On Creation

The Creation of Adam

I wrote recently about creative thinking, but my discussions with friends and colleagues often strayed beyond creative thinking to discuss creativity and creation in general. Here are some thoughts on the nature of creation*.

Creation defined

We can say:

An act is an act of creation if something exists after the act that did not exist before it, and would not exist if the act had not occurred.

Destruction defined

We can also define destruction:

An act is an act of destruction if something does not exist after the act that did exist before it, and would continue to exist if the act had not occurred.

Equivalence of creation and destruction

We can notice how creation sometimes involves taking something away:

  • Digging a hole is an act of creation, just as making a pile of earth.
  • Carving a bowl from a block of wood is an act of creation, just as forming a bowl as a coil pot.
  • Resist printing uses wax to prevent dye taking in certain areas. Discharge printing uses bleach to remove colour from previously dyed fabrics. Applying either of these is an act of creation, just as direct printing, where the pattern comes from the application of the dye.

If we define the notion of absence:

There is an absence of something if that thing does not exist. If that thing exists, there is no absence.

Then we can draw an equivalence between the two, as a act of destruction creates an absence, and an act of creation destroys an absence.

Entropic bias

If acts of creation and destruction are logically equivalent, why do we tend to make a distinction? Why do we focus on the creative aspect of bowl carving, rather than its destructive aspect?

We seem have a bias to see acts that decrease entropy as creative, and acts that increase entropy as destructive.

This bias goes back far beyond the formulation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Here, for example, is the beginning of the Judaeo-Christian creation story:

בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ. וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחֹשֶׁךְ עַל פְּנֵי תְהוֹם, וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם. וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים: “יְהִי אוֹר”, וַיְהִי אוֹר.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

That phrase ‘תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ’, ‘ṯōhū wāḇōhū’ describes a high entropy system (‘תֹהוּ’ translates as ‘waste, emptiness, vanity’, ‘בֹהוּ’ is an emphatic reduplication) and the next six days’ action is the process of decreasing its entropy.

(It’s interesting to note how the creation of order entails the reduction of entropy. The very notion of entropy inverts our bias towards order.)

Creation and Creativity

We’ve characterised acts of creation and observed their logical, if not psychological equivalence. Are all acts of creation creative acts?

It seems to me that we can place acts of creation on a continuum, from those that we would seldom characterise as ‘creative’ to those we would unhesitatingly characterise that way.

If we revisit our earlier examples, then it’s hard to see how digging a hole could be considered to be a creative act, although it is indeed an act of creation. Carving a bowl and textile printing seem to be further along the scale, though I suspect most of us would choose our words depending on whether we saw this act of creation as something purely mechanistic, or as bringing something additional to the act.

It seems to me that this something additional may be what we look for when we distinguish a creative act from a simple act of creation. I wonder whether this is an act of conceptual creation, a reduction in conceptual entropy, and whether this is what we mean when we speak of creative thinking. This is something for me to explore further.

* I was a hopeless philosophy student, so these thoughts come from a position of wide-eyed ignorance. I’m confident my arguments are both invalid and unsound, and that whatever value I have touched on here has been expressed with more precision and insight elsewhere. If you notice my ignorance, please tell me, so I can be wiser.

Nevertheless, there is a certain pleasure in casting a wide net over my synapses and displaying the catch, whatever worth it may have.