Human thinking and human culture seems to be infinitely complex. All attempts to create a unified and exact theory of human thinking and culture seem to have failed.
In Ammon 1987, Kurt Ammon introduces a hypothesis about creative systems he calls the “indeterminacy principle”, a term inspired by the principle of quantum mechanics that bears the same name. In a nutshell, Ammon’s hypothesis states that the more general a theory about creative systems gets, the less explicit it will be and vice versa.
If we presume that the concept of “creative systems” can be applied to human beings (which I suppose it can), we can take this as a statement about theories of human cognition, i.e. human thought processes, and, as a consequence, as a statement about descriptions of human culture. If it applies to humans then general and exact theories about humans and their culture are impossible.
A very specific thought process can be described very explicitly, giving an exact account of each step of a line of thought, say, and the exact bits of knowledge that were involved. We might describe it in terms of a formal theory, akin to a calculation or logical derivation. However, if we pass on to more general descriptions, the theory will become less explicit.
If we retain high explicitness and try to get the larger picture, we will end up with a theory with gaps. We will use descriptions that can be thought of as exact but incomplete. They only describe some cases. There are gaps and to fill those gaps, we have to add additional information that cannot be derived from what we have already. The concepts used might be completely defined and exact but the description is incomplete.
If we increase generality, this can mean that we have to use vague concepts in our description, concepts that have to be interpreted, i.e. complemented with additional specifications when we apply them to special cases. This means that such concepts do not have a complete definition. The description might be complete in a superficial way, but it is blurred.
Parts of a general description may also remain implicit. They might be exact, in a similar sense as, say, a mathematical equation that has a certain solution but where we might not know how to calculate it and where a general method to do so might even not be possible. To make the description explicit, i.e. calculate solutions, we would then need additional information again, e.g. a certain new method of calculation that enables us to calculate solutions for certain cases.
In all these cases, the more general description of creative processes is incomplete in some way. The creative system can be thought of as being able to move out of the scope of any theory we create about it. A complete, i.e. general and at the same time explicit description of the whole is not possible. It would require an infinite amount of information.
You can think of this situation metaphorically by imagining a picture of which you initially see only a very small section. This you can see completely in high resolution. However, as you zoom out of the picture and more of it comes into view, parts of it blur, or holes and gaps appear. Whatever you do to fill the gaps and increase the image’s sharpness, imperfections will remain. Even if you manage to get a high definition picture of everything without any gaps, as soon as you zoom further out you will notice there are gaps and blurred parts again. Something like this is happening if we try to describe cognitive or cultural processes. Some parts of the description will remain implicit or vague or will be missing.
We could also envision this situation in the graphical form given in the picture above, (taken from Ammon 1987, page 82. Let’s assume we had a method to measure the generality and the explicitness of descriptions in some way. That might not be possible in the strict sense but it helps to understand what this trade-off between generality and explicitness means. If you imagine a coordinate system where one axis represents the generality of descriptions on a scale between 0 and 1 and the other axis represents the explicitness of descriptions, again as a value between 0 and 1, there would be a line that cannot be crossed (see image). There is a reachable area and a “forbidden zone”.
Referring to this, Ammon writes (Ammon 1987, page 81):
Thus, the triangle marked by diagonal lines cannot be reached by theories about creative processes. This means that there is no explicit and general theory about creative processes, i.e. a theory whose explicitness and generality are equal to one. Furthermore, it means the explicitness of rather general theories and the generality of rather explicit theories about creative processes are very low.
Along the diagonal line lie descriptions that are as general as their degree of explicitness allows and as explicit as their degree of generality allows. Our common sense ideas about psychology and culture that we employ in everyday life might be somewhere within that triangle, nearer to the left lower corner.
This graphical representation of the trade-off between generality and explicitness might itself belong somewhere near the upper left corner because it might be impossible to make the notion of a numeric measure or either generality or explicitness of descriptions explicit itself, so this is not a very exact description. However, it is useful as a visualization of this basic property of creativity: that all descriptions of it are, in some way, incomplete.
Ammon, Kurt: “The Automatic Developments of Concepts and Methods“, Doctoral Dissertation, University of Hamburg, 1987