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In „Thinking out of the Box“ I have written about the concept of creative systems. Today, I want to point out another interesting aspect of creative systems. In that article, I wrote:

Since what the program will do depends on previous inputs, not only on the initial program, such a program has a “history” or a “biography” when it runs and develops.

The aspect of having a history or a “biography” will be the topic of another article. In this article, I want to concentrate instead on the role of the “previous inputs” that play a role in the development of the system.

If the development of a program only depends on its initial state, each step in this development can be predicted.  Such a program can be described completely by a formal theory. It is an algorithm. However, a creative system will incorporate information from its inputs and thus change and grow. Kurt Ammon speaks of an “Existence principle” in his article An Effective Procedure for Computing “Uncomputable” Functions, meaning that preexisting information must be provided in the input of the program. On page 19 he writes:

The incompleteness of formal systems is “overcome” by the existence principle …. Roughly speaking, this principle implies that existing information is provided in the input of creative procedures and thus “overcomes” the incompleteness of formal systems and the limits of Turing’s computability.

One can interpret this as a “principle of inspiration”. Creative systems need inspiration; they need some new information from the outside to nudge them into new directions at times. So, in a way, the creativity comes from the environment.

The inputs coming from outside (and also the order in which they come) provide new information that can change the system. Some of the new information will be incorporated into the system, changing its structure and therefore the way it will react to the world, the way it acts, the way it processes information.

If, on the other hand, the system only acts on information produced by itself, its development can be predicted and it would be possible to devise a formal theory describing it completely. The feedback of information from the output to the input is important, but some new information must also enter from outside. The term “Existence Principle” refers to the necessity of this inspirational information to exist independently of the creative system.

If the information in the system’s input only comes from ists own output, the system would develop in a predetermined way and thus “degenerate” into an algorithm.

I hypothesize that we can think of human cognition as a creative process of this kind. Every creative person, no matter if it is an artist, a designer, a programmer or mathematician or whatever, knows that at times you need an inspiration from the outside, some new element. If you don’t get it, you start turning around without getting anywhere.

The new information might also come from random processes inside the system. If such processes happen inside the system, you might think of it as having an input from an interface to the micro world of the physical system in which it is implemented. If you think of the human brain, you may think of random processes in the nervous system that sometimes nudge your thinking into a new direction, for example. I don’t know if such processes play a role in human thinking, but I think this is possible.

Whatever its source, every now and then, some inspiration is required for the creative processes to remain fertile. An algorithm, on the other hand, may be viewd as a restriction (the “limits of Turing’s computability” in the above citation). It provides some automated way of doing something and thus may be helpful, but it will always take the same way.

The necessity of creative systems to receive some outside information at times seems to be a general principle. There are partings of the way in our thinking processes and we need inspirations to see and to take them.

(The picture is from



  1. Reblogged this on The Asifoscope and commented:

    What is inspiration? Read on my philosophy blog about the role of inspiration in the context of the theory of creative systems.

  2. This is very helpful to me. I have been researching a situational context of dialogue between a user-agent and a system-agent, for purposes of more effective communication between the two. One of my questions (not being as strong on the formal-systems-side as the cognitive-processes side) has been whether or not tech systems “count” or can be categorized as dynamic complex systems – or an autopoietic system? I’ve been reading the work of Paul Thibault on eco-social semiotics and works by Jay Lemke. From the systems side if you have references that would help me along these lines it would be greatly appreciated! Thank you. From the systems perspective I’ve only begun to dabble – Agerfalk, Goldkuhl, Andersen, Lemke.

  3. Conventional programs are algorithms. This means they can be completely described by a finite amount of information. In this sense they are static and thus the are not autopoietic. The paper of Ammon is a proof that creative programs are possible. However, a creative system has not yet been implemented. Some of Ammon’s works describe experiments in this direction, but it would need additional research. The proof shows, however, that such programs are possible. I would indeed apply the term “autopoietic” to such a system. Autopoietic systems in the sense of Varela and Maturana, on the other hand, can probably be described as creative systems in the sense of Ammon. These concepts have similarities, although I see a need to investigate this in detail.
    I don’t know the other authors you are mentioning. Thanks for hinting at them. I have to check them out, although my reading list at the moment is quite long already.

  4. […] Ammon defines creativity as the ability to calculate non-Turing-computable functions. A system that can do this must evolve over time (i.e. have a history or biography) and cannot be described formally by any single theory, i.e. it cannot be understood completely. For each theory you give to describe what it is doing, it can develop out of the scope of that theory. You can extend the theory so that it covers the new cases but the resulting theory is incomplete again. See also THINKING OUT OF THE BOX and INSPIRATION. […]

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