STRIVING FOR THE NEW

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Advocates of intelligent design survey the universe, marvel at the exquisite celestial choreography and—even if they do believe in science and the big-bang theory of cosmogenesis—insist the stars, galaxies, planets and moons could never have sprung up solely through some spontaneous, random event. Closer to home, they say, terrestrial geology, flora and fauna—including our own elegant, if fatally flawed, physiology—can’t be the result of a mere accident. Only a supreme genius could have imagines it all and set the whole thing in motion.

Yet for all its metaphysical and theological overtones, creativity is also the most fundamentally human of qualities. It is, in fact, “the unique and defining trait of our species,” writes the Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist Edward O. Wilson in this book The Origins of Creativity. As Wilson frames it, creativity is “an innate quest for originality,” driven by the enduring human passion for novelty, “the discovery of new entities and processes, the solving of old challenges and disclosure of new ones, the aesthetic surprise of unanticipated facts and theories, the pleasure of new faces, the thrill of new worlds.”

University of Notre Dame anthropologist Agustin Fuentes, author of The Creative Spark: How Imagination Made Humans Exceptional, puts it this way. “In a nutshell,” he says, “the essence of creativity is to look at the world around us, see how it is and imagine other possibilities that are not immediately present or based on our immediate personal experience. Creativity is seeing the possibilities and then trying to make those imaginings into material reality.”

TIME, Special Edition

The Science of Creativity

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