To fully understand this article, it is recommended that the reader refers to my previous articles on feedback loops and consciousness.
The Creative Process
In the 19th Century, the German physicist Hermann Helmholtz identified three stages in the creative process: saturation, incubation, and illumination. The French mathematician Henri Poincarre later added a fourth stage: verification.
Saturation means consciously researching and learning as much as we can about the issue under consideration. Consciousness allows us to rehearse the skills and knowledge gained, thereby storing it in long term memory and reinforcing it.
Incubation means allowing the unconscious mind to process that information with a view to seeking some output. In the case of decision making, for example, the emotional evaluation of our options is carried out unconsciously. Our conscious and unconscious minds employ the same resources. However, consciousness regulates those used by the unconscious mind and focuses them on the topic in hand. When we relax consciousness, e.g., by sleeping, the unconscious mind operates more freely. This allows it to access knowledge and skills stored in long term memory more freely, compare it for similarities more readily, and make associations more easily. Thus, it is necessary for us to reduce our levels of consciousness to allow the unconscious to function effectively.
Illumination occurs when the unconscious mind delivers the result of its ruminations to the conscious mind. This often occurs in the form of an inspiration, e.g., a potential solution to a problem, and can be accompanied by a surge of positive emotion. These inspirations can be original because of the quantity of information that they draw on. However, inspirations can be unreliable for several reasons. For example, we may simply have the facts wrong; there may be mistakes or cognitive biases in the unconscious process; or there may be unconscious beliefs and attitudes that we have picked up from advertising, our peers, etc.
Verification, therefore, is the final stage in which we consciously check that the inspiration is valid and ethically acceptable. This is done by awakening consciousness and using logic, reason, the known facts, and our ethical schema. However, the incubation process is opaque to the conscious mind. We can only deduce what it may have been, and so, must often rationalise.
Application of the Creative Process
This process is fundamental to the way we think, and can be used in many different ways, for example:
Decisions. When making decisions we may use just one or several iterations, i.e., we may repeat the process several times. Risk/benefit/cost assessments are carried out subconsciously and then verified consciously. After each iteration we may or may not carry out further saturation.
Problem Solving. When solving a particular formal problem, e.g., a mathematical one, we may use just one iteration if it achieves a satisfactory outcome. Solving a more complex problem may require several iterations.
New Knowledge. When seeking new knowledge and understanding, we consciously research what is known by others, use the incubation process to compare it with what we already know, and unconsciously identify connections and similarities. This often gives us a hypothesis that can be tested consciously. This process often involves several iterations. The knowledge gained in one iteration may stimulate further research and it can also be compared with what we already know to gain greater insight.
Artistic Creativity. The process can be used in artistic creativity of all types, whether it be painting, music or writing, for example. However, the verification stage is often omitted, and we go directly to implementation by keeping consciousness at a low level. Any feedback is external, and we physically see or hear what has been produced. Note, however, that this applies only to artistic creativity. Rational creative processes do not omit verification.
This does not mean that we can all become artists simply by implementing our ideas without conscious verification. All artists first go through a long period of consciously learning and rehearsing their skills so that they are fully internalised and can be exercised unconsciously.