Jonah Lehrer recently appeared on The Colbert Report and discussed his new book “Imagine: How Creativity Works”. (I haven’t read the book, nor do I know who Lehrer is: I can only respond to his two-minute interview and then name-drop him to get more search hits on my blog 😉 One of his big ideas is that new ideas are always just recombinations of old ideas, and then he sneakily ties this into his position that copyrights are bad. (His argument was basically that Shakespeare stole openly from others, and everybody likes Shakespeare, so stealing others’ ideas without permission is cool.) Whatever, it’s a hip idea and it’s quickly becoming an unquestioned part of our culture. I’d be more surprised if the contra to this position ended up on the New York Times bestseller list.
More interestingly, he suggested that the best way to solve problems that require creativity may involve ignoring them for awhile and goofing off a bit instead. I constantly berate myself for farting around on the internet instead of finishing the next page of The sea is stormy tonight, but if our minds are doing essential problem-solving during the times that we’re not, maybe I should just accept the fact that reading the comments on Yahoo! News is part of my process.
This might be wishful thinking, but I kind of think that it must be true because it matches up with my personal experience of creativity so well. My good ideas come to me in spurts, and sometimes a whole bunch of them will hit me at once without me “doing” anything to initiate it. When they come, I notice that a lot of them have their roots in whatever I’ve been exposing myself to in my downtime: for example, I’m pretty sure that my portrayal of Satan in the Melies comic series was at least partially inspired by David Bowie’s flamboyant and aloof performance in Labyrinth.
If this isn’t true, then I have wasted an inexcusable portion of my very limited lifetime reading dumb internet commenters, so I’m gonna go ahead and believe this one until someone proves that it’s bunk.
(P.S. Please don’t prove that it’s bunk.)