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AI and Creativity?



white lily, green leaves by Sampath Lilyanage

Some advocates say that Artificial Intelligence is bound to overtake who and what we are as intelligent beings and achieve the pinnacle of what it means to be human: consciousness, feeling, free will - and creativity. AI technology will profoundly transform how we live. Already its systems are becoming part of everyday life. Already we pour much of ourselves into machines. There are plenty of warnings about the existential threat to humanity through our total dependence.


In some ways AI is like a human mind collecting resources together, analysing, synthesising and computing. Like humans, AI systems learn from their environment and make decisions based on what they learn. And AI is an extraordinary learner, way faster than humans, gobbling up the internet, where there’s a near endless store of information.


Like us, AI produces art, music, poetry, novels and designs for live dance, drama, sculpture and buildings. Is this the same as human creativity, or not? Do AI and creativity even belong together?


The outcome of our creative activity is recorded and stored in cyberspace as the combined thoughts and knowledge of the world’s individuals. But outcomes are the already thought, dead concepts. In this material realm, the domain of AI, the question arises: can anything from within the system itself bring them to life again?  


I’m thinking back to a signature realisation I had when I was in my twenties. I was teaching dance at a local school in the north of England. And I was given my first task of choreography, to create a work to enter in the regional competitions. These comps. were fiercely fought. For the teenage level, our principal chose the best dancers for her choreography. I was given the rest, so they wouldn’t feel left out. They were all girls, awkward, variously able and keen. Worried but excited I went home to think.


What happened next has remained with me. A circle of feathery white shapes slipped into my consciousness, immediately they arced out and then inward as if they were breathing. And I realised I had been given the heart of my dance. From that beginning everything came together. I found the right music and although the creative process followed the line of the music, the whole dance expanded from that that single image. The result was beautiful. I can say this because I was moved by how those girls danced with feeling and knowing, united in the flow and grace. They had claimed their dance.  


Even if a spiritual realm isn’t acknowledged, humans tend to have a feeling for some ‘otherness’, an expression of consciousness outside the limits of the physical body, brain and material world. And on that smallish scale I had my first conscious recognition of the creative spark which comes alive in the human soul, the image, the sound, the sudden ‘aha’ intrinsic to creativity.


It’s called the inspiration, or the imagination, or sometimes intuition. I have written about the heightened consciousness that gives us access to those three spiritual qualities. They take us beyond our ordinary mindset. We have awakened to the realm beyond the material to the hidden pictures and harmonies that dwell there (see Post Imagination, Inspiration, Intuition, March 22, '23).


Human creative processes involve levels beyond the calculating rational mind. They of course include the arts. A genuine artist will inevitably draw from the spiritual aspect of their being. These creative folk are aligned with the core reason  for art’s existence. The specific task of the arts has always been to depict spirit in the world and ‘tell its story’.  


The mysterious impulse that fires human creation is felt and experienced before it can manifest into something external through the faculty of our senses. But what would light the fire, in cyberspace?


In Prodigal Daughters I devoted the whole of chapter 9 to unravelling the creative process so we can value it, for the ability to create is the essence of our humanity. I'll touch on what I called the Cycle of Creativity here.


The process is one that moves through what I described as ‘conception’, ‘incubation’ and ‘manifestation’. They are points along a single journey of creation and also involve continual re-activation of each of these three stages.                                                                


Conception Incubation

Manifestation

Conception is the light-bulb moment, something that appears to just happen. Yet in reality it is a result of preparation, knowledge and hard work. I could never have had my inspirational image without a background of professional training and a connection with the dancers.


And openness is absolutely necessary. In a closed system (like AI) there is no room for an impulse beyond itself, certainly not a spiritual, meta-physical impulse. 


Incubation may take hours, days or years. At the incubation stage the initial idea can be allowed to simmer with potential while it secretly works its magic. It is best not to rush it. This part of the creative process is important like the gestation period in pregnancy.


Incubation has been likened to the process in the alchemical vessel of solve et coagula, where the substance was heated, dissolved, reduced, and transformed into something new.


Sometimes initial efforts are undertaken and abandoned, although in reality everything is placed into the alchemical vessel. New possibilities can occur at times and are added, until the story is ready to be written, the music to be composed, the dance to be choreographed, the picture to be painted.


Manifestation is the stage that the world sees as the work. It is the active, 'hands-on' phase. The creator undergoes the struggle with the material and form, the effort to give birth.


AI does this stage well. Selecting, developing, shifting, reforming according to the task given. It can write an exam essay in a flash. Manifestation requires concentration of a specific kind, focused, very alert, discerning. A computer is never distracted by emotion. But neither will it be distracted by sudden new inspirations. AI is uttely task orientated and only deviates if new instructions intrude. It has no soul with which to dream and 'imagine if'.


For a manifesting human the full personality will be involved, thinking and willing, as well as feeling, and the richness of our senses. In that way the three stages of conception, incubation and manifestation follow one another, sometimes repeatedly yet always as a progressive pattern of newness.


It's hard work, all of this, but to surrender to a machine mind is really to give over what makes us human. We will be tempted by its ease and power, but I think we will step back. For there are humans who have always sought to know what is real and true. This is not a concern of AI, the great scavenger of minds. It should be for those who wish to remain creative, hopefully all of us. And we are blest with a soul that links us to the world of life beyond ourselves and other than materiality.

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