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Creativity and Chaos

“Creativity is at the edge of chaos.” Psychologist Robert Bilder

Creative thinking involves dual and often opposing qualities such as convergence and divergence, control and abandon, order and disorder, certainty and uncertainty.

A symposium last year brought together researchers from UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior with eminent Buddhist scholars for a “two-hour conversation about their distinctive yet complementary understandings of compassion, creativity, mental flexibility and attention, as well as the role mindfulness meditation may play in cultivating these qualities.”

Participant Robert Bilder, PhD engages in research at The Tennenbaum Center for the Biology of Creativity, and “examines what he calls the ‘action-perception cycle,’ a pattern of brain waves that cycle through every 300 to 400 milleseconds. ‘Creativity is at the edge of chaos,’ he explained, describing how this cycle occurs over and over again as a person perceives and processes new information and decides what new action, if any, to take in response.”

The article adds, “This creative process is a dualistic balance between novelty and utility, flexibility and stability — a duality, he noted, that has been illustrated throughout the ages in such concepts as the Taoist principle of yin yang.”

From article Buddhists, neuroscientists come to a meeting of the minds, By Judy Lin, UCLA Today magazine May 10, 2011.

Video: Creatives Talk with Robert Bilder – Sep 27, 2011, Facebook Education, Official live streaming channel from the Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto.

Also see the The Tennenbaum Center list of Creativity Resources on their site.

[I appreciate that the list includes my main site Talent Development Resources.]

Bilder refers in the video above to the phrase “edge-of-chaos” from the work of Stuart Kauffman, a MacArthur Fellow, pioneer of the science of complexity, and author of At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity.

In her encyclopedic reference book Understanding Creativity, Jane Piirto, PhD quotes educator Al Hurwitz on one of the most basic dualities: “Art functions as an extended conversation between form and imagination.”

She includes the quote in one of the items in a list of predictive behaviors of visual arts talent: “Improvisation. They are doodlers, improvising with shapes and lines, seeing patterns that appear from negative space…”

Photos: Top: “I’m a photographer,” says Michael Morphis. “I mostly do landscape and cityscape portraits. After photographing I will spend countless hours photoshopping. Everything else takes a back seat. I’ve spent weeks at a time in 10 to 12 hour editing sessions.”

Bottom: Office of Prof Wolfgang Danspeckgruber, chair of the Liechtenstein Institute on self-determination at Princeton University. “Most importantly in that chair I do and have done some of my most important research and writings.” –

Photos and captions self-submitted for the article: In pictures: Your chaotic work spaces, BBC News – which includes creative spaces of seven other people.

Maybe we can be more creative by embracing the messiness, chaos, randomness and other qualities that aren’t so orderly or cognitively structured.

See more on that topic in this video:
Malcolm Gladwell: Creative Types: Embrace Chaos

Caption on YouTube: “Embracing intellectual messiness goes against our instincts and training as educated people, but writers and artists should accept and understand it as crucial to the creative process.”

Book: Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.

Related post with video: Outliers and developing exceptional abilities


Creativity and Chaos

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2012). Creativity and Chaos. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 12, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Aug 2012
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