Experience essential for quality improvisation, emphasises book by professor of philosophy

Updated on Dec 09, 2017 10:35 PM IST

Experience is what helps the human mind dip into the past to retrieve potential possibilities to face and overcome the unexpected

Creativity drives innovation, no doubt, but it has to be backed by experience and knowledge, explains Stephen T Asma’s book, The Evolution Of Imagination
Creativity drives innovation, no doubt, but it has to be backed by experience and knowledge, explains Stephen T Asma’s book, The Evolution Of Imagination
Hindustan Times | By

“All progress depends on the unreasonable man,” said George Bernard Shaw in a different age. He was right, but only partly. While improvisation, imagination and some amount of rule-breaking are essential to overcome unexpected challenges and unplanned situations, success depends less on depending on intuitive responses than experience. Creativity drives innovation, no doubt, but it has to be backed by experience and knowledge.

Author Stephen Asma, who is the professor of philosophy at Columbia College Chicago and a professional jazz/blues musician who has played with greats like Buddy Guy, B.B. King and Koko Taylor, uses the music metaphor to emphasise that experience is the biggest predictor of quality improvisation.

Whether it is Miles Davis’ creative improvisations that exploited tonal patterns, inside jokes and climactic finales, stand-up comedians’ quirky responses to banal situations, or hackers’ evasion of firewalls with quicksilver ease all display creativity in diverse situations, improvisation is needed for decision-making and problem-solving at every step of our lives. Experience is what helps the human mind dip into the past to retrieve potential possibilities to face and overcome the unexpected.

Asma effortlessly flits between philosophy, neuroscience, evolution, anthropology, archaeology, psychology and modern life to burrow deep into the human psyche to explain how creativity goes beyond experience to help us build something unexpected and magical.

Bureaucracies and large corporations take decision-making out of the hands of individuals and replace them with simple and inflexible institutional structures, (Chinese principle of Xingming, that holds the best workers are those that follow rules, not impulses), but most innovations emerge out of disruptive deviations from the norm. Even there, individuals who improvise because others cannot or refuse to, are the ones that stand out.

Whether it is turning inventing the wheel or using two stones to start a fire or sending, humans have thrived because they have been improvising and creating since the Paeleolithic era. Since being creative is about quickly adapting and responding to unexpected changes in the environment by repurposing existing tools to new functions, a deficit in resources very often drives spontaneous creativity. The idea, in turn, feeds on experiences, emotions and associations to produce something that delights or benefits people, both individually and as a society.

The Evolution of Imagination

Author: Stephen T. Asma

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Price: Hardcover Rs 1,516.40; Kindle Rs 1,102.99

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Sanchita is the health & science editor of the Hindustan Times. She has been reporting and writing on public health policy, health and nutrition for close to two decades. She is an International Reporting Project fellow from Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and was part of the expert group that drafted the Press Council of India’s media guidelines on health reporting, including reporting on people living with HIV.

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