In 1939 a figurine was discovered in Southern Germany: half-man, half-lion. It had been carved 32,000 years before. If Professor Mark Turner is to be believed, there is a direct link between this object and any creative act you engage in. His theory, explained in an article in this month’s New Scientist, is that it demonstrates the human ability to blend different ideas, often starkly different, to create a new one. .
Dogs do it, but only at a very basic level. Having learned how to chase a ball thrown by their owner, they can extend it to other potential throwers (unless, if it was our family dog, distracted by a picnic). But humans are exponentially more sophisticated.
Consider the sentence ‘if I were my brother-in-law, I would be miserable’. This sentence mixes up his intentionality and mine, his identity and mine, yet our talent for advanced blending allows us to understand this complex of causation, intentionality and participants.
There appears to be no evidence of humans doing it much earlier than 50,000 years ago (the Upper Palaeolithic Era). No attempt even to carve representations onto walls. But once it had started, it changed everything. Setting us on the road to being able to download the complete set of Henry James onto a Kindle.
So, to the creative act. Or rather, to the meeting I had with two fellow writers last Tuesday at Blacks club in Soho. Since December I have been in the process of changing the main male character in my novel (about which more another time). Both of them said the new character was coming across, but that because of the change, a plot strand had now become implausible.
I could see what they meant. But changing it created a whole new problem. I went home and had chips and gravy. At 2am I woke up with a) a raging thirst, and b) dialogue from the key scene going round in my head. And suddenly the solution came to me. Not only that, over the next hour four distinct passages presented themselves with such specific wording I had to write them down. When I finally switched the light off I was so pleased I thanked the darkness.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. If Mark Turner is correct, I had been doing no more than my Palaeolithic ancestors carving human/animal representations in the ancient European terrain.
The book is called The Origin of Ideas: Blending, Creativity and the Human Spark Mark Turner. The article appears in the February edition of New Scientist. The chip shop is at 3 Devonshire Rd, Forest Hill, London.