Creativity and the Context of Novelty

The Pluralist 4 (3):60 - 63 (2009)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Creativity and the Context of NoveltyPete A. Y. GunterAn article might have many virtues: breadth, novel perspective, conceptual background, to name a few. The strongest virtue of Professor Crosby's article is in the sharpening of arguments. In both his book, Novelty, and in the present article, he sharpens arguments which surround the concepts of determinism, novelty, and freedom. The end result is increased clarity; it is also, or so it seems to this writer, the increased plausibility of arguments for novelty and indeterminism.I.It has often been argued that strict determinism (henceforth, determinism) has paradoxical implications. Thus William James protests that it leads inescapably to a "Block Universe": one in which everything is given at once—past, present, and future. In such a world, Crosby points out, nothing can happen at all. But Crosby adds to this a second, crucial point. If determinism is true, he insists, we must give up not only the belief that anything actually happens but also the commonsense belief that cause precedes effect. This result of strict determinism has not been stressed by either its opponents or its proponents.Quite probably, those who have argued for determinism have not reflected on the unpalatable idea that cause does not precede effect. Our ordinary experience exhibits the billiard ball falling into the side pocket after we have hit it with the cue stick. If we dive into a swimming pool, we enter the water dry and then become wet. And, the splash occurs after we separate ourselves from the board. Determinism, however useful in helping us to bring order out of our experience, radically conflicts with fundamental features in nature that lead us to think and examine cause and effect to begin with.There is another respect in which Crosby sharpens our assumptions. Ordinarily [End Page 60] we think of novelty and causality as contradictories. In fact, Crosby insists, they are correlatives. Neither is reducible to the other, nor is either alternative prior to the other. The two together constitute a primordial feature of the universe, such that where in some contexts indeterminism is reduced to a minimum, perhaps an infinitesimal, in others (presumably those in which creativity plays a major role) causality is reduced to a minimum and novelty predominates. Hence philosophy is not saddled with the task of trying to show how novelty can possibly find a place in an exclusively deterministic world. Novelty and determinism are, from the beginning, both present throughout.This viewpoint, if accepted, would obviate any attempt to graft indeterminism into a deterministic universe, so to speak, from without. It would also tend to dissolve the dualisms foisted on us by Descartes and, in another way, by Kant, which radically separate mind (or free will) from matter (or, in Kant's case, "phenomena") on the grounds that the former contains novelty and the latter does not. In Crosby's view some element of novelty is already present in matter. Equally, in his view, "mind" in many, perhaps most, contexts contains a strong element of determinism.There is still a further way of taking Crosby's arguments. It is this. Strict determinists must, he shows, hold that the universe is timeless. Past, present, and future coexist and, literally, nothing happens. It then follows that if one accepts the reality of motion, growth, and dissolution in the world, then in doing so one has decreed the falsehood of strict determinism. It does not (and on Crosby's grounds cannot) follow that there is no determinism in nature. There must, on his grounds, be degrees of causal determinism. But there must also be real novelty. One thus has a transcendental argument, beginning from the simple acceptance of real mobility in the world. That is, "If there is real transformation in the world, then strict determinism must be wrong. There is real transformation in the world. Therefore strict determinism must be wrong." This would make life very hard for the strict determinist, for whom the slightest lapse into a commonsense acceptance of the restless mobility of nature entails the denial of his or her basic thesis.A further argument of Crosby's, however, gives me difficulties. He argues that strict determinism...



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