Creativity As The Need to Know

Thousands before me have pondered on the origins of creativity and creative impulses, each coming up with their unique definitions. I too have wondered why we create, what is it that drives us to create. There have been several answers, but one that came to me today was pretty powerful, so I share it here.

The phrase As Above, So below; As Within, So Without feels extremely powerful to me. It establishes the hegemony of the Self over the environment. The echos of these words are found in ancient religions, like Advaita Vedanta, even Christianity. And if Heaven and Hell are regarded as metaphors for states of mind, then what we are left with, is the omnipotence of the Self, which ties back to the claim made in the Vedas that there is the material of the universe – the Brahman – and thats all there is. The rest is all Maya, ie the delusion of the senses. The material of the universe, then, must contain everything. Which means the Self must contain everything, including – but not limited to – the god image, or the image of the creation, the creator, and the creativity.  

Well, if all this is within, then why are we compelled to create in the external environment ? We already have it within, why must we put it outside of us?

I am sure millions before me have answered this the way my consciousness answered this for me. Jung answered it the same way, except that he limited it to therapeutic, and alchemical processes. Since I studied him, I found his metaphor of alchemy reflected everywhere, in everything I touched. In quantum physics, in my garden that I tended to, in cellular biology, in geography and cosmology, to name a few subjects that interested me. Everyplace I looked, I could see the image of Self and ego,  I could see the conscious and the unconscious, I could see father and mother, sun and moon, night and day. As I said to a friend, everything was itself, and everything else, and its opposite at the same time. The image of the creation, the creator and the creativity. The image of Brahma the creator, Vishnu, the sustainer of Brahma’s creation, and Mahesh, the Destroyer of Brahma’s creation, Vishnu’s sustainment, and the opposite of the creator – they all co-exist, simulataneously. Everything – creator, creation, creativity, Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh, Day and Night, Hell and Heaven – co-exists simultaneously, merged in a symbiotic unity. Anything is everything and everything is anything – a paradox – just like the dual nature of light. Such a concept can only be experienced, it cannot be described in words. Not this, not that.

When I go deep into these questions, I am confronted with why do we exist, why have we been created.  And it invariably leads to an experience of being part of a greater reality. In an onion like layer. We are part of the layers. We are a layer. Above us there seem to be many layers, below us there seem to be many layers. Above and below here are not meant to be linear, or spatial, but heirarchical in logarithmic manner. The beauty of mathematical complexity. So why did the creator create the creation? Probably for the same reason we create something in the external environment. The same reason why fish reproduce, and plants multiply. Everything that is “above” us, has to flow to us, and thru us, to that which is “below.” Onion like layers. The symmetry of the asymmetrical. The order in chaos. The chaos in order. The simplicity of complexity, and the complexity of simplicity. The simultaneity and co-existence.

Creating something in the external environment gives us a chance to objectify our unconscious. Jung was there much before me. In any life form that I know of, there seems to be an intrinsic need to become more complex. Complexity is an emergent phenomenon. The need for complexity seems to be inherent. But organizational principles associated with emergent complexity cannot keep pace with complexity itself. For example the lifestyles are becoming more complex, our brains are processing more and more complex phenomenon. However, we are finding it more and more difficult to organize the complexity, internally and externally. Memory loss, in all forms, is also an emergent phenomenon.

Can creativity then be understood as a need to know? A quest for knowledge ? An arrangement to enable and strengthen the organizational functions of the psyche? Why else would Stephen Hawking want to study Black Holes? In some ways, he was trying to know more about the black holes within. He wanted to organize his consciousness according to his experiences. Was his creativity in the service of the need to know?

And so I wonder if the need to be creative in individuals is in any way associated with the need to know about themselves. Do we have babies because we simply want to know more about ourselves ? And if so, what does it say about childless men and women ? Those who paint – do they want to know what is painted on their psychic canvasses in which colors. And those who write – what about them? Are they driven by the need to know the shape of their psyche?  Now that we know that all these emerge from altered states of consciousness, it would be interesting to know what in the psyche is associated with each art form?

4 responses to “Creativity As The Need to Know”

  1. Some stimulating reflections and observations here, Madhu. Everything is here in us in the moment so why the need to create? As you say, it’s about objectifying what’s in our unconscious, learning more about ourselves. Is it not also a drive of our conscious self to overcome death and to be eternal? What I create outlives me. When I am integrated in the moment – when what is above is as what is below – perhaps this is genuine contentment and I don’t feel that need to create. But that is not a sustained state, as we do not live in enlightenment. The angst of the artist is the angst to give birth and to overcome mortality. What do you think?
    Great to read you again,

    1. Karin,

      Any topic is multidimensional. It can never be exhausted. It has many many aspects, and perspectives, and all of them are equally true, simultaneously. So yes, what you say about creativity is absolutely true. It is the angst for immortality, or the narcissism that desires that we not be forgotten…



      1. Good morning Madhu,

        as you say all of the dimensions and perspectives are true simultaneously which brings us full circle to everything – itself and its opposite – being there at the same time. I like your phrase – ‘the narcissism that desires that we not be forgotten’ – it is like the last gasp of the ego.

        Take care,

    2. Karin,

      I am suddenly reminded that in physics they say that if human sight could see ahead indefinitely, our gaze would end at the back of our heads. 🙂

      Last gasp of the ego is such a beautiful expression – I will always remember it. 🙂


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