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Abstract

Dynamics of creative mental activity are examined in waking and dreaming processes which manifest beyond normative waking consciousness. Some consider such phenomena to be pathological or meaningless. Alternatively they may be viewed in new and healthier ways, in the context of adaptive mental controls, using nonlinear dynamical/chaos theory. The first example involves the innovativeness reported with mild mood elevation in bipolar mood disorders, linked to a compensatory advantage model of everyday creativity. With adequate controls, such mood elevation may open adaptive creative mental possibilities (in fact, for all of us). Tension between divergent and convergent thinking-as noted by J.P. Guilford, and common to many models of creative process-can further "edge of chaos" states and raise the odds of bifurcation to new and creative chaotic attractors. The second example involves REM sleep and dream phenomena, where the self-organizing brain coordinates the dream's component parts to generate unusual dream narratives. However fanciful, such divergent and condensed dream content may lead to creative insights and adaptive narratives (there are famous examples) in the light of day, when interpreted or further developed, by bringing convergent processing to divergent processing. In each case, one finds the abnormal is not necessarily pathological-and sometimes can be usefully exceptional. One consequence of a dynamical view and these examples is the need, in all of us, for greater openness to experience, and acceptance of a greater divergence of expression and behavior (vs. conformity) in ourselves, our culture, and our world.
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Article
Creativity and Chaos in
Waking and Dreaming States
Stanley Krippner, Ruth Richards and Frederick David Abraham
ABSTRACT
Dynamics of creative mental activity are examined in waking and dreaming processes which manifest beyond normative waking
consciousness. Some consider such phenomena to be pathological or meaningless. Alternatively they may be viewed in new
and healthier ways, in the context of adaptive mental controls, using nonlinear dynamical/chaos theory. The first example
involves the innovativeness reported with mild mood elevation in bipolar mood disorders, linked to a compensatory advantage
model of everyday creativity. With adequate controls, such mood elevation may open adaptive creative mental possibilities (in
fact, for all of us). Tension between divergent and convergent thinking—as noted by J.P. Guilford, and common to many models
of creative process—can further “edge of chaos” states and raise the odds of bifurcation to new and creative chaotic attractors.
The second example involves REM sleep and dream phenomena, where the self-organizing brain coordinates the dream’s
component parts to generate unusual dream narratives. However fanciful, such divergent and condensed dream content may
lead to creative insights and adaptive narratives (there are famous examples) in the light of day, when interpreted or further
developed, by bringing convergent processing to divergent processing. In each case, one finds the abnormal is not necessarily
pathological—and sometimes can be usefully exceptional. One consequence of a dynamical view and these examples is the
need, in all of us, for greater openness to experience, and acceptance of a greater divergence of expression and behavior (vs.
conformity) in ourselves, our culture, and our world.
Key Words: creativity, dreams, chaos, bifurcations, bipolar disorders, mood elevation, “edge of chaos,” rem sleep, divergent
production, convergent production
NeuroQuantology 2012; 2: 164-17
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“The clown, the trickster, or shape changer becomes the personification of chaos for cultures all over the world….the
trickster is also identified as the bringer of culture, the creator of order, a shaman or “super-shaman”….who defies
convention, subverts the system, breaks down the power structure, and gives birth to new ideas.”
J. Briggs & F.D. Peat (1999), Seven Life Lessons of Chaos
Introduction1
Many Asian, African, Native American and
other indigenous traditions have used creative
imagination to enrich and enhance everyday
life, with original contributions sometimes
seen as gifts from deities or spirits who used
humans as their “channels.” These insights
could come in nighttime dreams or daytime
visions and were thought to represent divine
truth. In some of these societies or contexts,
individuals who produced something
Corresponding author: Stanley Krippner
Address: Stanley Krippner, Ph.D. serves as a professor at Saybrook
University in San Francisco, California. Ruth Richards also serves as a
professor at Saybrook University, and is a lecturer in the Department
of Psychiatry with Harvard Medical School. Frederick David Abraham
is the founder of the Blueberry Brain Institute and serves as faculty
with Silliman University.
skrippner@saybrook.edu
Received May 10, 2012. Accepted June 6, 2012.
eISSN 1303-5150
unprecedented (such as a mask or weapon)
might be hailed as heroes, but in others, they
might be censured for breaking with tradition
(Freeman, 2003; Kilborne, 1990; Krippner,
2000; Norbu, 2002; Richards, 1998). Not
everyone was validated for presenting
“divergent” ideas, which could challenge
convention and the status quo.
The English word “creativity” is a social
construct that has been linked with the
concept of origin itself (from the Latin creare,
‘to make’, and the ecclesiastical Latin creator
or ‘Creator’). Some researchers and theorists
focus on creative products, requiring that they
be of social value or have attained some other
type of consensual validation if they are to be
called “creative.” Others emphasize three other
“P’s of creativity,” namely the process by which
the products (artwork, technology, concepts,
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etc.) come into being, the milieu in which they
emerge, called the press of the environment,
or qualities of the creative person such as
unique achievements, abilities, and/or
attitudes of a creator—or a consortium
(Pritzker and Runco, 1999; Rhodes, 1961).
In each of these perspectives, there can
be levels of accomplishment, utility, or
originality, implying that some persons or
groups can be more or less creative than
others. The concept of everyday creativity
(Richards, 2007) directs attention to creative
outcomes in a vast variety of activities in
everyday life, as long as criteria of (a)
originality and (b) meaningfulness are met.
Examples are accomplishments in office
management, child-rearing, home repairs,
food preparation, teaching, or community
service. One need also note a “dark side of
creativity” characterizing the all-too-frequent
acts that are innovative but destructive
(McLaren, 1999). On the other end of
“everyday creativity” are self-actualizing forms
described by humanistic psychologists
(Maslow, 1968) with implications for our
higher human development. Creativity does
not necessarily carry either positive or
negative social value. What it offers is
uniqueness—and it is up to us how to find it,
and how to use it.
From a Western standpoint,
“creativity” as process is a term that can be
used to describe bringing something new into
being by becoming sensitive to gaps in human
knowledge, identifying these deficiencies,
searching for their solutions, making guesses
as to a potential solution, testing one’s
hypotheses, and communicating the final
results. This paper was written through a
Western lens, while keeping in mind that
creative idea generation and dream reports,
and the innovations which result, are honored
and valued in varied contemporary cultures
that take different approaches to their
cultivation and use (e.g., Korea, many Native
American tribes, and various countries in the
Middle East).
Creativity from the Perspective of Chaos
Theory
The creative process is imperfectly
understood, and not always the same. It may
occur in a planned sequence or spontaneously,
and/or may be intentional or largely
unconscious. Yet creative insight, or the “Aha!”
moment, is one frequent feature, and an
important aspect here (Richards, 1996, 2010;
Runco and Pritzker, 1999), as well as what
happens during the preceding periods of
incubation. Below, we take several concepts
from nonlinear dynamics in an attempt to
illuminate aspects of the creative process and
also person, relevant to generating a creative
product in a given environment, from the
perspective of Western science.
(a) During waking states, evidence
suggests there are healthy benefits for
creativity even in the context of mental
health problems such as bipolar
disorders, as well as for people in the
general population.
“Everyday creativity,” the originality of
everyday life, is defined (after Frank Barron,
1969) using only two criteria: originality and
meaningfulness. There needs to be novelty,
and the outcome needs to communicate to
others. Such creativity was likely adaptive in
the course of human evolution and remains so
(Abraham, 2007; Arons, 2007). It is similar to
what evolutionary biologists such as
Dobzhansky (1962), have termed our human
“phenotypic plasticity,” and hence as a
fundamental survival feature (Richards, et al.,
1988; Richards, 2010), underlying our flexible
improvisations and ability to adapt to ever-
changing environments.
The Lifetime Creativity Scales (LCS) of
Ruth Richards, Dennis Kinney, and associates
(Kinney et al., in press; Richards, Kinney,
Lunde, and Benet, 1988) adopted Barron’s
(1969) definition, and became the first truly
broad-based general measures of real-life
everyday creativity at work and at leisure. The
scales are based on self-report and in-depth
interviews, taking a particularly valid approach
(Kinney et al., in press). They allowed a
different kind of study, one focused broadly on
the general population. The research revealed
a paradoxical effect, and also one with
evolutionary implications: the finding of
unusually healthy benefits from a genetically
influenced mental health risk. This
phenomenon had, in fact, been predicted
(Kinney and Matthysse, 1978; Richards, 1981).
Here, instead of choosing a few
eminent creative people, and looking at their
mental health—this, a specialized population—
the research sampled from everyone carrying
a particular diagnosis and assessed their
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everyday creativity (Richards, 1998); this
poses a different question, with implications
for literally millions of everyday people. In so
doing, the LCS not only addressed everyday
creative products, but also the originality in
creative process, or in the way an activity was
conducted, not just what was done. One can do
many tasks in an innovative way or
alternatively a conventional way (e.g., teaching
a class, repairing a car, fixing a meal, writing a
report at the office). One participant, for
instance, was a skilled auto mechanic, who
invented his own tools.
Generally, the LCS makes norm-
referenced assessments of how people
manifest their everyday creativity or their
“originality of everyday life” across a broad
range of activities at work and at leisure. The
scales look at “peak” creativity and “extent” of
creativity (re: quality and quantity); these are
typically highly correlated. The scales show
high interrater reliability and multiple
indications of construct validity (Kinney, et al.,
in press; Richards et al., 1988). They allow
comparisons among people in unselected
populations, such that one need not study only
creators who are writers, or artists, or
entrepreneurs, or are homogeneous in any
creative way. One can select individuals on
other variables (such as psychopathology, or
attention deficit issues, or home schooling, or
rebelliousness) and see where their “originality
of everyday life” happens to come out—viewed
as a broad-based, real-life outcome variable. In
fact, the LCS and the surprising mental health
findings that resulted (as below) even led to a
feature in the Tuesday “Science Times” section
of The New York Times (Goleman, 1988).
(b) Creativity may be pathologized and
misunderstood because of its assumed
links with pathology or
“abnormalities”—even when this
creativity serves a healthy purpose.
Furthermore, creativity is sometimes
pathologized or stereotyped for people
without a diagnosis—for example, the
unkempt inventor, the absentminded
professor, the antisocial artist—and
these stereotypes may include young
people whose nonconformity is not
always understood or appreciated.
The above approach to everyday creativity
permitted a new look at the age-old question of
whether everyday creativity is enhanced in
people with a diagnosis of bipolar spectrum
mood disorders or who carry familial risk
(Richards et al., 1988). Previous research had
too often focused only on celebrated or
eminent people (Jamison, 1993). The new
“everyday” answer was more positive than in
those previous studies. Richards, Kinney et al.
(1988) used a model for compensatory
advantage, somewhat similar to sickle cell
anemia, where the homozygous individual can
be severely ill, yet the more numerous and
heterozygous carriers may show a mild anemia
at best. Meanwhile, these carriers manifest a
compensatory advantage: resistance to
malaria. A result is the continuation of sickle
cell anemia in the global gene pool.
Might there be a compensatory
advantage, as well, for the strongly familial
spectrum of bipolar disorders? These risks
have a strong genetic component—although
the genetic model is likely more complex than
that for sickle cell anemia. Despite causing
great pain and human suffering, these mood
disorders have remained stable in the
population over time and geographic region.
An advantage based on milder, and perhaps
healthy, manifestations, could help explain
this persistence through adaptive advantage
(Gartner, 2005; Goodwin and Jamison, 1990;
Kinney and Richards, 2007; Richards, 1981,
2010; Richards et al., 1988).
Richards and associates (Richards,
Kinney et al., 1988; see also Richards and
Kinney, 1990; Richards et al., 1992) compared
more severe and moderate bipolar spectrum
disorders (bipolar I and cyclothymia), along
with persons showing psychiatric “normalcy”
despite a family history of bipolar disorder, to
control subjects without a mood disorder, and
including a subgroup of “normal” controls.
Richards and Kinney (1990) also asked people
diagnosed with bipolar spectrum disorders for
their preferred mental states while creating—
here a state measure, in addition to the
ongoing trait (or diagnostic) measure.
In fact, the data did support this
compensatory advantage related to bipolar
family risk. Everyday creativity was highest
for individuals who were (1) relatively better
functioning on the bipolar “spectrum” (e.g.,
cyclothymia, more than for full bipolar
disorder—that is, on the diagnostic, or trait
variables). Beyond that, the psychiatrically
normal relatives also tended to share the
creative advantage, compared to general
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controls and even normal controls. The
compensatory advantage was therefore not
necessarily about pain and suffering. As for (2)
the preferred mood state, the most preferred
condition was during mild mood elevation (the
state characteristic). This was not about “the
sicker the better.” Other findings have
supported this research (Akiskal and Akiskal,
1988; Fodor, 1999; Schuldberg, 1990).
Here, then, is creativity linked with the
more healthy outcomes. Why might creativity
in this mental health context (or in general)
sometimes be considered unhealthy and even
harmful? Why is something supposed to be
wrong with the creator? Can dynamical
systems thinking help at all here?
Krippner (1994) noted how the
ontology of the mind exhibits bifurcations
characteristics of nonlinear dynamical
systems, and F.D. Abraham (1995) proposed
ways in which nonlinear dynamical features
can explain aspects of cognition. Zausner
(2011) has applied chaos theory to her own
creative work in the arts. Furthermore,
investigators and scholars have questioned
whether moments of creative insight, the
“Aha” moment in creative process, might
involve bifurcations and “edge of chaos”
reconfigurations of mental possibilities
(Abraham, 1996; Briggs and Peat, 1999;
Richards, 1996, 2000; 2001; Schuldberg, 1999,
2007; Zausner, 1996). Animal models (Skarda
and Freeman, 1987) provide evidence, for
example, that with novel odors and the
olfactory bulb, far-from-equilibrium mental
systems may rapidly generate new attractors
related to novel stimuli.
Might such a mechanism facilitate the
birth of new and original mental attractors
during creative periods, for any of us? Might
this happen even more readily for persons with
a personal or family history of bipolar
disorder, during mild mood states that
enhance rich associations, depth of emotional
experience, and energy and motivation to
create (Richards, 1981; Kinney and Richards,
2007)? Might creativity then get categorized as
psychopathological, along with certain
creators? Remember there are “many roads to
creativity” (Richards, 1998), yet might we all,
when creative for whatever reason, also get
pathologized a bit?
Creative persons often show what Kris
(1952) called “regression in the service of the
ego,” a loosening of generative functions and
possibilities while still possessing control
functions to manage the results. There is, to be
sure, some looseness and idiosyncrasy in the
mix. We suggest such creative process may be
further understood using dynamic models of
brain function including edge of chaos
phenomena, at least at the metaphorical level
(Moran, 2009) and perhaps even as a
psychoneurological descriptor (Rossi, 2004).
(d) In view of these possibilities, society
might do better to value innovative
“divergence” rather than assume that
deviations from what is “normal” are
invariably “pathological.”
Goertzel (1995a and b) suggested that the
psyche can manifest highly patterned strange
attractors—we can think of these as dynamic
branching figures in phase space—for
associative memory, for example. Included can
be hierarchies of attractors—where clusters of
ideas form further self-similar clusters, leading
to rich possibilities for access. Hardy (1998)
refers to these as networks of meaning. Gruber
and Davis (1988) use a developmental
approach with multicomponent systems
comprising networks, both within the mind,
and among separate individuals. Such
hierarchies are also consistent with categories
and interrelationships among factors (such as
units, relations, and systems) in early
creativity researcher J. P. Guilford’s
multifactorial model of divergent thinking
(Richards, 2000; 2001).
Abraham (1996) noted that the balance
of forces of convergence and divergence
within one’s psyche may provide necessary
conditions for creative cognitive chaos. He
suggested, for “creative cognition…that there is
a range of optional dimensionality…in the
mid-dimensional range. This process is
autopoetic, self-organizational” (p. 385). In
fact, a balance of divergent and convergent
production abilities, as in the work of Guilford
(1968), is well known for creativity (Richards,
2000, 2001). This may also be related to Ernst
Kris’s (1952) “regression in the service of the
ego.” One must generate novelty within the
context of sufficient control and executive
functioning, such that creative work can be
adapted to real-world needs (Richards, 1998).
Human systems don’t remain chaotic
indefinitely but tend to self-organize
(Guastello, 2009); hence, the creative
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instability provides the nudge, then resolves
toward adaptive novelty.
As per Abraham (1996), it could follow
that, with too little or too much convergent
processing, the balance could tip from
adaptive creativity to something less useful, for
example, toward pathological patterns of
thought and behavior, either too loose or too
rigid. Similarly, with too little or too much
divergent consideration of alternatives, the
balance could again be upset between
convergent and divergent processing. One
potentially moves outside the range of mid-
dimensional chaos that appears optimal for
useful, healthy creativity. The right balance
here is critical.
To summarize, aspects of dynamical
systems theory may give, at least
metaphorically, clarity to understanding
creativity: Creative systems may indeed
require mid-dimensional chaotic complexity as
a necessary (but perhaps not sufficient)
condition for healthy creativity. It takes a mix
of interactive forces to achieve such
conditions. Some converge toward an
attractive surface—or hypersurface—or are
within it; some diverge, either away from an
attractive surface, or within it. The convergent
forces must prevail for an attractor to exist.
Yet they must not be overwhelming, and need
to be balanced by some pull toward
divergence, to achieve mid-dimensional
chaos—where they may generate conditions
for richly productive creativity.
For bifurcations to occur there needs
to be movement away from stable attractors to
the unstable conditions near and at the
bifurcation point (“far from equilibrium”).
Intentional systems may achieve this
movement through self-control (self-
organization, autopoesis). Of course, external
controls can also achieve this movement. The
intentional control of system parameters
comprises “navigation in parameter space.”
“On the edge of chaos” refers to bifurcations
from non-chaotic attractors to chaotic ones.
Bifurcations from one type of chaotic attractor
to another may be important as well, for a
bifurcation sequence to other chaotic
attractors generating healthy creative
solutions.
In other words, the peaking of everyday
creativity among so-called “better functioning”
individuals with a bipolar diagnosis, and
during times of milder mood elevation (e.g.,
cyclothymia, and during mild highs) could
represent an optimal balance within the risk
for these disorders. Certain advantages (e.g.,
rich associations, emotional resonance, and
higher energy and motivation during mild
mood elevation) might peak without loss of the
adaptive functions needed to utilize them. In
Kris’s (1952) view of creativity, one could have
“regression in the service of the ego.” By
Barron’s (1969) definition, one could generate
creative products that are both original and
(despite any attendant pathology) meaningful.
Further work is needed to understand
such a compensatory advantage. This may
offer hope for people at risk, such as
individuals with bipolar disorders and their
relatives (Goodwin and Jamison, 2000;
Kinney and Richards, 2007; 2010; Goleman,
1988). In general populations, many health
benefits of creativity have been documented
(Richards, 2010); the best known involve art
therapies, writing or imagery, although there
are others. It is perhaps not surprising that
high creativity could help certain “better
functioning” individuals carrying bipolar risk
cope resiliently with their lives. Through
exercising their creativity, they may emerge
healthier than they would have otherwise. It
follows that, creative modalities may have
particular value in treating mood disorders,
and may even be useful for primary prevention
(Kinney and Richards, 2007). Once again,
creativity carries benefits for the rest of us too,
mood disordered or not. Of interest, mild
mood elevation carries benefits for creativity
in the population at large (Isen et al., 1987).
Yet, health benefits notwithstanding,
the pathologizing of creativity, whether
“everyday” or “eminent” creativity, occurs a
lot. The media is filled with images of creators
as odd, absent minded folk who cannot help
bumping into walls. In these stereotypes, the
“mad scientist” is too busy, or too
unconventional, even to comb his or her hair.
The link of creativity to mental disorders may
be one factor in stereotype production,
combined with the misunderstanding that, if
creativity is associated with mental health
problems, it will therefore be a problem itself
–rather than a healthy response (Becker, 1978;
Briggs and Peat, 1999; Richards, 1998; 2010).
In addition, there can be social
discomfort with “difference.” And within
individuals, some people who are
uncomfortable with their own unconscious
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processes and bizarre thoughts –even thoughts
that might have creative potential—may prefer
to disown them or unconsciously attribute
them to others (Kinney and Richards, 2007;
Richards, 2007; 2010). Unfortunately, some
teachers see creative youth as problematic, and
more compliant youth as the creative ones.
This unfortunate stereotype has damaged the
self-concept of some vulnerable and talented
young people in the schools (Cramond, 2005;
Richards, 2010).
Because a response is odd or
“abnormal” does not, however, mean it is
inevitably harmful or “pathological.” Rather, it
may be “usefully exceptional.”
Along those lines, creativity researcher
Frank Barron (1969) and colleagues found, for
exceptional creators, and particularly for
highly recognized creative writers, a
paradoxical combination of (1) high ego
strength (here denoting a control function,
with high adaptation to reality) alongside (2)
some high scores on virtually all of the
pathology scales of the Minnesota Multiphasic
Personality Inventory. Included were scales
such as schizophrenia or hypomania. The
researchers interpreted this, not as illness, but
as an adaptive openness to the irrational and
unconscious, including to what some call our
“primary process” mind. The creator could
pick and choose from this less conscious
material. Notably, according to Barron (1969):
“It appears that creative individuals have a
remarkable affinity for what in most of us
is unconscious and preconscious…to find
hints of emerging form in the
developmentally more primitive and less
reasonable structured aspects of his own
mental functioning” (p. 88).
Here then could emerge the usefully
“abnormal.” As Barron (1963) put it:
“The creative person is both more
primitive and more cultivated, more
destructive and more constructive,
occasionally crazier and yet adamantly
saner, than the average person” (p, 234).
Could this be our chaos- and creativity-
generating “trickster” from the opening quote
(Briggs & Peat, 1999) of this article, appearing
to bring forth new patterns of mind?
Kristeva, in turn, discussed eruptive
cognitive moments, this time in the service of
social as well as individual bifurcation.
Chaotic phenomena have been invoked, after
all, to explain varied social and financial
changes and disruptions (Briggs and Peat,
1999; Robertson and Combs, 1995;
Schuldberg, 2007) as well as personal ones.
One of Kristeva’s favorite authors was Bakhtin,
whose concept of carnivalesce shows
similarities to the trickster—this time
regarding the trickster’s role in cultural
transformation. Sarup (1993) presented some
of Kristeva’s ideas:
“If the semiotic is pre-Oedipal, based on
primary processes, and is maternally
oriented, by contrast, the symbolic is an
Oedipalized system, regulated by the
secondary processes and the Law of the
Father. The symbolic is the domain of
positions and proposition. The symbolic is
an order superimposed on the semiotic.
The symbolic control of the various
semiotic processes is, however, tenuous
and libel to break down or lapse at certain
historically, linguistically and psychically
significant moments. It results in an
upheaval in the norms of the smooth
understandable text. The semiotic
overflows its boundaries in those
privileged ‘moments’ Kristeva specifies in
her triad of subversive forces: madness,
holiness, and poetry” (p. 124).
Again, in a broader context, one sees
similarities to “regression in the service of the
ego” (Kris, 1952), and also to primary and
secondary process, where a dynamic of
opposing forces generates bifurcations,
oddities, and creativity.
(e) Creative personality traits may be
useful predictors for the enhanced
generation of divergent thought,
perhaps because a greater proximity to
the “edge of chaos” provides a useful fit
with nonlinear dynamic models.
Certain personality traits have been linked
with high scores on measures of creativity
(Barron, 1969: Barron and Harrington, 1981),
traits including Openness to Experience,
Tolerance of Ambiguity, and Preference for
Complexity. It has been suggested that certain
traits, or perhaps related cognitive styles, also
might be part of the (evidently healthy)
compensatory advantage for those at risk for
bipolar disorders (Kinney and Richards,
2007).
A dynamical framework may help
predict mental events that could accompany
such traits as, for example, Openness to
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Experience, and how they might sometimes
“go a little too far,” producing odd and unusual
responses that fit with some of the prevailing
biases and stereotypes of the “odd” creator. It
is interesting, for example, how responses of
first degree relatives of bipolar individuals
show a mild degree thought disorder of the
same general bipolar type on a measure called
the Thought Disorder Index (Holzman et al.,
1986), based on ink blot interpretations. Yet
these same responses might be considered,
instead, both colorful and creative, on a test of
creative thinking! (Richards, 1998)
How then might cognitive style (or
stylistic features linked to personality traits),
create conditions that enhance novelty?
Howard Gardner (1993), speaking of
creativity, proposes that “certain personality
characteristics are necessary” (in Abraham,
1996, p. 389). Might these allow bifurcation to
more innovative mental modes? Might a
stylistic bent such as Openness to Experience,
for example, raise the odds for multiple
bifurcations? That is to say, might this
orientation open the gates to a stronger stream
of ideas, and more widely diffuse, which can
picked through later, so the creator can choose
the most useful for adaptive creative purposes?
One study (Kaufman, 2009) indicates
that people with “faith in intuition” tend to
have lower latent inhibition, that is, that they
lower a gating mechanism that keeps out
irrelevant (or seemingly irrelevant) stimuli.
Low latent inhibition is related to types of
schizophrenia but—taken along with stronger
executive functions; it is also related to
creativity! Some of these novel associations
might be odder than others (Goertzel, 1995a,
b). However original, might a few unusual
ideas, when the mental gates are lowered, lead
a critical observer to pathologize a process that
should lead to celebration? For example, a
person diagnosed with a mild thought disorder
might write something viewed as gibberish in a
mental hospital; but the same creative product
might be viewed as beautiful poetry in a
literary venue.
Group brainstorming offers another
useful example (e.g., Putman and Paulus,
2009). In our own inner, personal
brainstorming (recall Goertzel’s branching
structures) perhaps some occasional
bizarreness of ideation may emerge. One
would welcome this in a group brainstorming
session, following the rule that “anything
goes.” Yet it might be easy to dismiss a bizarre
thought in a personal reverie, if one were too
bound by convention, even though that “crazy
idea” could be exactly what a real-life problem
situation required.
As in brainstorming, it makes sense to
separate idea generation from judgment, first
eliciting a broad range of options, and then
sorting through them later, to find the one that
has the greatest promise. Again, it is important
not to pathologize difference just because an
idea is non-standard—especially when it may
be a sign that one is breaking free of the
ordinary, and moving toward new possibilities.
With the right balance of divergent and
convergent processes, one may be on the route
to higher creativity—a goal sought and valued
by a great many people.
(f) In dreaming, one may see certain of
these phenomena in even bolder relief,
where our external sensory world and
the usual rules of logic are suspended.
The fractals found in Nature can be used as
metaphors for the “branching” that
characterizes the work of many creative
people, even while they are asleep. Here
indeed, the “trickster” may be at play,
throwing us off from the usual, while opening
new worlds.
How, in dynamical terms, does the
dreamer depart from the known, to strike a
new path, to switch between mental
attractors? This switch might be accomplished
by any of (a) bifurcations, (b) the resetting of
initial conditions, or (c) by jumping
boundaries of basins of attraction, this last
being facilitated by fractal boundaries between
basins (fractal separatices) (FD Abraham,
1995; RH Abraham, 1995).
Dreaming could actually involve all
three. During dreaming, the neural networks
that comprise the waking circuitry of the brain
appear to be less constrained by daytime
reality and more open to novel connections
(Hartmann, 1999). Stanley Krippner and Allan
Combs (2002) have noted that the formal
analysis of activity patterns in complex neural
networks, such as those found in the dreaming
brain, can be carried out in terms of chaotic
attractors. They proposed that the dreaming
brain (both in rapid eye movement or REM
sleep and non-REM sleep) “relaxes” into
natural patterns of self-organized activity that
often reflect the residual moods, stresses, and
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concerns of waking life. During dreaming, the
brain is immersed in something like a sensory
isolation tank, cut off from the influences of
external sensory input. In this situation,
patterns of brain activity can slip into forms
that are primarily dependent upon internal
considerations (Krippner and Combs, 2002).
In Allan Hobson’s (2000) terms,
during both waking and dreaming there is an
activation of the brain, a source of that
information that is evoked during the waking
or dreaming process, and a biochemical
modulation that differs radically in nature,
from wakefulness to sleep. Dream experiences
are, in part, he says, a product of self-
organizing tendencies in the brain during
which some randomly evoked informational
data are then creatively patterned into a
narrative to which meaning can be attributed
(Kahn and Hobson, 1993). It thus starts
randomly, and human beings impose meaning.
(g) Valuable insights may emerge--
including highly “divergent” results;
these can be worked through in
dreaming, at times, or upon waking
where “convergent” processing can
more readily occur.
In the creative process, small changes in
cognition or behavior can trigger an avalanche
of new insights or novel creative products.
Krippner and Combs (2002) have suggested
this “Butterfly Effect” characterizes many
dreams that lead to a creative solution to an
ongoing problem. The human brain with its
many chaotic patterns of activity is subject to
the cascade of a Butterfly Effect. The
introduction of “noise” into such a system may
normally produce a response too small to be
noticed. However, the presence of this “noise”
or “vibration” can keep a system in motion,
rather than allowing a signal to become stuck.
Termed stochastic resonance, a
seemingly paradoxical effect has been
demonstrated in electronic signals as well as in
nerve cells (Moss and Wiesenfeld, 1995). On
the other hand, the dreaming trajectories may
be more under autopoetic control than those
systems attempting to follow a repetitive
signal, as in most stochastic resonance. As in
more routine processing, there is a problem to
be solved, but here divergent trajectories and
bifurcations are used to generate a creative
solution.
Objects, for instance, on a vibrating
tabletop are sometimes seen to “walk” about,
especially if the table is not level. In fact, they
are following the line of least resistance down
the slope of the surface, ordinarily not
available to them because of friction with the
top of the table. In the present case, one might
imagine that the neurochemical stimulation of
the higher brain by the lower brain could cause
activity there to “slide” in the direction of least
resistance, affecting one’s dreaming. Here,
with the dreaming brain isolated from daytime
sensory bombardment and detached by
neuromodulatory amnesia from those
experiences that immediately precede sleep,
chaotic phenomena such as the Butterfly Effect
or stochastic resonance can produce a brain
state especially responsive to subtle influences
such as faint residual memories of emotional
residues.
Affect regulation is one of several
adaptive functions of dreaming; unpleasant
dreams are a way to process a discomforting
emotional experience from waking life by
placing it in novel settings, often with
strangers playing key roles, especially during
REM dreams (McNamara et al., 2005). This
highly creative way of managing an affect load
seems to depend upon chaotic dynamics.
When the regulatory dynamics are not
functioning properly, this self-regulatory
creativity may break down and the result is a
nightmare in which the discomforting
experience, often traumatic in nature, can even
be repeated over and over in the brain’s
unsuccessful attempt to restore its self-
regulatory functions. There is a bifurcation to
a reduced dimensionality
(h) Some scholars see dreaming as no
more than random patterns due to
random brain activity, rather than an
intentional process holding potential
meaning.
One of William Shakespeare’s characters, in
Romeo and Juliet, derided dreams as “full of
sound and fury, signifying nothing.” In more
recent times, Frances Crick and Graeme
Mitchison (1986) proposed that dreaming
performs a housecleaning function for the
brain and that their content is “best off
forgotten.” However, Crick and Mitchison
described a neural network that underlies
dreaming that other authors (e.g., Hartmann,
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1999) have used to propose a more creative
function of the dreaming process.
Hobson (Hobson and McCarley, 1977;
Hobson et al., 2000) has taken the position
that dream content results from random
stimulation of cortically-stored memories, but
that the dreaming brain “makes the best of a
bad bargain,” creatively weaving a narrative
from the images. Krippner and Combs’ (2002)
model of dreaming as a chaotic, self-organized
process attempted to span the chasm between
the neurobiology of dreaming and the study of
dream content, a task also performed by G.
William Domhoff (2003). However, Domhoff
took the position that dreaming was an
epiphenomenon of sleep while Krippner and
Combs (2002) held that it was adaptive in
nature, even serving an important role in the
evolution of higher vertebrates (also see
McNamara, 2004).
For Hobson, dream content is so
bizarre that dreaming could be described as a
“model psychosis” and “delirium.” Similarly,
Crick and Mitchison (1986) wrote about the
“bizarre intrusions” that characterize dreams
(p.231). Carol S. Uppercut (1993) took a more
creative approach to bizarre elements in
dreams, stating that “bizarreness is the means
by which the dream represents objects,
persons, or experiences that cannot be
isolated from the dreamer’s history in time
and space. In the dream state we recreate the
diachronic world from the standpoint of its
synchronic coherence as established in a
unique memory” (Uppercut, 1993, p. 25).
How useful these dreams can
sometimes be. Deirdre Barrett (2001) has
described a “bizarre” dream reported by the
Italian composer, Giuseppe Tartini in which
he handed the devil a violin bow. “The Devil
played a haunting melody of unearthly beauty.
The instant he awoke, Tartini grabbed his
violin and tried to reproduce it. All he could
remember was the distinctive double-stop
trill. Around that marvelous sound, he
composed a piece her called The Devil’s Trill
Sonata(p. 69). Thus, where one person may
see delirium and bizarreness, another person
may see creativity.
(i) Although dreaming may have
random elements, one can also
discover patterns of content for which
the meaning has potential social as
well as individual significance.
There are multiple Western books on how to
derive benefit upon awakening from various
types of dreams (Krippner, 1990; Krippner et
al., 2003), on how to benefit through lucid
awareness during the dream itself (LaBerge
and Reinhold, 1990), and how, in waking life,
to use altered states derived from dreaming
for further knowledge and benefit (Moss,
1996). Across cultures, one may take seriously
indeed, the shamanic use of dreams which
have led, for example, to successful diagnosis
or treatment for client illnesses (Kilborne
1990; Krippner, 1990) or to major
transformations in spiritual awareness
(Norbu, 2002). Is this truly only content
casually impressed on random activity by
pattern-making humans?
How might dreams generate
meaningful content? During the process of
dreaming, random activation within the cortex
(primarily the visual-motor areas) can evoke
images and memories that connect with an
unsolved issue. This may serve as a chaotic
attractor. “Branching” can lead to alternative
ways of resolving the issue; the resulting
dream narrative might favor a particular
solution or it might present various
alternatives and predispose the dreamer to
solve the problem upon awakening. Such a use
of dream time is adaptive indeed.
Goertzel’s’ (1995a and b) branching
models again help explain this potential dream
process. If divergent and convergent processes
are at work, it is likely that the more
convergent processes occur later, upon
waking, to fully understand an insight from
dreaming. Many models of the creative process
include an “incubation” phase that is followed
by “illumination” (Richards, 2010), a time of
hidden activity before it comes together.
Tartini’s dream could serve as an example
since he was hard pressed to produce a new
composition and had a creative block for
which his devilish dream provided a welcome
opening and finally a breakthrough.
Hartmann (1999) encourages
dreamers, when they wake, to seek a “central
image” in their dream, one that contains vivid
imagery and intense affect. This image, he
maintains, can serve as the key to unlock the
latent meaning of the dream narrative. In
Krippner and Combs’ (2002) model,
Hartmann’s central image would be a chaotic
attractor, and neural networking would draw
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associated memories and images toward it to
yield a coherent story.
Janice Bayless (2009) has proposed
that branching, or bifurcating, can happen
more than once, producing a cascade, which
we have referred to as a bifurcation sequence.
These bifurcations and cascades are
specialized types of associative thinking, in
which two associated images have a linking
similarity (chaining). She used the well-known
example of Elias Howe’s invention of the
lockstitch sewing machine to make her point.
While awake, Howe had worked in vain to
design a machine that would sew garments,
but nothing would work. One night he
dreamed that savages had captured him and
prodded him with their spears. As they were
about to execute him, he noticed that each
spear had a hold in the pointed end. He woke
up with a start, realizing that what his machine
needed was a needle with a hole in the pointed
end. The needle and the spears had a
similarity of shape—long, narrow, and pointed.
Chaos theory thus adds an important
dimension to the understanding of dreams;
information is not simply accumulated, as
Hobson has maintained. It is also generated,
creating connections that were not there
before, and the Elias Howe dream is an
example because from it he generated a
working model for his sewing machine
(Bayless, 2009). This dream had social
significance since it initiated an industrial
paradigm that required fewer workers.
Because many of the skilled sewers were
slaves, it could perhaps even be said that
Howe’s dream was an initiator of the death
knell to slavery in the United States.
Nighttime dreaming serves as another
example of “everyday creativity,” as each
dream is unique and novel, and can indeed be
meaningful, in its interpretation and later use.
Because each brain constantly self-organizes
data, whether it is awake or asleep, creativity
can be seen as part of human potential rather
than a phenomenon limited to an isolated
circumstance or an elite group of individuals.
Such manifestations are of great social
significance because they “democratize”
creativity, showing that the term need not be
limited to a few “creative geniuses.” Everyday
creativity is, indeed, our birthright as human
beings.
(j) These patterns are not only
suggestive of immediate value, but of
ongoing value because they may well
have been adaptive during the course
of evolution.
Social psychology rests, in part, on the
understanding that evolution selected genetic
and genotype-environment patterns that
facilitated social interactions (McNamara,
2004). The outcome of such patterns is seen
not only in these social interactions per se, but
also in relevant thoughts, feelings, and dreams
of humans. Indeed, there is evidence that
social interactions are more likely to be
depicted in dream reports than in one’s
spontaneous tellings in the waking state.
Aggressive social interactions are more
characteristic of REM sleep than experiences
during NREM sleep or based on reports from
waking periods, while dreamer-initiated
friendliness is more characteristic of NREM
than of REM reports (McNamara et al., 2005).
Dreaming permits “downloading” of negative
emotions usually depicted symbolically in
unusual settings to “work through” the
troublesome feelings in general rather than in
particular. This process permits the dreamer
to awaken refreshed and ready for the new
day. If the process fails, the unpleasant
experience is dreamed about directly, not
symbolically, and in familiar rather than in
unfamiliar settings—a phenomenon must
apparent in repetitive post-traumatic
nightmares.
Processing of social interactions seems
often to be performed “off-line” during
dreaming. This pattern may be linked to the
observation that there is a reciprocal
interaction of two neuronal groups,
acetylcholine in REM, and norepinephrine and
serotonin in non-REM. These specializations
suggest that dreams may later exert a
regulatory impact on waking social
interactions (McNamara et al., 2005).
(k) It is likely that further clarification
of nonlinear dynamical processes and
the balance between divergent and
convergent forces can further reveal
the healthy potentials of our creative
minds, during both waking and
dreaming states.
Reflecting on the dream state, there may be
misunderstanding and mislabeling of some
dream phenomena that are healthy and
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adaptive—whether calling them bizarre and
delusional, or random and meaningless. Yet
these dreams can represent highly adaptive
creative processes, albeit in less conventional
forms and ones we dare not overlook.
Dreaming is a complex neurocognitive
process with a neurochemistry, a
neuroanatomy, and an electrophysiology as
complex as waking processes (Pagel, 2009).
The authors of this paper take the position that
dreams are not, as some claim, an
epiphenomenon; indeed, we suspect that
dreaming also played an important role in
evolution of the nervous system and human
behavior. Dreams are not, as some claim, a
spandrel, a decorative piece of architecture
that serves no structural function; instead,
they are central to the organization and
architecture and development of the brain.
Dreams are not, as still others insist, a
nighttime discard that is best off forgotten;
rather, dreams can lead to affect regulation,
memory consolidation, and even creative
problem solving. Parenthetically, Gould and
Lowentin (1979) have even proposed an
evolutionary significance for ‘spandrels’.
If dreams were simply epiphenomenal
images without causal, intentional, or
semantic content, then one would not expect
to find dream states exhibiting processing
specializations. If dreams are nighttime
discards, one would not expect the selective
emphasis upon social interactions reported in
the literature. If dreams are spandrels that
randomly reflect only snippets of daytime
experience, there would be no reason to
expect, for instance, high levels of aggression
in either REM or NREM dreams.
Instead, the available evidence points
to non-randomness and purpose, with
creativity as a hallmark of a healthy mind in
dreaming as well as waking. The sometimes
bizarre appearances of new ideas, or new
dream material should be carefully observed
and even honored. Here one finds patterns of
information that appear meaningful, socially
relevant, and of potential individual, cultural,
and evolutionary importance.
One should therefore not assume that
dream material is random and meaningless
simply because its special rules are not
understood. Nor dismiss waking ideation if it
is at first hard to understand, or is odd if not
frankly bizarre. One may thereby miss patterns
of meaning and creativity. As we have said,
the abnormal is not necessarily pathological.
It may be superbly unique and usefully
exceptional. One should at least take a look.
Rather than revealing pathological
bizarreness (while awake) or meaningless
random activity (while dreaming), our
cognitive-affective productions may be
showing us their own logic. Moreover,
perhaps, if we look ahead, they will even reveal
their own forms of beauty—a deep aesthetic
based in the infinities of chaotic possibilities in
our own minds (Mitina and Abraham, 2003;
Richards, 2001). Such phenomena can open
us beyond the conventional, to deeper parts of
the psyche and onward to benefits and
experiences we would otherwise lack.
Zausner (2011) has presented examples
of her work that illustrate this deep
connection, stating that “archetypes of the
creative process link a single mind to the
collective unconscious and works of art
become self-opening worlds that create an
expanded reality” (p.994). For example, while
working on a painting, The Philosopher’s
Stone,” Zausner had portrayed a child reaching
the light after crawling up a winding path in
the darkness. But she needed a symbol of
transformation as well, one that would
counteract the sweetness of the child.
Suddenly, she heard an inner voice say,
“Wears let a jewel in its head,” a passage that
she recognized from Shakespeare’s As You
Like It.” The entire line read, “Sweet are the
uses of adversity, which like the toad, ugly and
venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in its
head.” Zausner painted a toad, a symbol of
transformation in several cultures, near the
bottom of the painting and the gestalt was
complete (pp. 995-996).
Here then is our “trickster,” our inner
creative advocate of the new, the surprising
and, ultimately, the useful. Further study of
waking and dreaming creativity from the
perspective of chaos theory may help us
understand the underlying mechanisms that
can destabilize the known, while opening up
the possible and the original, meanwhile
providing us the balance and control for
useful, adaptive, and sometimes astonishing
new understandings.
Note
This article is an expansion of a paper by S. Krippner, R. Richards, and F.
Abraham, entitled Chaos, creativity, dreaming and waking states:
Honoring our healthy divergence, presented in July, 2009 at the Annual
Meeting of the Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology and the Life
Sciences, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
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... Such discontinuous nature may relate not only to quantum theory but also to the concepts of bifurcation and chaos in nonlinear dynamical system. In nonlinear dynamics, a system can suddenly change into qualitatively different one, something termed "bifurcation" Krippner et al., 2012;Schuldberg, 1999). For example, a system may change from periodic to chaotic behavior when the values of its parameters are changed. ...
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