BOOK FESTIVAL – Julian Baggini & Andrew Robinson with Joan Bakewell

Key ideas of the 21st century: Creativity

Joan Bakewell chaired an edifying discussion between philosopher Julian Baggini and social historian Andrew Robinson, on the vast topic of Creativity.

Her opening question “What about Creativity then?” was first addressed by Baggini, who introduced the audience to some initial thinking from his book, ‘The Ego Trick’. Engaging them with ‘The self, and who we are’ he spoke about what makes us special, individual, unique and ultimately, creative.

“Maybe free will is the ability for the self, as a system, to generate its own decisions. Unforced and ignoring instinct”, he said, as he took us through his theories of free will, conscious control and the making of choices.

He also touched on how we are ‘bundles’ of elements – with no ‘I’ to centrally control things, going on to explain the 2 parts of the essence of self, arguing that we actually have no central control. What makes us what we are, is the system of emotions, desires and subsequent actions, which in turn generate extraordinary ideas, decisions and creativity itself. Names such as DaVinci and Einstein with lessons from each were dropped into the mix to illustrate his convincing discourse.

Compared to Baggini’s “philosophical” accounts, by his own admission, when Andrew Robinson took his turn at the lectern his were more “biographical”.

He opened his account with a story about double Nobel prize winner, Linus Pauling, who when once asked why he had so many great ideas, responded with “I have many ideas, I just throw away the bad ones”.

He continued to discuss why some of the best ideas happen suddenly – In a flash? And then raised the notion that the very word ‘creative’ had been over used to the point that it was now debased.

Robinson littered his address with some of the illustrious Creatives that while an author, biographer and journalist he’d had the fortune to work with. Creative forces such as Nobel winner Phil Anderson, photographer Cartier-Bresson, scientist Arthur C Clarke, filmmaker Lyndsay Anderson – and went on to suggest that the one thing that linked their creativity – was versatility.

We were given examples of this versatility with photographer Cartier-Bresson who while famously known for his printed image, had also an accomplished artistic background, and indeed a want to be famous painter. And Arthur C. Clarke, whose successful creative talents spanned the worlds of writing as well as great scientific thinking.

All of the people Robinson mentioned were all versatile in their creative delivery, and reasoned that it was this breadth that was crucial when it came down to defining genius.

Other theories skimmed during the illuminating hour included whether or not the death of a parent had a direct correlation to producing exception; and, with the abundance of knowledge available today, the quest is not to absorb it all, but to gather and make sense of it all.

Expertly chaired by Joan Bakewell, the final 10 minutes of an incredibly thought-packed hour gave chance for the audience to offer their thoughts, comments and questions to the panel.

Neither writer read from their book, but during the 60 minutes, each gave enough away to suggest that both have added their own great ideas and insight to a very great topic.

By his own admission, when Andrew Robinson took his turn at the lecturn, compared to Julians ‘philosophical’ accounts – his were more biographical.

Reviewed on Monday 22nd August 2011 by Tony Bibby

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