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Re: [xmca] Cultural Synergy/Creativity
I know Mike, and another (remote) lab member, Etienne Pelaprat, have been
thinking and writing a lot about creativity and imagination. But not yet
published, I think?
I am assuming the "effective" in Bruner's "effective surprise" refers to
adaptive usability or at least appreciation by numbers of people. Effective
as art, effective as tool, etc.
But the notion of surprise is interesting. Surprising to whom? to
ourselves? when it seems as if the creative impetus came from outside
consciousness, as in "we sometimes surprise ourselves with what we find
ourselves thinking/feeling"? or surprising to others, as in novel, original
at the social-cultural level? or both?
I believe that Mike and Etienne argue, in a long tradition, that mere
surprise is not enough, as simply imagining something new is also not
enough. To be creative what is imagined must be taken up in a process of
change at the social-cultural level. Of course it's customary to think this
only happens when the proposed novelty is good, useful, adaptive. But I
think we know that's too optimistic. Pretty much all the ills in the world
have also been the result of human creativity, or at least of innovations
spawned in imagination that have "caught on" and been caught up as
mediators (in Latour's sense, perhaps also in LSV's) in some
social-historical process of change.
Imagination per se does not, I think, necessarily produce surprises. I
think we mainly imagine combinations well within the circle of cultural
expectations. Real surprises need to be, I think, to some degree outside
that circle, and so in some way either contrary to cultural expectations or
wholly outside them. This may indeed be why contact with other
cultural-historical traditions can foster our imagining genuinely
surprising possibilities, some of which may get counted later and at a
larger scale as creative advances.
But we can also assume, I think, that within any cultural tradition there
are contradictions. There are combinations that are not supposed to get
made because making them would undermine the naturalness of the particular
culture's values, assumptions, and ways of doing things. Presumably
relatively stable or slowly-changing cultural systems have found the means
to insulate some domains of imagination from others to prevent these
subversive combinations from ever getting made. Or ways of making it more
likely that they will get disregarded. Conservatism is not simply a passive
inertia favoring the old ways. There must also be an active policing or
editing process, a sort of cultural immune response, not just to the alien,
but even more focally to the internally subversive.
So I think a key question for the study of creative encounters across
cultures (or subcultures) has to be how the immune system was circumvented
in particular cases. I think a common view on this is that some alien ideas
get transformed and assimilated, so that the sanitized versions of them
that later show up in our culture have been shorn of their most subversive
potential. Maybe one could even consider this a good thing up to a point.
Some part of the work of creative appropriation of alien ideas has to be
the process of re-making them as acceptable here. A study of the
differences between the original, alien and indigenous versions of an idea
(or style, or practice, or value, etc.) and the modified, digestible
versions that then succeed here could be very revealing of the larger
processes of cross-cultural creativity.
On Wed, May 23, 2012 at 3:13 PM, David Kellogg <firstname.lastname@example.org>wrote:
> I think that the problem with the Bruner definition "effective surprise"
> is the converse of its strength. The strength is that it is a combination
> of what Vygotsky calls a "naturalistic" approach (creativity is effective,
> it's an adaptation) and what he calls a "spiritualistic" approach
> (creativity is surprising, it's subjective).
> Of course, any psychological function, including creativity, is both...and
> neither. It's not naturalistic, because it's really not an adaptation to
> the environment (else there would be nothing surprising about it). And it
> doesn't even feel spiritualistic because; as the Brunerism indicates, our
> creativity does seem to come to us from outside ourselves.
> It seems to me that any effectively surprising definition of creativity
> has to include the key moment when creativity becomes deliberate and
> volitional. Otherwise there is no distinguishing between creativity and
> error. But it also seems to me that defining creativity as deliberate error
> is too narrowly genetic a definition; it describes how creativity happens
> (through the volitional mastery of the variations whose non-volitional
> manifestations are called error) but it doesn't explain what it does or how
> it is structured.
> The other day we were discussing (in our weekly seminar on the History of
> the Development of the Higher Psychological Functions) the analogy with
> Capital, where developmental crises are the result of a constraining of the
> surplus of productivity. Capitalism arises because with colonialism and
> mercantilism feudalism has managed to flood the market with surplus
> materials. Capitalism declines because of a surplus of productivity, the
> inability of workers to acquire with all of the commodities they produce.
> It seems to me that sign development actually follows a similar course. I
> have been thinking about the "leaps of creativity" involved in sign
> development too intellectualistically, as responses to a need. The child
> needs to handle things he cannot touch, and so names them. An older child
> needs to refer to things she cannot see and so signifies them.
> Now I think that's wrong. The truth is that at any given moment of
> development the child can do far more that he or she intends, and mastering
> the moment involves constrainting meaning potential as much as expanding
> it. The most obvious example of this is formation of symbols: the indexical
> symbol (that is, the one which is formed by associative links) is TOO
> productive, and only a kind of agreement to constrain its productivity in
> arbitrary ways will make it useful and usable.
> In Chapter Two of "The History of the Development (??) of the HIgher
> Psychological Functions" (why th "history of the development"--is that
> supposed to be redundant or exponential?). Vygotsky briefly defines a sign
> functionally, as a "created" stimulus, that is, a means of controlling
> behavior in others and in oneself. Here he endorses as "beautiful" the
> rather heartless remark Thurnwald made about slavery, viz. that man's first
> domestic animal was man himself! (see p. 54 in Vol. 4 of the Collected
> Works; also p. 58).
> But there is a crucial sense in which controlling your own behavior is not
> at all like controlling the behavior of another: you cannot control your
> own behavior through slavery, threats, and violence. To control your own
> behavior you must exclude what had hitherto been the most effective way of
> controlling the behavior of others from your symbol system.
> Andy once remarked that a gun is a sign. It is certainly a tool of
> .effective surprise (Bruner's purely descriptive definition), and it is
> also an instrument of volitional error (my own, purely genetic, one). The
> problem is that it is not a symbol: it refers to the means of the action,
> but not to any shared goal. In order to become a symbol, both ends of the
> tool must be mind-shaped. Like creating a good definition, that involves
> paring away as much as adding on.
> David Kellogg
> Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
> --- On Wed, 5/23/12, Vera John-Steiner <email@example.com> wrote:
> From: Vera John-Steiner <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> Subject: RE: [xmca] Cultural Synergy/Creativity
> To: "'eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity'" <email@example.com>
> Date: Wednesday, May 23, 2012, 10:33 AM
> Dear explorers of creativity and imagination,
> Francine your thought on cross fertilization of cultures and their impact
> creativity is an intriguing one. You may want to look at Patricia M.
> Greenfield's book on Weaving Generations Together where she deals with some
> interesting changes through time in Mayan textiles and the impact of
> urbanization on village life (sub-cultures, I guess.)
> The question about imagination and creativity and possible similarities and
> differences can only be answered in a lengthy message. But to begin my
> reactions, I want to use an expression from J. Bruner. He defined
> as "effective surprise" which would require not only going beyond the given
> as one does in imaginative activity as well, but the use of
> immersion in a domain, etc. I see imagination as a necessary part of
> creativity but the latter seems to encompass a larger and longer process.
> Creativity researchers distinguish between everyday creative acts ("c") and
> creative works ("C") and Mike's question may need to be answered in
> separating these in good Vygotskian fashion before looking at the
> unification of different acts and projects into a system of processes.
> Briefly, I think creativity and imagination are linked, and at times
> Interwoven but not fully overlapping (I vsialize the beginning of the
> -----Original Message-----
> From: firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com] On
> Behalf Of larry smolucha
> Sent: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 3:59 PM
> To: firstname.lastname@example.org
> Subject: [xmca] Cultural Synergy/Creativity
> Message from Francine Smolucha;
> The attachment contains a paper that I am writing titled aVygotskian
> Perspective on Cultural Synergy and Cultural Creativity.
> It is a work in progress, that might be of interest to XMCA.
> As usual, I am pioneering a new perspective. The main thesis is that
> Vygotsky's Theory of Creativitycan enhance our understanding of how ideas
> and tools fromdifferent cultures can be used to create new inventions
> andconceptual systems. Cultural exchanges throughout historyhave fueled
> creativity. The contemporary emphasis oncultural exchange as conflict and
> oppression, has obscuredthe creativity dimension. Understanding how the
> individual, group, and society creatively use ideas and tools from
> cultures,will provide models for enhancing these skills.
> Greetings from the south side of Chicago.
> xmca mailing list
> xmca mailing list
Senior Research Scientist
Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition
Adjunct Full Professor, Department of Communication
University of California - San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, California 92093-0506
New Website: www.jaylemke.com
Professor (Adjunct status 2011-2012)
School of Education
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
City University of New York
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