Creative cognition and perceptual symbol systems
- a Master's Thesis by Morten Dall, spring 2002, Aalborg University, Multimedia.
Download entire Master's Thesis in pdf-format here. (861 Kb. - Only available in Danish at the moment).
English abstract
The purpose of this Master's Thesis is to contribute to the demystification of creativity. Acknowledging the tremendous scope of such a task, I limit my focus to the cognitive aspects of creativity. In other words, I coin the phrase "genevution" to stand for the cognitive processes that lead to ideas deemed original and useful by the individual itself. My main goal is to present a better theoretical understanding of genevution, which I complement with a more pragmatic sub-goal. This sub-goal involves the use of knowledge regarding genevution in practical design situations, as well as a suggestion of how to support genevution and creativity with multimedia-based computer systems. The social aspects of creativity play little part in this thesis.
I first establish a framework for my theoretical exploration of certain cognitive processes vital to genevution. This framework consists mainly of a general model (Geneplore) of creative cognition, as it is presented by Finke et al. Within this framework I identify the above-mentioned vital cognitive processes, which I then set out to elaborate, using the main theory of this thesis; namely Barsalou's Theory of Perceptual Symbol Systems. I expand certain areas of this theory, especially the concept of analogy, and furthermore support the theory with conclusions drawn from a neural-network approach to cognition (Martindale).
The resulting theoretical synthesis constitutes my grand theory, which enables us to comprehend diverse aspects of human cognition through extrapolation. More to the point, the grand theory enables us to describe the essence of genevution: Genevution is a result of primarily the generative processes; analogical transfer, categorical reduction, mental synthesis, and transformation, as well as the exploratory processes; functional inference, attribute finding, hypothesis testing, and contextual shifting. Ultimately, these processes lead to the discovery of emergent properties through the will to pursue preinventive structures (simulations) lacking immediate coherence.
The best cognitive conditions for these processes are to be found in what I call "near-attention". On this level of consciousness (the fringe of attention), we reach the peak of our ability to activate the most cognitive units simultaneously, and as such we are able to handle higher levels of complexity. In near-attention we are therefore capable of creating deeper relations between mental representations, synthesise more aspects, and, at the same time, have the largest possible available network to support our evaluation of coherence.
The more we challenge our sense of coherence through pursuit of unusual emergent properties, the bigger the potential for originality, at the cost of immediate usefulness.

Finally, I make probable the pragmatic usefulness of my grand theory by specifying the demands to a multimedia-based computer system that supports genevution and creativity. The system focuses primarily on supporting the mental state of incubation through manipulation of levels of awareness, secondly on expanding the individuals' qualifications for evaluating coherence and plausibility.