Retro-Truth: Remembering Our Creative Purpose

“Thus they went on living in a reality that was slipping away, momentarily captured by words, but which would escape irremediably when they forgot the values of the written letters.”

-Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

There are few better feelings than being lost in a good book. But what about a book about being lost in a story? The whole world Gabriel Garcia Marquez creates in his book paints reality right alongside the bright colors and forms of miracle. His fictional, magical village of Macondo is a powerful declaration of truth.

The rational, material world we inhabit is more and more driven by data. We need data to solve the most complex problems of government, health, business and technology. But the opportunity costs of a data-driven culture are the timeless, unique creativity of the human mind.

What is so important about the creative power of the mind? While David Cappella in his last post focused on metaphor and literature, I will extend his argument to focus on the benefit of discovering truth for cognitive psychology. Bloom’s Taxonomy, which reflects rigor of learning, has at its highest point the ability to create. The quality improvement cycle in business requires creative planning at its core. Without creativity, we are limited to simply understanding and verifying information.

Creativity and conviction are the summits of the human experience. Abraham Maslow described these “peak experiences” in his Toward a Psychology of Being as places in which the True, Good and Beautiful converge. At our most dramatic moments humans find value and purpose in truth, and truth in value and purpose. The apparent poles of reason and belief become indistinguishable.

These summits of creative “flow” in fiction and imagination enrich our identities personally and professionally:

  • Concept formation: Reading a good story, or being “in the zone” permits a certain sharpness and clarity to our thinking. Difficult problems suddenly unravel, and a path appears in our minds where before there were only disconnected facts. Our ability to create and discern meaning from the fertile ground of the experiences of others produces new thoughts and propositions. In a simple example, a professor  once told our class how he developed a theory from his showerhead one morning.
  • Neuroplasticity: The continued growth and resilience of our brains relies in part on our ability to interpret, evaluate and create. Stories are essential to the creative process. Current research and therapeutic practices for conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease show that encouraging narrative activities in patients can slow the progression of the disease.
  • Strength of Character: Role models perhaps best illustrate how how fiction holds powerful sway in our lives. The dreams of children run on the aspiration to be like a mythologized figure no matter how real. As we age, we extend influential ideals to a broader “democracy of the mind” or emotional intelligence that gives us resilience and independence.

Are fiction and imagination sufficient to deliver us the truth? Perhaps not. Yet the ineffable value of stories, imagination and creativity show the necessity of binding fact and meaning. Human creativity stands on the freedom to create these meanings.

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