Can Computers be Creative?

I use the word creativity a lot on these blog pages. I firmly believe that every living person is creative. The tragedy is that many people have their creative dreams crushed so hard they never recover. Ai-Da is an Artificial Intelligence machine that paints, writes, and gives presentations. Can a computer be creative? Will it further crush human creativity? Or will it expand human creativity?

Photograph of Ai-Da, a humanoid figure with a life-like head & face and robotic mechanical arms & hands standing next to one of her pieces of impressionistic art below which is a sign that reads Ai-Da Robot, the world's first ultra-realistic robot artist. But can a computer be creative?

What Is Creativity?

Before we can intelligently decide whether a machine can be creative, we need to define creativity. In “You Don’t Have to be an Artist” I use the Merriam-Webster definition of creativity. It’s imprecise and vague. Trying to define creativity is difficult. It’s one of those things we say, “I know it when I see it.” 

Margaret Boden OBE, ScD, FBA, a research professor of cognitive science, published The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms in 1990. Within that book, she offers a philosophical definition of creativity. 

Creativity is the ability to come up with ideas or artefacts that are newsurprising, and valuable.”

Margaret Boden OBE, ScD, FBA

Instead of asking the yes or no question “is that idea creative,” Boden suggests we ask, “how creative is it, and in just which way?” She also defines what she means by new, by surprising, and by valuable. 

What New Means

To define new, she distinguishes between psychological creativity (P-creativity) and historical creativity (H-creativity).

P-creativity involves coming up with a surprising, valuable idea that’s new to the person who comes up with it. It doesn’t matter how many people have had that idea before. But if a new idea is H-creative, that means that (so far as we know) no-one else has had it before: it has arisen for the first time in human history.”

Interalia Mag quoting Boden

What Surprising Means

In her definition, surprising has three different meanings. First, a surprising idea is something that is unfamiliar, or even unlikely. An unexpected idea, something that is part of a familiar idea but in a way you haven’t thought of before, is the second type of surprising. The third type of surprising, is the astonished reaction you have an idea you would have thought impossible before you saw/heard it.

Her definition and exploration of creativity is more complex than this and deserves a more detailed examination, but this definition will help us examine whether Ai-Da, an AI, is a creative machine.

Creative Artificial Intelligence

My first reaction to the idea of a creative artificial intelligence was an enormous surge of skepticism. 

 As human in appearance as Ai-Da, her jerky and distracting actions and her clear but halting speech annoyed me. I looked at her, listened to her, and dismissed her. She isn’t the creative one, it’s her human programmers, right? 

Then I applied Boden’s definition. Is Ai-Da’s art new? The answer is yes to both P-creativity and H-creativity. Is it surprising? Again, I’d have to answer yes. Is it valuable? That’s what I found questionable. Some people would pay money for the novelty of owning art by an AI. But was it valuable in any larger way? I was skeptical. 

I continued my research and discovered a different way to look at Ai-Da and my question, “can a computer be creative?”

The Intersection of Science and Creativity

Benedikte Wallace hates math. When she was growing up she loved art and dance and creative life. She also loved science. She saw math as an insurmountable wall between her two loves. And she despaired that she’d ever be able to find work in the intersection of those two. 

She says she’s still terrible at math, but she found a way. Wallace is a Ph.D. researcher at the RITMO Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies of Rhythm, Time and Motion at the University of Oslo.

She suggests a different way to approach my question.

She sees the computer as a creative partner, a tool. 

I think of and use my computer daily as a creative tool. Could it be a creative partner? I reluctantly agree that it could be.

Can Computers Be Creative

image of a human hand reaching with index finger forward on one side toward a robotic hand reaching in the same way toward the human hand on a black background with blue lines in a repetitive pattern that represent computers but can computers be creative?

Reducing an artificial intelligence machine like Ai-Da to the term computer is to dismiss it as an independent entity. I am a science fiction reader and author. So why do I dismiss Ai-Da as an independent entity? Because the idea makes me uncomfortable. Wallace uses terms that make me more comfortable. I can see Ai-Da as a creative tool to use. Except she is more than that. Just as I am more than the sum of my parts, Ai-Da is more than the sum of her numbers… more than her programming, even if it’s only a tiny bit more. Can computers be creative? Ai-Da is creative, but is she only as creative as her programming? Maybe. Perhaps her descendants will be more creative… and more accepted.

Can you see yourself collaborating with a future Ai-Da?

Can you see a future Ai-Da producing creative works like yours?

Bust your Stress with Creativity

You’re under stress and your creativity has hit the dumper. You tell yourself you must sacrifice your creativity and focus on the stress. Real-world worries haunt you. Maybe it’s the pandemic that’s your stressor. Perhaps it’s a loved one who is ill. Or it’s not knowing where you’ll get the money to pay the bills. And when the news shows you the world is on fire, stress consumes you. It is unbelievable stress for those who are trying to survive. Naturally, it stresses those in neighboring communities and countries. And it stresses many of us who live on the other side of the world. Who is so cold-hearted to turn their back on the flames that are consuming innocents? Stress is real. Stress steals creativity. So creatives, like you, feel the stress acutely. Sometimes you feel as if you can’t or won’t create again. Yet, even in the smallest corner of the world, the world needs your creativity. Always remember, you can bust your stress with creativity. 

image of a person holding their head but their face and the area surrounding them is gray and the word stress in various sizes because no matter the size of your stress you can bust your stress with creativity

Yes, your creativity may not cure illness, stop cruelty, or quench the fires of destruction, but it can restore yourself. And if you share it, your creativity will help someone else. Maybe someone else takes aid to those in need or leads a neighborhood, a country, the world to peace.

How Stress Steals Creativity

Do you know how many decisions you make in your everyday life?

It’s estimated that the average adult makes about 35,000 remotely conscious decisions each day.”

science.unctv.org

Shocking, isn’t it? You make some decisions on auto pilot. Others take more deliberation. Some you second guess over and over. All of those decisions take energy and, as the day progresses, cause decision fatigue. According to the American Medical Association decision, fatigue is a state of mental overload that can impede a person’s ability to continue making decisions.

image of a pile of triangles outlined in red with the word yes or no on them representing decisions but

Add on the pandemic and all the problems accompanying that. Forest fires, floods, and wars level up your stress to paralyzing. 

Stress builds up cortisone, the primary stress hormone, in your system. It triggers the fight and flight response, and dampens or turns off any function that would interfere with all out fight or flight. Creative thought is one of the first to go. After all, there’s no time for creativity when you need to decide to fight or run. 

Neutralize Your Stress

Never fear. Stress steals creativity, but you can fight back with—creativity. Creativity boosts serotonin, which reduces stress.

A study, published in 2016, showed that creativity reduces cortisol levels forty-five minutes before and after art making, no matter what kind of art the participant expressed. Seems like a paradox, but it’s not. It’s the yin and yang of our bodies. There are ways you can use that to reduce your stress, even when stress has blocked your ability to practice your preferred art.

10 Ways to Bust Your Stress with Creativity

1. Get creative in a different way. 

Use a side hobby or second passion. Knit, crochet, garden, woodwork, play a musical instrument, paint or color by numbers. No matter which art you use, you will reduce your stress.

2. Do something that makes you happy. 

You can dance, play, dress up, get your hair done, or watch baby animal or stupid pranks videos, or make art. Choose something that makes you smile or laugh.

3. Get physical. 

A mere ten to fifteen minutes will do it. It doesn’t have to be a workout. Get creative. Take a walk around the house, around the block, or make art with your vacuum. Get your blood circulating.

4. Pay attention to your nutrition. 

Occasional junk food is all right, but don’t neglect proper nutrition. Your brain needs protein. Choose a high protein breakfast to boost your creativity. Get high protein snacks like nuts, Greek yogurt, or hard-boiled eggs. Get more healthy protein snack ideas. Avoid those high-protein breakfast bars that are full of sugar and carbs.

5. Practice self-soothing activities.

Photo is a silhouette of a woman on a bench with a bag beside her and a bicycle parked at the end of the bench. The woman looks toward the rose colored sunset in the background.

Increase your serotonin levels with meditation, or reading, or listening to calming music, or take a hot shower. Choose something that fills you with as much calm and contentedness as possible. Avoid using junk food or even caffeine to soothe yourself. They will only make you feel worse. 

6. Reframe it. 

You are creative. You can reframe awful situations into opportunities for expression. That doesn’t mean rub your hands in glee or do a Nero at the suffering of others. It means use the situation to express your emotions, your support for victims, or your rejection of the situation. Need inspiration? The internet is full of knitting patterns, short stories, drawings, photographs, and songs offering solidarity and support for the Ukrainian people. Hackers have even gotten in on the act hacking Russia’s satellites. 

Be vulnerable. Do your art your way. 

7. Use your fatigue.

According to research by Mareike Wieth, we are more creative when we are tired. Try brainstorming session when right before bed. Spend ten to fifteen minutes brainstorming.

8. Take a mental vacation. 

Review pictures of a favorite vacation or use Pinterest or travel sites on the web to “build” a dream vacation.  

9. Limit your exposure to stressful situations or news. 

You have a time of day when you are most creative. Protect that time. Save watching the news or other stressful activities and situations for your least creative time of day. If life or stress prevents that, it’s okay. Deal with the issues, but get back to your creative schedule as soon as possible.

10. Get a good night’s sleep.

It’s not always possible, but do your best to sleep six to eight hours each day. Follow a sleep hygiene routine. Invest in a white noise generator or ultra comfy pjs. Stop using electronics thirty to ninety minutes before bedtime. Decrease your caffeine intake. Apply your creative mind to the problem and get a better night’s sleep.

Reduce the number of decisions you have to make in a day. Follow a routine. Schedule at least two or three stress reducers into your day. Five minutes is better than none. Ten to fifteen minutes is better than that, but you can build up to fifteen minutes (or more). Play a mind game if you need. Tell yourself, ”I only have to do five minutes, then I can choose to do something else or I can do ten minutes.” 

BUST YOUR STRESS WITH CREATIVITY

Photo of a pug with a red velvet blanket over its head. One way to bust your stress with creativity is to give yourself permission to smile.

You are a human. You are a creative. Some level of stress will exist every day of your life. Don’t be a Nero. But use your creative gift. Bust your stress with creativity and your art will probably bust someone else’s stress. Maybe it will inspire someone to use their creativity to bust stress in a community, a state, and the world. Now go out there and create.

Which of these stress busting tips will you use this week?

Image Credits

FIrst image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Second image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay 

Third image by Melk Hagelslag from Pixabay

Final image by Stacey Kennedy from Pixabay 

Are You Chasing Flow State?

You are an illustrator, a writer, a knitter, a sculptor, a skater, or a marathon runner. What do you all have in common? You all want to achieve flow state. Why? Because flow state is where you immerse yourself into your activity, your mind and body quiet, and the world around you falls away. The joy of the process fills you and you do your best work. For a creator, it’s a little slice of heaven. And you want it to go on and on. Do you know how to achieve it or are you chasing flow state?

Image of a woman's profile on a black background over the head of the woman is an anatomical drawing of a brain in gold and from and around the brain are gold streaks and stars and dashes representing the blog post are you chasing flow state?

What is Flow State?

Flow state is a process. It’s an immersion in an activity that persists, ignoring hunger, fatigue, and the outside world. Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discovered it and coined the term in the 1960s.

But flow state is more than a woo-woo emotional state that creatives chase. It’s a neurobiological state, too.

Who can Achieve Flow State?

I’ve spent a fair number of words on the idea that everyone is creative. No matter what it is you do for the joy of it, you are creative

According to Csikszentmihalyi, anyone can achieve a flow state. It doesn’t matter if you’re a welder or a dancer, an athlete, or a painter, a knitter or a baker—anyone can achieve flow state. 

Have you ever been doing your thing and lost track of time? Looked up and realized your family ate without you? That is flow state. 

The Neurobiology of Flow

According to Psychology Today, our brainwaves (neuroelectricity), our brain’s chemicals (neurochemistry), and our prefrontal cortex (neuroanatomy) change when we are in a flow state. 

Brainwave Changes

You’ve heard of beta waves. They are the fast-moving brainwaves that are present during normal waking consciousness. When we are in a flow state, our brainwaves slow way down from beta waves to a borderline area between alpha and theta waves.  

Psychologists associate alpha waves with day-dreaming. Theta waves only show up just before you fall asleep or you are in REM sleep (the stage of sleep where you dream). 

But a change in brainwaves is just one step toward achieving flow state.

Deactivation of the PFC

You won’t achieve flow state unless your brain temporarily deactivates your prefrontal cortex (PFC). The PFC is where higher cognitive functions happen. Higher cognitive functions like evaluating, organizing, and reaching goals. It’s also where large parts of our sense of self are created. 

Deactivating your PFC makes you lose your sense of self. It also temporarily shuts down the part of your brain known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. This is the self-monitoring and impulse control areas of our brains. And it is where your inner voice of doubt and disparagement comes from. 

Neurochemical Changes

While the neuroelectrical and neuroanatomical changes are happening, your brain is also being flooded with the “feel good” and performance enhancing chemicals: norepinephrine, dopamine, endorphins, anandamide, and serotonin. 

The Perfect Storm

These three changes happen at the same time. If one change doesn’t happen, flow state does not occur. With all three, your imaginative thinking, pattern recognition skills, and ability to think “outside the box” increase. The three changes create a perfect creative problem-solving storm. 

How to Induce a Flow State

The ways to trigger a flow state are myriad. You may have to experiment with different methods. Keep trying until you are able to induce a flow state on demand.

Set yourself up for success. 

Choose work you love. 

Set a one-task goal.

If you feel your skill level isn’t up to the task, practice. Research has shown that the flow state is more likely when the task difficulty and skill level are closely matched. 

Allow yourself to stretch, to believe that you can do better.

Choose the time and place.

Plan to work during the time of day when you are most productive.

Reduce external distractions.

Eliminate internal distractions. Take ten minutes and list all the things that you “should” do or you are concerned about. Then put the list aside to look at again after you finish your task.

Set up a trigger.

Follow a specific routine or set up a ritual. 

Use music to help you focus.

Try meditation. Or yoga.

Use the Pomodoro method. Set a timer for twenty-five minutes. Focus solely on your task during that time. When time is up, take a five-minute break, then set the timer again.

Try a specific scent. 

For more tips and triggers, read Life Hack and Zen Habits.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

Symptoms of Being in Flow

You are completely focused on the one task in front of you.

You forget about yourself and others around you.

You lose track of time.

You feel calm and in control.

You are creative and productive.

You feel happy even if you don’t reach your goal. It was the process that filled you with joy. 

You Aren’t Chasing Flow State Any Longer

Flow state will probably sneak up on you. When you come out of flow state, record what you did immediately before you started working. Try the same thing again the next day.

It will take time and practice, but eventually you will enter flow state with little effort. 

Even then, there may be days when flow state doesn’t come easily. Fall back to one of your successful triggers. And if that doesn’t work, don’t despair. You aren’t chasing flow state now because you believe in yourself. Perhaps your skill level isn’t up to the task and you need to level up. Or you may not have shut off the inner distractions and need to take care of something else before you can enter flow state. Go through your list. And be confident that when you fix what needs to be taken care of, you’ll step right back into a flow state.

What will you do to trigger flow state during your next creative work period?

Image Credits

First image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Second image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay 

Last photo by Ashley Batz on Unsplash

Stop Labeling Yourself an Imposter

Ever since the 1978 study by Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, creatives (and many others) have been labeling themselves as having “imposter phenomenon” or “imposter syndrome.” I even blogged about it. Caught up in the relief of “someone understands,” I embraced the label. But I now understand how damaging the label is and I urge you to stop labeling yourself an imposter. 

cartoon-style image of a wolf in sheep's clothing approaching a sheep symbolic of why you should stop labeling yourself an imposter

What is Imposter Syndrome?

According to Merriam-Webster, imposter syndrome is “a psychological condition that is characterized by persistent doubt concerning one’s abilities or accomplishments accompanied by the fear of being exposed as a fraud despite evidence of one’s ongoing success.”

Many, many celebrities have confessed to having imposter syndrome.

What is Wrong with the Label?

What image or thought comes to mind when you think about the word imposter? A wolf in sheep’s clothing? Cases where fraudulent identities were used to swindle someone?

The word imposter puts the blame on you. It says you are not genuine. You are defective, an imposter, a fraud. Even the “confession” of having imposter syndrome implies it’s something wrong, even criminal.

There is no room in that label for normal doubt or for historical, cultural, familial, or systemic context. 

At worst, the label implies you are pathological, a criminal. It says you are flawed and need to be fixed. The label says it’s wrong to be unsure, to doubt your abilities, to feel uncomfortable.

It doesn’t acknowledge that microaggressions and discrimination against gender and race, the lack of role models, and the lack of validation play a huge role in destroying your self-confidence.

What is Self-Doubt?

Photo of a woman in black sitting crosslegged on a red sofa against a red background with a neon sign above her head that reads "feelings." Self-doubt is a normal feeling so stop labeling yourself an imposter

Self-doubt is

a lack of faith in oneself a feeling of doubt or uncertainty about one’s abilities, actions, etc.

Merriam-Webster

How does the phrase, “lack of faith in oneself” make you feel? I’ll bet it doesn’t make you feel like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Doubt or uncertainty about one’s abilities, actions, etc. is an uncomfortable feeling. It can be extremely uncomfortable. No wonder we want to label it somehow.

Self-Doubt is Normal

Being anxious about a new skill or new situation is normal. Second guessing and mild discomfort are normal. Being the “new kid on the block” is stressful. And it’s okay to feel that stress.

Confidence doesn’t equal competence.

Think about it. You tell yourself you are not competent because you have little or no confidence. Let me say it again: confidence doesn’t equal competence. 

Traditionally in the business world, a novice gets a job and a mentor, a professional who is competent and confident. The novice is anxious and doubts his abilities, but he gets guidance and education from the mentor. The mentor models that anxiety is normal and is competent despite that discomfort. As the novice’s skills build, the mentor validates his abilities. Over time, the novice grows more and more competent and is further validated by the mentor and peers. The novice’s anxiety and doubts recede. They don’t disappear, but he has accepted that he is now competent has confidence in his learned skills.

 As a creative, you probably did not get that. If you are self-taught, you definitely did not get that mentoring and modeling. 

If you don’t have a mentor, be your own mentor. You’ve taught yourself a skill. Give yourself credit!! Not everyone can be self-taught. You have done it your own way. No one else can do what you can. Good job!

Why Self-Doubt is a Good Sign

If self-doubt plagues you, it could mean you’re taking risks. You’ve stepped out of your comfort zone. And that is a good thing. Congratulations. You are growing and trying something new. 

You failed once (or more than once), so you are doubting yourself and your ability to do this thing you’re attempting. Congratulate yourself. We humans learn by trying and failing. Remember Edison and keep going. Self-doubt is just one step along the way to success.

It keeps you humble. Without self-doubt, you would become arrogant, overconfident, and reckless. Those feelings would lead to failure. And a pretty unlikeable personality. Embrace your self-doubt. It helps you keep things in perspective. Acknowledge your competence, even your excellence, but stay humble. Know that excellence is fleeting. Keep striving to learn more, to step outside your comfort zone.

Stop Labeling Yourself an Imposter

Image of the saying "you can do it" on white paper, with a white framed on a white background with white flowers in a silver pot beside it. Stop labeling yourself an imposter, you can do it.

Take the word imposter out of your vocabulary. Learn to recognize self-doubt and call it what it is. Normal.

Change your self-talk. Don’t accept other people’s labels. Make a realistic assessment of yourself and your abilities. Be your own best mentor. 

Having difficulty getting past the self-doubt? There are suggestions on how to do that all over the internet, including in my post, “Are You Saying No to Success?”

More On This Topic

The Harvard Business Review article, “Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome”, focuses on women in business jobs but is a thorough and important discussion.

Rich Karlgaard has written a helpful article called “Self-Doubt can Help You Bloom…

Still concerned that your anxiety is bad or out-of-control? Learn about the difference between normal anxiety and an anxiety disorder. If you feel anxious in every situation and overwhelmed all the time, please seek professional help. 

Stop labeling yourself an imposter today. Tell us why you are not an imposter below.

Image Credits

First Image by pangloy from Pixabay

Second Photo by Brock Wegner on Unsplash

Final Image by Tumisu from Pixabay 

Motivation for Being A Creative

The journey of being a creative can be like a smooth road. You glide from point A to point B. Most often; it is a bumpy, curvy road with fantastic ideas and poor execution or a mediocre idea and stunning execution. Self-doubt can cause breakdowns (to continue the metaphor). If you choose to be a full-time creative, you need ways to manage the ups and downs, curves, and occasional breakdowns. The best way to do this is to know your what, who, how and why of creativity. Your answers will help motivate and inspire you. Here are some quotes to help you get started or clarify your answers.

Photograph of a needle with multiple, different colored, embroidery threads through the needle demonstrating that Being Creative can be hard.

What is Creativity?

Creativity is more than a definition found in a dictionary.

The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul.”

Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last, you create what you will.”

George Bernard Shaw

Creativity involves breaking out of expected patterns in order to look at things in a different way.”

Edward de Bono

It’s impossible to explain creativity. It’s like asking a bird, ‘How do you fly?’ You just do.”

Eric Jerome Dickey

When Can You Be Creative?

Creativity doesn’t wait for that perfect moment. It fashions its own perfect moments out of ordinary ones.” Bruce Garrabrandt

Everyone who’s ever taken a shower has had an idea. It’s the person who gets out of the shower, dries off, and does something about it who makes a difference.”

Nolan Bushnell 

Who Are Creatives?

photograph of an asian woman wearing glasses lines of computer programming language are on a screen in front of her and reflected in  her glasses. Make room to understand programmers are being a creative too.

There’s room for everybody on the planet to be creative and conscious if you are your own person. If you’re trying to be like somebody else, then there isn’t.

Tori Amos

The artist is not a special kind of person; rather each person is a special kind of artist.”

Ananda Coomaraswamy

One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

The creative adult is the child who survived.

Ursula Leguin

How to be Creative

Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.”

Rumi

Sometimes you’ve got to let everything go – purge yourself. If you are unhappy with anything… whatever is bringing you down, get rid of it. Because you’ll find that when you’re free, your true creativity, your true self comes out.”

Tina Turner

Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper. Down deep, the fish are more powerful and more pure. They’re huge and abstract. And they’re very beautiful.”

David Lynch

Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos.”

Mary Shelley

Everything you can imagine is real.”

Pablo Picasso

Why Be Creative?

For what matters in life is not whether we receive a round of applause; what matters is whether we have the courage to venture forth despite the uncertainty of acclaim.”

Amor Towles

Creativity is a way of living life, no matter our vocation or how we earn our living.”

Madeleine L’Engle

To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.”

Kurt Vonnegut
Photograph of a man's hands as he hammers red-hot steel into a blade-he is being a creative, too

Your What, Who, How, and Why Be Creative

Longtime readers of this blog know that helping people find the courage to express their creative side is a passion of mine. For more encouragement read how your creativity doesn’t have to be perfect.

Whether you’ve assessed your what, who, how and why be creative or not, I hope one or two of these quotes gave you creativity a boost today.

What motivates or inspires you on your creative journey?