Creativity and Humour

A recent comment on the Innovation Zen blog in response to an interview with creativity expert Roger van Oech noted in passing that “there’s a close relationship between the “ha-ha” of humor and the “aha” of creative discovery!”

It is interesting to look back through the history of the psychology of creativity literature and look at some of the original arguments around the close link between creativity and humour.

For example, Arthur Koestler took up the theme of the close relationship between the psychological processes underlying creativity and the psychological processes underlying the experience of humour in his (1964) book The Act of Creation. For Koestler, an idea is not merely associated with one frame of reference, but simultaneously juxtaposes and synthesises two quite different frames of reference – it “bisociates” them. In each of creativity and humour, there is “the perceiving of a situation or idea . . . in two self-consistent but habitually incompatible frames of reference” (p. 35).

Koestler argued by means of a number of examples that bisociation underlies creativity in the arts and sciences and the experience of wit and humour.

Silvano Arieti developed the argument along similar lines in his (1976) book Creativity: The Magic Synthesis.

Edward de Bono’s (1970) book Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step starts with its first sentence (at least in the 1990 Penguin edition) explicitly tying together creativity and humour:

“Lateral Thinking is closely related to insight, creativity, and humour. All four processes have the same basis.”

The common theme is that underlying creativity – and humour – there is an interesting juxtaposition of frames of reference, or of ‘cognitive elements’, that make a deeper and more satisfing pattern or connection or play up the differences and juxtapositions in a more deeply appealing manner. In the case of creativity this results in a deeper and more satisfying frame of reference or understanding of the patterns and connections or possible configurations of component parts of the creative puzzle, and in the case of humour we play up incongruity between different frames of reference.

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Creativity and Humour

A recent comment on the Innovation Zen blog in response to an interview with creativity expert Roger van Oech noted in passing that “there’s a close relationship between the “ha-ha” of humor and the “aha” of creative discovery!”

It is interesting to look back through the history of the psychology of creativity literature and look at some of the original arguments around the close link between creativity and humour.

For example, Arthur Koestler took up the theme of the close relationship between the psychological processes underlying creativity and the psychological processes underlying the experience of humour in his (1964) book The Act of Creation. For Koestler, an idea is not merely associated with one frame of reference, but simultaneously juxtaposes and synthesises two quite different frames of reference – it “bisociates” them. In each of creativity and humour, there is “the perceiving of a situation or idea . . . in two self-consistent but habitually incompatible frames of reference” (p. 35).

Koestler argued by means of a number of examples that bisociation underlies creativity in the arts and sciences and the experience of wit and humour.

Silvano Arieti developed the argument along similar lines in his (1976) book Creativity: The Magic Synthesis.

Edward de Bono’s (1970) book Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step starts with its first sentence (at least in the 1990 Penguin edition) explicitly tying together creativity and humour:

“Lateral Thinking is closely related to insight, creativity, and humour. All four processes have the same basis.”

The common theme is that underlying creativity – and humour – there is an interesting juxtaposition of frames of reference, or of ‘cognitive elements’, that make a deeper and more satisfing pattern or connection or play up the differences and juxtapositions in a more deeply appealing manner. In the case of creativity this results in a deeper and more satisfying frame of reference or understanding of the patterns and connections or possible configurations of component parts of the creative puzzle, and in the case of humour we play up incongruity between different frames of reference.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.