Friday, September 2, 2011

The uncertainty principal

Writing about creative ideas in general, Marianne English at Discovery News discusses a study released by Cornell University that examines a common bias arising from subconscious motivations to reduce feelings of uncertainty when confronted by the results of unconventional thinking: "In essence, feeling uncertain seemed to stifle people's ability to recognize creativity."

Here's the abstract from the study:
People often reject creative ideas even when espousing creativity as a desired goal. To explain this paradox, we propose that people can hold a bias against creativity that is not necessarily overt, and which is activated when people experience a motivation to reduce uncertainty. In two studies, we measure and manipulate uncertainty using different methods including: discrete uncertainty feelings, and an uncertainty reduction prime. The results of both studies demonstrated a negative bias toward creativity (relative to practicality) when participants experienced uncertainty. Furthermore, the bias against creativity interfered with participants’ability to recognize a creative idea. These results reveal a concealed barrier that creative actors may face as they attempt to gain acceptance for their novel ideas.
The study itself dealt with practical applications of creative thought, e.g. product design, but it seems like it might also apply to unconventional poetry, i.e. when confronted with a "difficult" or highly innovative poem that relies more on conceptual structure (or creative reference to external concepts) than a sense of traditional aesthetics, many readers and critics disregard the creative attributes of what they've encountered and judge the poem to be without merit--even though they've neglected to seriously engage the criteria by which the poem has been created.

In other words, the discomfort that some feel when confronted with uncertainty becomes a basis for a negative aesthetic judgment, regardless of the potential "quality" of a poem that--in its unconventional approach--builds from a challenge to ordinary concepts of meaning, language, or aesthetic inquiry. In this sense, we could say that "difficult poems" are rejected not because they lack quality but because they are difficult and unsettling. We don't know what they mean so we label them as meaningless or poorly written and judge them accordingly. The problem, of course, is when a judgment utterly disregards the creative (even dynamic) attributes of a poem only because it doesn't fit a predetermined model of what a poem should be.

Frequently, the relative inaccessibility of some contemporary forms of poetry is cited as evidence of poetry's popular and aesthetic decline. I can accept this as an explanation for a limited audience when it comes to some types of poetry--difficult poems require inquisitive readers who are willing to think creatively about what they encounter--but is a judgment of poor quality (i.e. a lack of aesthetic or literary merit) valid if that judgment arises from a subconscious distaste for radical innovation that prevents a reader or a critic from seriously examining (or even recognizing) the criteria by which the poem was created?

Anyways, its something to think about.

No comments:

Post a Comment