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3 Knowledge and Creativity

3.1 A Hermeneutic Approach to Creativity

Knowledge is a complex topic to deal with, because it is coincident with the mind which has to conceptualise it. The earliest written notion of knowledge in Western culture tells us that knowing is 'having experience of'. Not every kind of experience involves knowledge however, but only those the individual realises mentally. 'Mentally realising' something—let us label it a—means giving it a sufficiently clear and distinct representation. At a first elementary step, this occurs when the individual becomes able to conceive ¬a, which entails including a in the binary set

{a, ¬a}, thus giving steadiness to its image, in that the subject can find a again through the double negation: ¬(¬a) ¼ a (Piaget, 1954). This ability does not entail any creativeness however, but only intelligence, because the individual remains confined within the mechanical opposition inside which ¬a is the mere reflected image of a, though in negative. For creativity to take place, s/he has to learn to scatter ¬a into a wider set of possible determinations, which finally leads her/him to substitute the complement a¯ for the negation ¬a and build/create the set A ¼ fa; ag.

9 In this same sense, Rullani (2014), who writes “Automation changes the nature of the work within enterprises, by connoting it as highly generative knowledge-intensive work” (p. 53; my translation).

The fact that s/he learns to replace ¬a with a¯ has crucial implications. Considering that the subject works in a condition of bounded rationality, s/he can envisage only a few i, j, ... determinations among all n possible complements to a, so that

s/he is able to conceive only contingent sets Ai ¼ fa; aig, A j ¼ {a; a jr, .. ., with

1 s i, j, ... <n, instead of the exhaustive set A ¼ fa; ag s/he would be able to envisage in conditions of absolute rationality. Properties (i.e. meanings) concretely assigned to a therefore become equally various and contingent, depending on what specific Ai ¼ fa; aig the individual chooses from the exhaustively unknowable set

A, so that any Ai s/he conceives appears to her/him as original, i.e. created.[1]

It follows that:

(a) creativity is a by-product—the most amazing by-product one can conceive—of bounded rationality. From this viewpoint, a hypothetically omniscient individual cannot genuinely create anything, but only realise what s/he already has always known, as Alvesson (1993) acutely remarks, from a normative perspective: “Creativity could [.. .] be said to be something that is needed when knowledge is insufficient, and when we have enough knowledge we don't have to be creative” (p. 1000);

(b) creativity entails a second-order contextualisation. While in first-order

contextualisation a is opposed to its pure negation, in second-order contextualisation ¬a breaks down into a set of possible contingencies a¯i. A crucial difference occurs however between firstand second-order contextualisation: whereas in the first the individual deals directly with some notions s/he has about something real a (or s/he conceives as real) by setting it against its negation, in the second-order contextualisation s/he deals with the way(s) s/he conceives the negation itself, thus opening the door to innumerable possible though comprehensively unknowable complements (the set A)[2];

(c) handling creativity entails further and maybe endless orders of contextualisation. Once the individual has experienced the way(s) to contextualise mental processes, s/he may question the way(s) through which s/he has chosen a certain set Ai ¼ fa; aig within a wider set A of possible determinations. By realising this, s/he learns about how to become creative(in the sense we have just given this term), in that s/he becomes able to conceive alternative sets to Ai;

(d) creativity has to do with ambiguity in a twofold way. On the one hand,

creativity can be viewed as the mental-and-social expedient humankind has found to cope with ambiguity and, more generally, with complexity and connected undecidability. When subjects are facing such a condition, they have two alternatives at their disposal: to resign themselves and put themselves into the hands of a metaphysical entity which would have the capacity for comprehending and resolving ambiguity, or audaciously circumventing it by resetting their view on things through abduction, and maybe betting on the reliability of the new view, as modernity assumes. Hence, it does not seem too unrealistic to argue that the “institutionalization of creativity” (Murata, 2003,

p. 229) is a typical creation of modernity, the indispensable keystone to give consistency to the modernist fabric, and the from then on also the irrefutable endowment to any post-modern thought.[3] The so-called “creative class” would hence be any other than the modern—i.e. de-sacralised, mundane— version of the sacerdotal class. Both ultimately act as the ministers of ambiguity: the sacerdotal class by conferring it to the Creator's solving power, the creative class by taking it into its own hands, and both ultimately belonging to the common class of rhetoricians (Alvesson, 1993). On the other hand, creativity gives rise to further ambiguity. Once realised that any possible imagined/created set Ai ¼ fa; aig is inherently a contingency within an ultimately unknowable set A of possible other ones, an aura of ambiguity rises around the meaning—any specific meaning—the individual can assign to a. It follows that, once modernity has institutionalised creativity within the social fabric, an endless self-nurturing, cumulative process of complexity circumvention and complexity generation takes rise: from then on, humankind is destined (or doomed?) to live together with creativity (Sardar, 2010).

This notion of creativity is consistent with Bateson's approach (Bateson, 1972), which identifies four levels of learning (Table 1). At the lowest level, Learning zero (L0), no kind of contextualisation and therefore knowledge occurs: every experience/notion is singular and impossible to connect to other experiences/notions.

In Learning 1 (L1) the subject becomes able to re-cognise objects, because s/he contextualises them with respect to their negation. In turn, Learning 2 (L2) differs essentially from L1 in that it entails reflection on mental processes: the subject learns to contextualise the specific way by which s/he builds negations, by including it (the way) in a set of possible others. The main focus is no longer the qualities of the observed object (external to the mind), but the way(s) mind works in establishing relationships with it. Attainment of this capacity is possible only by learning to perceive/establish differences from other minds, which leads to the consideration that L2 necessarily entails a relational context (even if not all such contexts are conducive to it). Learning 3 (L3), which Bateson argues is very

Table 1 Learning levels and the rise of creativity

Learning levels

Logical abilities

Knowledge contents

Learning abilities


a b c ¬a ¬b

Unrelated experiences

No intelligence


A ¼ {a, ¬a}

Contextualisation of a with respect to its negation

Intelligence/ information building


Ai ¼ fa; aig

Contextualisation of a with respect to a contingent complementary set ai



A ¼ {Ai; Air

Contextualisation of Ai with respect to a contingent complementary set Ai

Creativity governance

4 (?)


. . .


difficult to accomplish and to observe in practice, finally appears when the individual learns to contextualise the specific way by which s/he contextualises the way(s) s/he relates to the external world. Becoming able to wield this kind of learning means to access the matrix of creativity itself, thus opening the door to dealing with it.

Moving a little aside from the chain of successively inclusive levels of learning described above, the fil rouge of hermeneutics appears to join them, which is the art of interpreting interpretations[4] through a progressive de/re-contextualisation of one's own interpretative viewpoint. The basic lesson of hermeneutics is that the interpretative ground, at whatever level it lies, is scattered with traps which are rooted in the unconscious and ideological realms, and can systematically hinder individuals from recognising some crucial elements for learning (one among many, Ricoeur, 2004). After this radical criticism, it is no longer possible to suppose that knowledge can rely upon a dependable criterion for assessing the convergence of mental representations to reality, i.e. truth: there is no reasonable way of rejecting the doubt that previously acquired attitudes (earlier than aptitudes) may induce subjects systematically to neglect some crucial null hypothesis, with the consequence that the key device to which logical-positivism has entrusted its reliability—logical-empirical testing—itself remains exposed to fallacy. In this 'new' epistemological condition,[5] humans have no alternative other than to engage in the fascinating and, at the same time, demanding exercise of applying the cognitive repertoire they have at their disposal at any given moment to their daily life, while being aware that it is ineluctably contingent, and with the only possible consolation that everyone else shares the same inescapable condition.

At least three issues are worth noting in connection with this acquisition. The first is that a hermeneutic approach to knowledge is the proper means of access to creativity and, mainly, creativity governance, because it induces subjects to deal with both their cognitive attitudes and aptitudes, whereas the positivistic approach focuses on the latter. Secondly, a hermeneutic approach to knowledge can only occur and develop within a social context (Madison, 1990). Whereas L1 can come into being merely by establishing relationships between mind and things external to it, without the subject questioning the cognitive attitudes by which s/he does so, moving to superior levels of learning entails reflection on mind, and s/he clearly cannot do this by relying only upon her/his own mind. But when, where and how can subjects learn a capacity for appreciating differences in others' mental habits compared with their one's own, and for questioning them? Dialoguing is the main and probably the only way subjects have to reciprocally open their mind each other. So we shall now spend some lines exploring the structure of the dialogical experience, because this will allow us ultimately to recognise the third issue inherent in a hermeneutic approach, that is the relationship occurring between space and learning (and eventually creativity), which constitutes the central topic of this chapter and the book as a whole.

  • [1] It is also worth noting that the choice process of certain complementary sets a¯i, a¯j, ... among the virtually n possible ones follows the rule of abduction. Within the complementary world to a, which practically encompasses the entire universe minus a, the subject selects only some subsets on the basis of contingent and ultimately imagined relations with respect to a (which correspond to analogies in the process of abduction). This remark makes it possible to match the above-depicted approach to creativity (we derive from Bateson, 1972) with the Peirce approach, according to which “abduction [.. .] is the only logical operation which introduces any new idea” (Peirce, 1934, p. 121).
  • [2] It is only by conceiving creativity as springing from second-order contextualisation that it becomes possible to overcome Alvesson's (1993) paradoxical remark which opposes knowledge to creativity. It actually holds up only within a first-order contextualisation, as said in point a), when the set complementary to the known object is exhaustive (as simply being its negation) or, more generally, only within a condition of absolute rationality, when all the possible determinations of the complementary set are knowable
  • [3] See Montuori (2011)
  • [4] “Philosophy itself becomes the interpretation of interpretations”, Paul Ricoeur (2004, p. 11) comments on Nietzsche's hermeneutic stance. About the art condition of hermeneutics, see Schleiermacher (1998)
  • [5] 'New' because it has risen from a criticism of modernity.
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