I ran across an article by writer Agustin Fuentes last night and want to share it here because it’s very interesting. As Fuentes says in the beginning of his article, “Humans have incredible creative potential.” The problem with this, thought, is that we can use our creative potential for creative endeavors or destructive and even cruel ones. We label ourselves “Homo sapiens” meaning “wise man” but we don’t always live up to that moniker.
After researching for his new book, Fuentes says he came to the conclusion that the human imagination adds more good outcomes than bad ones. In fact, he concludes that our creativity is what makes us exceptional. He also points out that we have the capacity to be creative every day but in our contemporary world we often fail to realize this and so we just kind of go along with the flow.
Turning to human evolution, Fuentes says that about 2 million years ago several groups of “naked upright primates” began a journey and they creatively collaborated in ways no other creature at the time did. For instance, they began to make tools out of stones, they began to venture into new lands beyond those they’d known, they began to explore and eat new foods, and in essence they began to manipulate the world around them.
Moving up on the evolutionary timescale, Fuentes turns to 500,000 years ago and says this is when our ancestors learned to work together and to hunt collaboratively and creatively. Then he says about 300,000 years ago our ancestors began to “tame fire” and used it to change night into day and cook food instead of continuing to eat it raw.
Somewhere around 200,000 years ago our ancestors began to use pigments of varied colors to paint their faces and bodies and they began to dance and make music. The about 80,000 years ago they began to carve intricate shapes onto ostrich eggshells and bones. The beginnings of art, dance, and music.
Cave wall painting began around 30,000 years ago as humans began to paint wondrous scenes on cave walls with some depicting everyday life and others depicting spiritual and dream adventures. Then, Fuentes says, around 10,000 years ago or maybe 15,000 years ago our ancestors began to settle down and in doing so they began to really manipulate their environments with the advent of farming and forming small communities. What we call “civilization” today.
Looking at evolutionary history Fuentes says it shows our collaborative creativity in action and that it was key to our success both in the past and in our coming future. He then encourages us to remove our blinders as many of us have become convinced that we are powerless because we’ve forgotten what creativity is and “how its spark resides in all of us.”
Fuentes then makes a very strong point. “Creativity is not a private endeavor vested in a single person or a select group of people. It is not solely about genius in the arts or sciences, or actions by prominent artists, celebrities, or politicians. It is not even limited to the work of particularly original thinkers. Creativity emerges from the interconnections of ideas, experiences, and imagination.” Honestly, that’s probably the best explanation of creativity I’ve ever heard.
Fuentes believes creativity is a two phase process. Firstly, it is the ability to confront a challenge, or to work through an idea or concept by envisioning possible scenarios and outcomes. Secondly, it is the capacity to make the visualized outcome into reality. I would agree with him on both points (stages). “To be creative is to tap into our mental pool of resources” and also our experiences and our connections and use them to create the new and innovative or even the outlandish. “Human creativity is our ability to move back and forth between the realms of what is and what could be.”
Fuentes has come to the conclusion that we are “wired” for creativity and this is what sets us apart from other creatures. Honestly, I think he’s right! And I would agree with the assertion that it’s not brain size the matters but how our brains are wired that really makes the difference between us and other primates.