Ecologies of creativity and a new cultural evolution
Niels N. Johannsen
Paper short abstract:
Cultural evolution studies have detailed factors allowing for the relatively faithful transmission of information, skills and practices. I explore how alternative forms of evolutionary thinking can be productive for understanding its dialectical opposite in culture, i.e. the role of creativity.
Paper long abstract:
Human culture combines two apparently contradictory traits to a remarkable degree: the extent to which it allows groups and societies to retain and transmit information, norms, skills and practices within and between generations, and the extent to which it constantly - though to vastly varying degrees - reinvents itself, adding new variants and directions. Cultural evolution studies have been somewhat successful in developing formal studies and modelling of the first trait; that is, of factors allowing for relatively faithful transmission of information, skills and practices between individuals and groups. While showing an interest in innovation, this field has mainly treated the introduction of new cultural variants has analogous to the introduction of new biological variants in molecular evolution, i.e. through mechanisms of transmission error, mutation and drift - thus leaving important, distinctly human forms of agency unaddressed. In this paper, I explore how alternative forms of evolutionary thinking can be productive for understanding the second trait, i.e. the role of creativity in cultural processes. I suggest that cultural creativity unfolds in a particular kind of 'ecological niche' where dialectics of internalization and externalization of public and tangible material structures enable new ways of exploring solution spaces and identifying 'adjacent possibles'. Resulting innovations, in turn, feed back into the ecology, continuously changing and refining affordances for collective reasoning and creativity. Addressing this dynamic complex seems to require a coordinated and integrated multidisciplinary effort, the outlines of which I will try to sketch.
Creative environments, social minds