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.