their atomic weights. He later reported, 'I saw in a dream a table where all the elements fell into place as require. Awakening, I immediately wrote it down. Only in one place did a correction later seem necessary'.”
For several years Elias Howe worked intensely to invent a lockstitch sewing machine. A nightmare would suggest a way forward. A biographer notes:
"Howe made the needles of his early failure with a hole in the middle of the shank… One night he dreamed … that he was taken captive by a tribe of savages who took him before their king. 'Elias Howe,' roared the monarch, “I command you to finish this machine at once.” Suddenly, the inventor noticed that near the heads of the spears which his guards carried there were sharp-eyed holes. He had solved the secret! What he needed was a needle with an eye near the point! He awoke from his dream and at once whittled a model of the eye-pointed needle, with which he brought his experiments to a successful close."
At age 40 Wagner suffered from a deep spell of midlife crisis. His inspiration, along with his personal life, seemed to be failing him. Then, he heard in a dream a musical theme:
"After a night spent in fever and sleeplessness I forced myself to take a long walk through the country. It looked dreary and desolate. Upon my return I lay down on a hard couch. I sank into a kind of somnolence in which I felt I was sinking in swiftly moving water. The rushing noise formed a musical sound, of E flat major. I awoke in a sudden terror, recognizing that the orchestral prelude to Das Rheingold had at last been revealed to me."
When the mind of the creative person is prepared by experience, education, and concentration; when the problem or the creation is addressed, visualized, struggled with, studied; when all relevant data is fed into the unconscious "idea processor," and the request is made, the program is submitted, it seems as if the best thing to do is to let it all go.
while walking through the door to a tea-party, being greeted by the hostess, a sudden burst of insight concerning mathematics
Princeton professor, Freeman Dyson,
Dyson reminisces: “I [was writing] the S-Matrix paper over Christmas . But the S-Matrix paper needed a lot more work… I remember going to a [Christmas] tea-party [at the home of physicist Eugene] Wigner, which – I never really got to know Wigner well, but he invited me to tea, which was very nice, and his wife was very hospitable, and Cecile and I were invited… and just when we were walking in at the door, suddenly, I realized that divergences could overlap – the whole S-Matrix technique depended on divergences not overlapping but in fact they did overlap, and so the whole thing, no doubt, was completely wrong – so I walked into Wigner’s house with this sudden realization that the whole bottom had fallen out [laughing], and so I was rather inattentive during the tea party [laughing]. Then, afterwards, came home, [wrote the paper]… which made me famous…”
"When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer – say, travelling in a carriage, or walking after a good meal, or during the night when I cannot sleep; it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best. Whence and how they come, I know not; nor can I force them. Those [musical] pleasures that please me I retain in my memory, and am accustomed to hum them to myself. If I continue in this way, it soon occurs to me how I may turn this or that morsel to account, so as to make a good dish of it, that is to say, agreeably to the rules of counterpoint, to the peculiarities of the various instruments. All this fires my soul, and provided I am not disturbed, my subject enlarges itself, becomes methodized and defined, and the whole, though it be long, stands almost complete and finished in my mind, so that I can survey it, like a fine picture or a beautiful statue, at a glance. Nor do I hear in my imagination the parts successively, but I hear them, as it were, all at once. What a delight this is I cannot tell! All this inventing, this producing, takes place in a pleasing lively dream."
In many accounts, creative people have appealed to some external source; a kind of divinity or some kind of internal “daemon,” or even a workshop full of “brownies.”
Editor’s note: Greek daimon, a "lesser god, guiding spirit, tutelary deity, or muse." Fundamentalists, predictably, will try to interpret this word as "demon"; we expect this interpretation as they presently live in a nightmare world of cultish constraint.
Kipling suggested that the key to gaining access to this inner helper was “not to think consciously,” but to “drift.”
"Let us now consider the Personal Daemon… Most men, and some most unlikely, keep him under an alias which varies with their literary or scientific attainments… My Daemon was with me in the Jungle books, Kim, and both Puck books, and good care I took to walk delicately, lest he should withdraw. I know that he did not, because when those books were finished they [in effect] said so themselves … Note here: When your Daemon is in charge, do not try to think consciously. Drift, wait, obey."
Apparently, Wordsworth experienced many of his greatest inspirations while in a more trancelike state than Kipling’s reverie:
"Wordsworth told Bonamy Price that the line in his ode beginning: 'Fallings from us, vanishings,' which has since puzzled so many readers, refers to those “trancelike states to which he was at one time subject. During these moments the world around him seemed unreal and the poet had occasionally to use his strength against an object, such as a gatepost, to reassure himself. And when the power would not come, the conscious mind was helpless."
It seems that the mind is most susceptible to receiving “messages” just before sleep and immediately upon awakening.
"Last evening … I sat till twelve o’clock by my fire, smoking, when suddenly it came to my mind to write the “Ballad of the Schooner Hesperus,” which I accordingly did. Then I went to bed but could not sleep. New thoughts were running in my mind, and I got up to add them to the ballad. I felt pleased with ballad. It hardly cost me any effort. It did not come into my mind by lines but by stanzas."
Do so many inspirations come in dreams because that is when the consciousness is off-line, and the unconscious is in control and can speak to us directly at last, unfettered by the constraints of waking awareness?
The great physicist, a father of quantum mechanics which would overthrow the domain of Newton, dreamed of a planetary system as a model for atoms. This led to the “Bohr model” of atomic structure and a Nobel Prize.
Editor's note: As it would unfold, the "planetary model" was but a stepping-stone to further clarification, offered by Bohr's student, Werner Heisenberg.
Sir Frederick Grant Banting
The discovery of life-saving insulin came to Banting in a dream.
Credited with the invention of the modern violin bow, Tartini informs us that his greatest composition, “The Devil’s Sonata,” was a gift to him during a dream.
Robert Louis Stevenson
Stevenson reports that much of the plot concerning “Jekyll and Hyde” was given to him in a dream state.
While on a carriage ride, Beethoven fell asleep and entered a “dream journey… when, lo and behold! in accordance with the laws of association of ideas, [a musical composition] flashed across me; so being now wide awake I held it as fast… only permitting it to be changed into three parts.”
This 1936 Nobel Prize winner in Physiology and Medicine discovered that the basic component of all nervous systems is both a chemical and an electrical event. This insight came to him in a dream.
Though his name is not a household word, Kekule’s numerous achievements in chemistry greatly affect our daily modern living. More than once, he credited his breakthrough insights to a receptivity during a dream state. For example, during one such trancelike period, it was revealed to him that benzene is a cyclic or ring structure. During a lecture to his colleagues, Kekule admonished: “As if by the flash of lightning I awoke … Let us learn to dream, gentlemen.”
The moment of illumination almost always comes as a surprise, without warning.
"Poetry is not like reasoning, a power to be exerted according to the determination of the will. A man cannot say: 'I will write poetry.' The greatest poet even cannot say it. It is not as though this material came passively floating towards them... One after another, the greatest writers, poets and artists confirm the fact that their great works comes to them from beyond the threshold of the consciousness."
According to Keats, the description of Apollo in the third book of his epic poem, “Hyperion,” came to him “by chance or magic – to be, as it were, something given to me.” Keats added that he had “not been aware of the beauty of some thought or expression until after I had composed and written it down.” It then struck him with “astonishment” and seemed “rather the production of another person” than his own.
Editor’s note: Keats understood the meaning of a phrase good writers are wont often to employ: “I wish I had said that.”
"Generally speaking, the germ of a future composition comes suddenly and unexpectedly … It takes root with extraordinary force and rapidity, shoots up through the earth, puts forth branches and leaves, and finally blossoms, I cannot define the creative process in any way than by this simile."
Describing the writing of “Werther”: “I wrote the book almost unconsciously, like a somnambulist, and was amazed when I realized what I had done.”
Of his work, “Milton,” Blake stated: “I have written this poem from immediate dictation, twelve or sometimes twenty or thirty lines at a time, without premeditation, and even against my will.”
"While the ideas were flowing in upon me – the entire musical, measure by measure, it seemed to me that I was dictated to by two wholly different Omnipotent Entities … I was definitely conscious of being aided by more than an earthly Power, and it was responsive to my determined suggestions."
not in the lab but while gazing at a scene in the park, he perceived what has been called 'the greatest insight in the history of science'
Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976)
a sudden inspiration - 'the most profound insight in the entire history of science'
This is the view of physics Professor Jim Al-Khalili, as offered in the documentary “Atom.” What was this shattering revelation?
In 1926 Werner Heisenberg was working as an assistant to Niels Bohr at his mentor’s institute in Copenhagen. One evening, Heisenberg peered from this attic window on the park below...
and found himself in receipt of a principle of science never before understood.
READ MORE on the "theory of everything" page
"The music of this opera [Madam Butterfly] was dictated to me by God; I was merely instrumental in putting it on paper and communicating it to the public... The great secret of all creative geniuses is that they possess the power to appropriate the beauty, the wealth, the grandeur, and the sublimity within their own souls, which are a part of Omnipotence, and to communicate those riches to others."
Editor’s note: Puccini gets it. In just a few words, he summarizes thousands of pages on the Word Gems site.
"I have to be in a semi-trance condition to get [best] results – a condition when the conscious mind is in temporary abeyance, and the subconscious mind is in control."
The great inventor found that he was able to construct, modify, and even operate his hypothetical devices, purely by visualizing them:
"It is absolutely immaterial to me whether I run my turbine in thought or test it in my shop. I even note [in my mind] if it is out of balance."
as an artist becomes famous, the sacred creativity process, which brought him to the fore, is often abandoned, resulting in a production of the banal
Ernest Hemingway, acceptance speech, 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature (excerpt):
"Things may not be immediately discernible in what a man writes, and, in this, sometimes he is fortunate; but, eventually, they are quite clear, and by these and the degree of alchemy that he possesses, he will endure or be forgotten.
"Writing, at its best, is a lonely life…[the writer] grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and [then] often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone, and, if he is a good enough writer, he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day."
Gellhorn and Hemingway
Editor’s note: We understand Hemingway’s warning. How often we have seen artists, in various fields of endeavor, rise meteorically in public acclaim due to outstanding work, but then falling victim to the siren song, with a forgetting of how he or she got there. In times past, I would ask, "Why aren't they still producing the great songs, the great books, the great paintings?" Hemingway explains it to us.
the perdition of venality
Once you’re doing well enough to land the Oprah interview, or the mega book-deal advance, or the stadiums jammed with screaming fans, chances are - you’re on the way down. The muse gasps and sputters for its breath of life. You begin to believe the propaganda of the fickle mob gushing what a genius you are. Elitism ossifies the heart. You start to rely on innate ability, mere talent; you're not "listening" anymore, as Isaiah did. The early workshop of haunting introspection, the laboring alone in the dark, the quest to express an image of beauty that is sensed but not articulated, is summarily abandoned; bright lights and applause now distract and dull the mind - and the rules of higher creativity are shunted to the side.
the creeping self-damnation
You might still produce art, but not worthy of the term; and, for a time, the egoic crowd, seeking to identify with a "hero," will scramble for it; but - you, yourself, with great disdain, will understand, too well - it won’t be great art, it won’t be long remembered, it won’t represent "facing eternity,” as per Hemingway.
It is the perdition of venality, the unremitting torment of lost, once-creative, souls.
the interplay of “preparation” and “incubation,” “doing” versus “being” - Dr. Goswami’s “do-be-do-be-do”
Amit Goswami is a university professor and a writer of textbooks of quantum physics
As we follow the breadcrumbs farther and farther down the rabbit hole, we discover that the creativity process reflects the inner works of quantum mechanics: the “discontinuous jumps” related to possibility waves transformed and collapsing into particulate matter.
Doctor Strange’s mentor, The Ancient One, taunts us:
“You think you know how the world works? You think that this material universe is all there is? What is real? What mysteries lie beyond the reach of your senses? At the root of existence, mind and matter meet. Thoughts shape reality.”
See more discussion on the “Evolution” page.
Albert Einstein: "It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer."
His name has become synonymous with “genius.” But Einstein’s own testimonies reveal how tired he was of the fawning, servile mob, heaping its unthinking accolades upon him.
We don’t believe Einstein when he says “I’m not so smart.” He knew too well the long years of both “preparation” and “incubation” which eventually yielded their stellar results.
Calling someone a “genius” can be rather insulting. It’s a way of saying, “You’re just smart. You were lucky to be born smart. You’re gifted. It’s easy for you.” This kind of trash-talk denies and counts as nothing the many lonely years of working independently on a new idea which no one believed in. There is an old joke, “It took me 20 years to become an overnight sensation.” It’s more like that.
Einstein was not infallible; sometimes he was dead wrong. In his debates with Bohr about "God not playing dice with the universe," he was mistaken about the central role of probability concerning the underpinnings of reality. He wanted to believe, too much, in a deterministic, predictable, strictly law-abiding universe. (See Dr. Sheldrake's discussion on cosmic "habit.") Further, some of Einstein’s early teachers considered him to be on the dull side and did not think he'd amount to much. There were no parades and brass bands marching outside Einstein's boyhood house, proclaiming the coming of a new intellectual archon.
But none of this acclaim counts for anything. The principles of higher creativity will benefit anyone, at any age or stage of life (in this world or the next). It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks; and, if your beginnings were somewhat lackluster, it doesn't even matter what you think, so to speak. Don't talk yourself out of this. Ok, as with many of us, maybe you set no records - at least, none you'd care to mention in polite company - during high school or college; and maybe you weren't the swooned-for darling on campus, but none of this matters now.
as we’ve discussed elsewhere, God needed to invent eternity for sufficient time to bring to the surface of personhood the “inner riches,” all that lies fallow, resting within the “true self”
The future is a very long time for metamorphosis; for the impatient, however, it's good to know that, rather quickly, one might reinvent oneself. But, it's not just time that's abundant; you have far more intellectual firepower, more ability of all sorts, than you know. In the final analysis, God created no favorites, no elites, and you have the same opportunity to redeem yourself, to set yourself for virtual apotheosis, as anyone else -- if you're willing to make claim to your inheritance, starting today.
The dispositive, the only, question for any of us becomes: Are we willing to “stay with problems longer," if need be, for 20 or 30 years, laboring alone, quietly and steadily gaining knowledge, and paying one's dues to the uncorralled muse? If so, a day will come, absolutely so, when we will rise in the morning to realize that we now know more about our chosen subject than few others - possibly, no others - in the entire world. And when you get there, and have a cautious look around, you'll discover there's plenty of room at "the top," as so few are willing to authentically enter the creative process.
This is the way it happens. There's no big mystery here - we might all become so-called “geniuses.” But, the real issue becomes, do we have the desire, the focused intention, to make it so?
Why doesn’t every family have a Mozart, Bohr, or Kekule?
We all have the same human potential. The great Spirit Guides inform us that any individual, with sufficient development, might do as well, or more, than any luminary of history. So, what is the limiting factor?
Some would surmise, as causal factor, that not everyone has access to a first-rate education in this world, and this is true. But such deficit is not the whole story. Ramanujan, essentially, was uneducated, from a backwater poverty-stricken area of India, and yet he turned Cambridge upside down with his iconoclastic insights into mathematical riddles, which, they tried to tell him, could not be solved.
the great taboo against the inner knowing
These questions remind us of another debate, closely akin: Why don’t we have as many stellar psychic-mediums as we did a hundred years ago? Where are the direct-voice mediums in our era, the Leslie Flints, the Emily Frenchs, the Rick Rickards? Where are the great direct-materialization mediums today, the Rita Goolds, the Minnie Harrisons, the Helen Duncans? Like a nearly-extinct species, a tiny remnant does presently survive, but this is not the golden age of mediumship.
People today, more and more, bedazzled by cell phones, consumed by online services, enjoy few introspective moments of quiet in a room alone. We are not sensitizing ourselves to the mother-lode of the real action, the unseen world, "the vast hidden spectrum," of higher creativity's subconscious. Distracted by glistening techno-baubles and pretty lights, we're not listening.
And, therefore, an increasingly materialistic society will suffer casualty on the creativity front, in all quarters. While more attend college today, and though we pride ourselves with ubiquitous instant data on demand, we lament with T.S. Eliot: “Where is the life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”
The super-achievers, with their reports of dream communications, sudden revelations, and gifts from on high, are scoffed at, will be counted as kooks and unbalanced, by lesser minds who presume to render judgment.
The materialistic Dear Leaders of society do not believe in "mind" but only in physical brain; they don’t believe in higher orders of reality or anything immaterial. They cling to outmoded paradigms, of sub-atomic particles as "hard little bee-bees" constructing the basis of reality. Instead, quantum mechanics has now transcended old-style science by revealing that “not even matter is made of matter.” At the core of what appears to be solid, everything dissolves into a nothingness. Materialists cannot accept, as the great physicists teach, that only Consciousness is real. See discussion in the "Evolution" writing on the unproven metaphysical assumptions of "science as a rival religion."
a great prejudice and the co-creation project
In this skewed view of how the universe works, we "saw off the branch we're sitting on" and then wonder why we can't access the visions of a Tesla or the dreams of a Mozart or the inner whisperings of a Goethe.
It takes more than talent to achieve the heights of creativity. Talent isn't the problem. We all have more talent than we could ever put to use. Making it all operational, dredging it up from the depths, is the real issue and must become a "co-creation" project - between you and the muse.
The dysfunctional ego may be talented, it may be clever, but it is not intelligent. It has no wisdom. Everything it does serves the short-term agenda, the hidden neediness, of "I don't have enough" because "I am not enough." This, too, is great illusion. We don't know who we are.
all of society is arrayed against you to try to convince you that you are no good
The institutions of society exist to rule over you -- for your own good, they say. You need them, defective creature that you are. At school you’re taught “the right answer” and receive full marks for memorizing it. At work you are to be a “team member” – code language, translated as, “do as we say.” And at church, from the time you were a small child, you were taught that you were born in sin, inherently incapable, such that God couldn’t love you enough unless you subscribe to certain infallible doctrines issued by infallible gurus.
don't look behind that curtain
And in this stultifying milieu, this heavy crowd-control diet of fear-and-guilt, there’s little chance that one will come to “listen” to the inner whisperings of higher creativity. You’re not supposed to "listen," they say - that’s disloyal, that’s letting Satan get to you; you don't have a right to your own thoughts. It's like The Wizard shouting, "Don't look behind that curtain!"
Your part in this orchestrated serfdom is to “pay, pray, and obey,” and then you're dispatched to the shopping mall, to mindlessly buy things you don’t need, to stimulate the economy as your patriotic duty.
the biblical Greek word commonly translated "faith" or "believe" is often better rendered "trust"; we are to trust, not in words, not in hearsay evidence, not in fulminations of infallible gurus, not in second-hand revelations, but in a personal experience with the Divine - on this, we are to build our lives, now and eternally
"Religion is a defense against the experience of God."
"One of the main functions of organized religion is to protect people against a direct experience of God."
Editor’s note: The more we identify with a particular belief system, which, purportedly, encapsulates “the truth,” the more dysfunctional we become, cut-off from the source of authentic spirituality. Why is this so? To identify with a belief system is tantamount to identifying with one’s own thinking, the “voice in the head,” which is the “false self.” To do so mutes the inner whispering of the “true self.”
"We want to have certainties and no doubts—results and no experiments—without even seeing that certainties can arise only through doubt and results only through experiment. The artful denial of a problem will not produce conviction; on the contrary, a wider and higher consciousness is required to give us the certainty and clarity we need."
“… nobody assumes that God is an immediate experience. In the Christian church they talk so much of the necessity of believing in God that one really becomes doubtful whether God can be an experience. You see, if we have the experience, we don’t need to believe. So the Greek word pistis, which means confidence, loyalty, is not at all what we understand by believing; it means the loyalty to the fact of the experience. … All the belief in the world doesn’t make it;… without an experience of God one has really no right to make the effort to believe—it leads nowhere.”
"Belief is no adequate substitute for inner experience, and where this is absent even a strong faith which came miraculously as a gift of grace may depart equally miraculously. People call faith the true religious experience, but they do not stop to consider that actually it is a secondary phenomenon arising from the fact that something happened to us in the first place which instilled pistis into us—that is, trust and loyalty."
“…I for my part prefer the precious gift of doubt, for the reason that it does not violate the virginity of things beyond our ken.”
“Where there is faith, there is doubt; where there is doubt, there is credulity; where there is morality, there is temptation.”
from the Jungian Center for the Spiritual Sciences
Jung recognized this distinction. Faith and belief are built on hearsay. As the quote opening this essay noted, Jung recognized how the church is always asking people to believe, to have faith, to turn away from doubt. This is because all the dogmas organized religions serve up make it less and less likely that “God can be an experience,” as Jung put it. Jung would prefer that people have direct, personal contact with the Divine, thus making belief unnecessary: “… if we have the experience, we don’t need to believe.”
Jung cited the apostle Paul as a classic example of an individual who had had a personal experience of the Divine, on the road to Damascus, and who thereafter manifested pistis—loyalty or fidelity to that fact. “… he stuck to that experience and didn’t go away from that fact.” Jung did likewise: He had many personal encounters with the Divine and stuck with them, so that, a year or two before he died, when asked if he believed in God, he could tell John Freeman that he did not, because he had come to know God.
So belief becomes tenuous and “… notoriously apt to disappear as soon as one begins thinking about it. … Belief is no adequate substitute for inner experience, and where this is absent even a strong faith which came miraculously as a gift of grace may depart equally miraculously….” To Jung the “true religious experience” was not faith but an event—some sort of personal encounter with something greater “… which instilled pistis into us…” With trust or loyalty to one’s own experience, an individual had a solid base on which to build a life. Absent such experience, forced to rely on belief and faith, a person was liable to doubt, credulity and fear.
It is very common for religions to fall into the temptation of lusting for certitude. Congregants are urged to “have faith!” “Don’t doubt!” “Believe in Jesus” etc.—all of this pressed upon the flock with passion and intensity. Priests, pastors, rabbis and imams clearly don’t want their followers to fall away in succumbing to doubt.
To Jung, their very passion and intensity are signs of doubt (perhaps buried deep in the unconscious), for Jung recognized that, “Where there is faith, there is doubt; where there is doubt, there is credulity;…” “wherever doubt holds sway there is uncertainty and the possibility of divergent ways. And where several ways seem possible, there we … are handed over to fear.”
Part of the fanaticism found in fundamentalists (of whatever ilk) lies in their inner, repressed doubt and the fear that accompanies it: “For every one-sided conviction is accompanied by the voice of doubt, and certainties that are mere beliefs turn into uncertainties…” Rather than harangue followers and demonize doubt, Jung regarded doubt as a “precious gift,” and he suggested resolving doubt by experiment: test hypotheses/beliefs by living them out. He quotes one of his favorite authors, the 16th century alchemist Gerhard Dorn, on this point:
“Knowledge is the sure and undoubted resolution [resolutio] by experiment of all opinions concerning the truth…. Experiment is manifest demonstration of the truth, and resolution the putting away of doubt. We cannot be resolved of any doubt save by experiment, and there is no better way to make it than on ourselves.”
Making an experiment on ourselves—subjecting our own beliefs to testing—leads to pistis, that trust that is borne of personal experience. Ever the empiricist, in this Jung put his confidence.
the sacred meaning of art
In my essay, “The Meaning of Beauty,” I quoted Nobel laureate Werner Heisenberg: “Beauty is the translucence, through material phenomena, of the eternal splendor of the One.”
On the strength of this, along with my own meditations, in the “What We Stay Alive For” writing, I offered that one’s eternal mate, “in the beauty of her countenance, reveals, as no other pedagogue, the hidden face of God… only for him, her beauty becomes sacred portal to an inner knowing.”
However, beauty as expressed in the fine arts might also become pathway to mystical depths. I would call this “sacred art,” in that it issues as product of the artist’s accessing Universal Consciousness. We discussed this in the “Higher Creativity” article.
Most art today is not worthy of the term and does not reflect higher levels of awareness; instead, most art seems to reach for the sensational, the gaudy, the meretricious. When we view it, there is no calling forth of hallowed wonderment from the depths of being; instead, we sense that the artist said, “ok, let’s see if we can turn heads and raise eyebrows by being outrageous; then they’ll think we’re clever.”
Wall Street (1987), Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas)
"This painting here. I bought it ten years ago for $60,000. I could sell it today for $600,000. The illusion has become real and the more real it becomes the more desperate they want it. Capitalism at its finest."
Editor’s note: Gordon Gekko perceives the world as his private arena of ruthless competition and conquest. The father of “greed is good” extends this Darwinian ethic to the aesthetic. He hawks trash-paintings as he does stocks. It’s “pump and dump,” use and abuse, it’s “momentum buying,” its “the last sucker” principle. You create an illusion of sophistication, you hype a non-existent value, you drive it up, and in the ascent all the vapid and vacuous people, wanting to appear refined and anointed, blather about how smart they are. And then the one-way doors to the slaughterhouse clang shut on the lemmings.
We often see this same dynamic in the typical published work. The writer seems to believe that good writing is the arresting of attention by way of the scandalous and the course, with little regard to the most important part of writing – having something worthwhile to say.
In these works of art there is nothing that leads us to higher ground or deeper perceptions, nothing that points us to the inner knowing, there is no “translucence,” no shining through, “of the eternal splendor of the One.” It’s a purely man-made work devoid of co-creatorship with the divine.
From a grander perspective, however, it’s not just painting and writing, or music and sculpture, that becomes plastic material for the muse – one’s entire life, if properly lived, should reflect a cooperation with the transcendental; one’s life should become a masterpiece of Universal Consciousness’s expression.
I like quoting Dr. Ernest Becker on this vital point, and have done so on the homepage, but allow me to reference his words again:
Victory "over human limitation is not something that can be programmed by science … It comes from the vital energies of masses of men sweating within the nightmare of creation … The most that anyone can do is to fashion something - an object or ourselves - and drop it into the confusion, make an offering of it, so to speak, to the Life Force.”
Editor’s summary thoughts
There’s much to discuss here. There’s more in the Harman-Rheingold book, but I’ll leave that to your own studies.
The essence of accessing higher creativity might be summarized as “opening a channel.” We addressed this in the “surrender and acceptance” article.
While creativity research is important on the individual-developmental level, it also directly impinges upon the question of biological evolution. We will be speaking of this at length in the related “Evolution” article. Strangely, individual creativity constitutes but mere subset of a much larger field of cosmic evolvement, the universe's "perpetual becoming."
creativity as the tawdry, the gaudy, the vulgar
Allow me to offer a few more words on the (above) “Gordon Gekko” approach to art and creativity.
This merchandising and unrealistic view of creativity is promoted in many aspects of unenlightened human endeavor. Here’s one lipstick-on-a-pig example that’s rankled me for years, featured in this film:
Don’t get me wrong, I actually liked this movie as I’m a Trekkie from way back; also, I'm a Chris Pine fan and have featured him elsewhere; even so, I must protest to a certain tortured philosophy of leadership aptitude promoted here. It’s hard to stomach.
whaaa-hoo and ain't it great
A ten year-old James Tiberius Kirk has stolen the family’s antique Corvette and is now joy-riding at speeds approaching 100 mph. In a whirlwind, he passes a footbound buddy and turns around to gloat. The intoxication building now, he not only ignores a hovercraft traffic cop, but barrels his way at breakneck velocity toward a dropoff cliff. But who is mindful of such trifles when one is a hero with nine lives?
In the midst of all this hubris and chaos, we find the lad, now thoroughly besotted with animal spirits, shouting “whaaa-hoo” at both high decible and regular interval, indicating that devil-may-care dangers are “fun.”
Some years later we find an older teen, James T., continuing his bacchanal lifestyle. He drinks a lot, he lives a nomadic lifestyle, he smirks, he’s a swashbuckling loud mouth, he laughs at his own jokes, he wants to fight six goons all at once because he’s such a tuff guy.
One day, however, Kirk is interrupted by a scout from Star Fleet Academy who knows talent when he sees it. He encourages young n'er-do-well to apply to the officers’ training corp because who could doubt that he’s “captain material” just waiting to be harvested. And during the years of study, Kirk, true to form, makes a reputation for himself of flouting authority and breaking the rules because that’s just how really creative people think and live, don’t you know.
“Bravery without forethought causes a man to fight blindly and desperately like a mad bull. Such an opponent, must not be encountered with brute force, but may be lured into an ambush and slain... Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance... If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him [causing him to reveal himself]... recklessness leads to destruction... show your dispositions and your condition will become patent, which leads to defeat..."
Sun Tzu, The Art Of War
All of this grandstanding is meant to not-so-subtly foreshadow the coming of a great starship captain. Why, it's so obvious to anyone that this boy is Pericles reborn, just about to hatch now.
script-writers who create characters like this have no idea what true leadership is or how high-grade creativity works
With scripts like this, we can hardly make it to the waste basket in time or to the editor's red marker.
Would you really want, in a military confrontation, to be led by a theatrical commanding officer who thinks that shouting “whaaa-hoo,” that “danger is fun,” become the marks of skillful leadership?
The truly great military strategists of history were thoughtful men, often quiet and pondering, agonizing over any material decision. Think of Spruance before the Battle of Midway, or Eisenhower approaching June 6, 1944, or Wellington that early morning in Belgium. Each of these theaters of war, the miscalculation concerning which, might plunge civilization into a new Dark Age. Imagine these commanders, if they were of the sort, to be singing and boasting and high-fiving - we might not be here today. So much for the air-head “whaaa-hoo” and the "fun."
formless, mysterious, soundless
The great philosopher-generals of history speak of primary preparation for battle in terms of cleansing one’s own spirit, of piercing introspection, of winnowing solitude. Consider these excerpts from Sun Tzu's "Art Of War", 500 BC:
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”
“Move swift as the Wind and closely-formed as the Wood. Attack like the Fire and be still as the Mountain.”
“Be extremely subtle even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent's fate.”
It is extremely interesting that Bruce Lee, probably the greatest martial artist in the last century, focused upon Sun Tzu’s instruction concerning making oneself “formless”:
"Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup; you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle... Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend... When the opponent expands, I contract, when he contracts, I expand, and when there is an opportunity, I do not hit, it hits all by itself... [Success is] not being tense, but ready... not being set, but flexible, liberation from the uneasy sense of confinement. It is being wholly and quietly alive, aware and alert, ready for whatever may come."
Authentic leadership, as with all forms of highest-grade creativity, centers upon stilling the mind, accessing an inner wisdom, an elevated level of consciousness. This makes no sense to those who believe that getting ahead is "who you know," playing the Hollywood-high-school sensationalist, canvassing to be noticed, and shouting “whaaa-hoo.”
Actually, though, we’ve heard this wariness of unflashy reticence all of our lives, haven’t we -- remember how they used to say, “It’s the thinkers, the ones who don’t say much, that you have to look out for.”