Do unicorns exist?: The limits of thinking

One can conceptualize based on what he/she can sense (see, hear, touch, etc.) in reality. Our minds have the capacity to create concepts that do not refer to anything in reality. We can do this by grouping objects based on similarities and differences. We can also combine concepts. Concept-combinations are the beginning of creativity. For example we can take the concept of horn based on our experiences with horns in the past. We can take the concept of horse based on our experiences with horses in the past. Then we can then combine them and create the concept unicorn.

We can do the same with the concept of horse and human.

Or with women and fish...

Mermaids don't exist in reality.

One might say, "but that is not a "real" mermaid." It is in the correction that they are making a mistake. There are no "real" mermaids or centaurs or unicorns in reality. They only exist as concepts derived from a certain combination of other concepts in the human mind. Science fiction writers like George Lucas who imagine aliens on other planets cannot really create a truly original alien. Imagined aliens are always combinations of what is seen on earth. They have human bodies with squid-heads or octopus tentacles with huge eyes etc.

Star Wars Aliens

Absolute "creativity" would consist of creating something out of nothing. This is impossible. The only meaningful way of talking about creativity is recognizing that creativity is only a process of combining what already exists in reality in new ways. We can create conceptual combinations of combinations of combinations.

This has an interesting implication. It means that the creativity of a generation is limited by the combinations of concepts developed by previous generations. Stories, technologies, and ideas in general are determined by which concepts were developed or not developed in the past. More on this in future posts.

Conclusion Premise 1: Thinking depends on concept-formation. Premise 2: Human concept-formation is limited by (1) the objects that we have access to in reality, and (2) by the higher lever concepts that we are aware of. Conclusion 1: Therefore thinking is limited by our awareness of objects in reality and higher level concepts. Conclusion 2: Therefore, you are only as creative as your conceptual resources. Conclusion 3: Therefore if you want to be more creative you must (1) consume large amounts of concepts (become an infovore), and (2) Exercise your mind by combining concepts into new ways.