The Functionality of Creativity

From chapter 11 of the book "New Reason New Way: how my skepticism changed my art" by Andy Eppler. 

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I've been watching a lot of lectures the past couple of years and lots of them have been from an online series called TED Talks, which brings experts from the fields of technology, education and design together for brief lectures about their latest breakthroughs. Its fascinating and I couldnt recommend it more highly. One particular lecture from 2004 by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (a name I cannot read or pronounce) was of interest to me. In it, he discussed what he called “flow”. Flow is the word he was using to define the sensory experience of the creative process. It appears that most people experience the same basic things when they are honed enough in their skill to notice. This shared experience is not corralled in the arts, but rather, is shared by people in all fields. I mean ice skaters, painters, architects, shepherds, preachers and apparently anyone who is accustomed to accessing their creativity feelsa similar thing even if they define it differently. What I thought of as God, was actually a naturally occurring mental quirk. The symptoms seem to be universal and I recognized them immediately from my own experience.


Csikszentmihalyis list of symptoms is as follows:

1.Completely involved in what you are doing focused, concentrated.

2. A sense of ecstasy of being outside of everyday reality.

3. Great inner clarity knowing what needs to be done, and how well you are doing.

4. Knowing that the activity is doable that your skills are adequate to the task.

5. A sense of serenity no worries about the self. A feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of the ego.

6. Timelessness thoroughly focused on the present. Time flies by.

7. Intrinsic motivation whatever produces flow becomes its own reward.



Basically, its your mind completely focused on the task and losing grip on anything else. No drugs, no drink, your brain does this naturally when it is involved in a highly complex and difficult task.


According to Csikszentmihalyi (a name which can only be copied and pasted), the average nervous system can only process about one hundred and ten bits of information per second. To be able to pay attention to someone speaking takes about sixty bits of processing power per second. Thats why you can listen to two people talk and still mostly keep up with both, but with three people talking at you, the information just cant process. Now, I wont pretend to be an expert here, but that information checks out as far as I can tell from my own research.


When you are in “flow” your task is taking up a lot of processing power and thats why you stop monitoring things like time, hunger and problems at home. You are in “flow” and there is nothing else happening in the world. The self disappears and the work seems like its just automatically being done. You are using so much of your processing power that you cannot both fully commit to the task and still have enough attention left over to monitor your moment to moment existence. The feeling of supernatural focus and purpose that I had experienced was actually very natural indeed.


When I processed what this meant, I felt like an idiot. I had prayed to this feeling. I had pleaded with it. I had chased it around my home in drunken stupors. I had chased “the Thing” and found it much closer to home than just the walls of my shitty apartment. I felt hopeful though that with this new concept I could set about rethinking my art and indeed my life. I could now take the power back. 

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