The Beating Heart of Creativity

Why “trying” to be creative doesn’t work —and how to fix it

Everyone on earth has brilliant original ideas several times a day.

Even if you’re in a bad mood — even if you’re mentally ill — you’re brainstorming all the time. Problem is, the instant you get a great idea, one or both of the following things happens:

  1. You grab onto the idea and start trying to develop it more fully, but the more you try to shape it, the more it slips through your fingers and disappears.
  2. Your mind reacts with, “Eh, that’s not important!” and tosses the idea away before you even get a clear look at it.

These are both natural reactions, because you’ve been taught all your life to scrutinize and critique unusual ideas, while it’s unlikely that anyone’s taught you how to come up with them in the first place.

Read more

From “One Goat” to “The Number One”

How the birth of math changed everything

Anthropological studies all over the globe have confirmed that in the most primitive cultures, numbers as abstract entities have no meaning at all. In other words, you can talk about one tree, two bananas or three goats, but the words “one,” “two” and “three” are just adjectival modifiers, used in the exact same way we use modifiers like “large” and “round.”

Ask a person in one of these cultures to draw a representation of the concept of “three,” and this person will draw you three trees or three goats: The number exists strictly as at attribute of the thing described. Asking the person to “just draw a three” sounds as nonsensical to them as a request to “just draw a round.” The person can draw a round shape, but has no way to represent the abstract quality of roundness without reference to some object, real or imagined, that is round.

But then, on some long-forgotten morning…

Read more

The Lure of the Abyss

What’s so fascinating about the dark?

The word “abyss” may be one of the oldest words still in use. We can trace its roots with certainty back to the ancient Greek “abyssos,” and possibly back to the Sumerian “abzu,” which would make this word, at the very least, 6,000 years old.

In all those millennia, its meaning has changed very little.

And our desire to plunge into it remains as strong as ever.

Read more