Creativity is considered a magical process by most people. With mysterious, hidden, mechanisms, not understandable in a rational way. If creativity is considered as something that occurs on an unconscious level, this can make a lot more sense. Conscious thought then ensures the raw materials are available, and conditions that experience has shown support the creative process encouraged. Then, it is a matter of patience, combined with assessment of what inspiration delivers. Maybe in collaboration with helpful others, followed by further creative attempts in a feedback loop.
There may be two sorts of creative process: informed, and serendipitous.
The first, "Informed Creativity", based on work done by the Institute of Creative Technologies (IOCT, De Montfort University, UK), seems to typically require fifteen or more years of experience in a particular field of endeavour. After which people may be capable of seeing means by which holes in their area of expertise can be filled, or the field extended in some direction.
The second, "Serendipitous Creativity", seems to occur when someone in one or more unconnected fields makes a creative leap, which extends into, or extends outward, an established field. This person typically has no more than general knowledge of the extended field of endeavour.
It is this second variety which can give the best clues about how the creative process works. Using ideas from unpublished work by Dr. I. A. Newman (previously of Loughborough University, UK), the human mind develops multiple areas of expertise, each associated with some life activity. These are considered to be a highly connected set of observations, generalisations and rules, which may or may not include scientific or formal knowledge. These areas have only limited connections, such as shared use of language, to other areas of expertise: a small-world network.
A creative inspiration comes about as part of an unconscious process, generally when not focused on the problem, or even during sleep. This can be considered to be long-chain, low probability, association work, typically only done when there are spare mental processing resources available. Novel associations need to be recognised or flagged as (potentially) 'interesting', which in itself requires some spare mental resource. After which, conscious attention can be devoted to testing and developing the new inspiration.
One reason the above description may be valuable is that it suggests ways non-human creativity might be implemented, other than brute-force methods, in Artificial General Intelligence (AGI).
AGI on Wikipedia
(c) ROMsys Ltd, December 2012, permission given to use for non-profit making purposes
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