The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes The World, by Anthony Brandt and David Eaglemann
This is one of the many books that seeks to combine a concern for the aesthetics of creativity with a purportedly scientific approach in evolution that explains this human creativity with just-so stories. That does not make this necessarily a bad book, although there are obviously aspects of this book that one is not going to appreciate if one’s worldview is highly different from the authors, as mine is. Interestingly enough, at least for me, I was deeply intrigued by the way the authors discussed the joy of novelty for the sake of novelty that is expressed in so much of what is viewed as creative. In addition, this book does a very good job of pointing out that creativity involves a strong social angle in that the problems that creative people turn to and look to solve are in many ways strongly influenced if not determined by the sort of problems that a given society views as important. The authors wisely point out that creativity is something that is not only individual to the creative person themselves but is also something that is embedded in larger social groups that help determine how a creation is used and in what creativity is rewarded and encouraged.
The slightly more than 250 pages of this particular book contain three parts and 13 chapters. The authors begin with an introduction that connects Picasso and NASA. After that comes six chapters that demonstrate what the authors view to be new things under the sun (contra Solomon) (I), namely the claim that to innovate is human (1), a discussion of the way that the brain alters what it knows (2), ways that people create through bending (3), breaking (4), and blending (5) what already exists, and what life is like living in what the authors call the B-hive (6). After that the authors discuss the creative mentality (II) in the way that people don’t glue down the pieces but continue to move them around (7), the way that options are proliferated (8), the way that people scout to different distances in seeking to understand the repercussions of what is created (9), and the way that people are able to tolerate risk and uncertainty (10). Finally, the authors talk about the cultivation of creativity (III) in the way that people can create creative companies (11), creative schools (12), and continue to encourage creativity and innovation into the future (13). After this the book concludes with acknowledgments, image credits, a bibliography, notes, and an index.
Even if there is a considerable degree of distance in the worldviews of the authors and my own, there is still a lot to appreciate about this book. Notably, the authors suggest that a great deal of what is created is not in fact de novo creation but rather the rearrangement and reinterpretation of that which has been created before. A lot of people are prone to exaggerate the novelty of creativity and these authors show through a detailed analysis of Picasso as well as Bach that a great deal of creativity consists in rearrangement that all could do but that not everything thinks to do. Likewise, the authors do a good job of pointing out that there has been little in the way of artistic progress for a long, long time, but that different ages have different tastes and preferences that shift so that people can try to distinguish themselves from the past, even if progress is not involved. In this way the authors do a good job at indicating the nature of creativity as being something less overblown than it is sometimes viewed by others, and something that can be properly understood as relating to larger questions of human psychology and identity.