Overcoming our sense of the “impossible” is arguably the most difficult challenge facing all those who want to create a better world. Many believe, for example, that it is “impossible” for a very qualified candidate for new politics to win if that person has no money, machinery, or exposure to begin with. This belief will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. And voters will settle for the famous “lesser evil”, in effect, throwing away their hopes for inaugurating a new politics of integrity, accountability, and performance. Yet, as the Obama victory demonstrated, in the “impossible” is a new world waiting to emerge. And new developments in science point to how change agents can attain the “impossible” and usher in a new and more moral and sustainable world order.
In Part I of this editorial, we posed the key dilemma. Our ordinary identify is constructed by our past. Our identity judges anything not in conformity with that past as “impossible”. So how can future possibilities emerge when we often suppress the future by labeling it as “impossible”?
Power of Creativity
Fortunately there is a convincing answer, one that gives us a deep sense of hope. We often forget that there is another side to us. We are not just our past. We all have within us another aspect of our being, one that can access the future and one that can use this access to create momentous changes in the present.
We all have had “Aha!” moments in our life when something that puzzled us, all of a sudden becomes understandable and solvable. We all have had our moments of creativity when something totally new, something different from our past, something from the future, comes to our awareness and energizes us with a deep sense of possibility and hope. The energy is so strong that we often have a sense that our idea is undefeatable and that what we want to do in the world will surely come to pass.
More and more people are realizing the importance and power of creativity. A Google search on “creativity” yields more than 60 million entries! There is literally an explosion of interest in understanding what creativity is and how to harness it. Scientists and researchers including cognitive psychologists, neurophysiologists, brain scientists, organizational development consultants, historians, philosophers, and sociologists, astrophysicists, evolutionary biologists, among others, are uncovering a wealth of data on many aspects of creativity. Their discoveries are altering our notions of self, the nature of the universe, and the possibilities of societal transformation.
Personal creativity is the most understood and accessible aspect of creativity. This writer has conducted dozens of workshops on creativity and related topics in Europe, the United States of America, and the Philippines. Hundreds of individuals from more than 20 countries have attended these workshops. ALL – rich and poor, male and female, young and old, black, brown and white, have vivid experiences of creative moments in their life. All know that creativity is latent within each and every one of us. All want to be able to enter the state of creative consciousness at will. All understand the power of creativity to change their lives.
But personal development is only one area of application of creativity. We can also harness our innate and latent powers of creativity to guide society towards a transformative future.
But first we must pass through a process of purification. We must cleanse ourselves of all temptations to use our creativity for selfish ends.
The Dark Side of Creativity
In recent years, one book has helped fuel the explosion of interest in personal creativity. This is The Secret, a book that millions of readers have bought and read. The book expounds on the Law of Attraction and how it can be used for personal gain. Think intently on attracting a car, a house, money, a relationship and, presto, it will be granted unto thee. You can attract what you picture and will in your mind.
The book is not alone in advancing the powers of our creative consciousness. There are thousands of seminars and programs all over the world advocating the use of the law of attraction to be become successful in life.
The positive value of the book is that it awakens people to the tremendous amount of power that lies within them. If they understand the secret of the law of attraction, then they can control their destiny. They no longer have to depend on chance and circumstance. They can improve their lives. The book rightly points to the existence of current scientific discoveries that can be interpreted to support the centuries-old law of attraction.
The downside of the book is that it trivializes the tremendous powers that lie in human creativity. Instead, it limits human creativity to a narrow pursuit of selfish interests. It traps the awesome potential of human beings into a narcissistic and self-absorbed pursuit of creature-comforts, rather than unleashing this power to create better, healthier, and more sustainable societies.
This dark application of personal creativity creates socially naïve individuals who seem successful in life but who contribute very little to the authentic advancement of society. On the contrary, they may be creative participants in an institution that can spread tremendous harm to societies. One only needs to think of the many creative individuals in corporations and government institutions that have socially and environmentally harmful products and policies.
They are happy in their own narrow world of wealth and prosperity while millions around them are suffering from illness or dying from hunger, drugs, and violent crime among others. In effect, their creative self, instead of liberating and ennobling their day-to-day self, becomes a slave to the meaningless and sometimes destructive pursuits of our lower nature.
This is not to deny that we all need money, food, housing, clothing, health, nurturing relationships and other essentials of life. Rather, this is to emphasize that all our needs can be met in a more spiritually and socially fulfilling way when these day-to-day needs are under the guidance of and subsumed by our pursuit of a higher and more profound purpose in life.
When we have not only understood this, but have aligned our life to this understanding, we are then prepared for a higher and more profound use of our creativity. We are now ready to pursue a creative life in service of others, society and the planet.
The Societal Transformative Power of Creative Vision
In the early 1990s, the National Academy of Science, the largest scientific establishment in the world, reported on the results of a very illuminating research that they had done on predicting the future. The scientific researchers asked the question. What approach would predict the future more accurately: computer modeling or visioning?
Computer models predict the future by relying on past data and trends. Computer scientists look for causal relationships among various trends and factors that can affect the future. For example, they try to look at the impact of population growth, technology, economic performance, education, health, and other factors on poverty estimates. Poverty growth rates, in turn, are causally connected with peace and order conditions, which, in turn, affect poverty growth rates. Some computer models have as many as 10,000 factors that the model tries to link together into a coherent whole. And out of these, computer scientists then try to get a glimpse of what the future may be.
In the visioning approach, computer models do not play the central role in determining what the future may be. Instead proponents rely on a creative process called scenario building, where participants envision possible different ways that the future can unfold and, where appropriate, choose the most likely outcome.
The NAS study came out with a startling conclusion. Visioning predicts the future more accurately than computer modeling. Vivid and hope-engendering images of the future had the power to affect the behavior of humans in the present so profoundly that human beings actually alter past trends in order to realize their vision of the future.
Put another way, past trends set blinders and delimit the sense of what is possible. A creative vision, however, pursues what is “impossible” from the perspective of the past and, despite all obstacles, makes the “impossible” real.
Alan Kay, a computer pioneer, realized this power of human creativity years before the National Academy of Science confirmed it. He said: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
Earlier than Kay, social scientist, Fred Polak, found an empirical basis for the power of creative vision to create the future. Polak did a study on what factors determined the rise and fall of civilizations. He studied 5000 years of Western civilization. He examined economic, military, political, religious, environmental, cultural and other factors. The facts of his research led him to an inspiring conclusion.
Polak demonstrated that a positive image of the future is the most important factor in the rise and fall of civilizations. Civilizations flourish when they pursue a positive image or vision of the future. The moment that inspiring vision of the future is gone, then civilizations also decline and eventually die.
The Renaissance is one such period of history. Inspired by a new positive image of the human being and the universe, an unprecedented torrent of creativity burst onto the landscape of economic and political intrigue and violence in 15th and 17th century Europe. Innovations in art, architecture, science and technology reshaped the medieval world of Europe and inaugurated the modern world. Today, especially in the modernizing economies of the world, we are still feeling the impact of these creative developments that took place over 400 years ago.
Many studies on creativity, beyond the personal and institutional level, focus on its power to unleash scientific, technological, and societal innovation. However, we are facing new and urgent challenges. Humanity has become a geological force, altering the climate, the species composition, and the face of planet earth. We are also facing huge existential problems connected with a search for meaning and purpose, a search that feeds into fundamentalisms and anarchic acts of violence. And, at the same time, we are in the midst of a profound and unprecedented second scientific revolution, the likes of which humanity has not encountered before.
We cannot be content with this societal level of understanding of creativity. We need to pursue our investigations into the nature and source of human creativity and its place and meaning in the universe itself. When we do so, not only will all notions of impossibility disappear. We will also align ourselves with an incredible source of power and energy to realize what we want to usher with and for humanity as a whole. We will then begin to understand the source of our power to create, with full consciousness and responsibility, new civilizations, new worlds.
This we shall clearly understand in Part III of this editorial when we take a look at the scientific discoveries that will forever change our understanding of the universe, and what it means to be fully human in the 21st century.