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Art of Thought

Posted on 27-06-16 at 18:56:18

The Art of Thought: A Pioneering 1926 Model of the Four Stages of Creativity. 
 
Graham Wallas was sixty eight year old when he penned The Art of Thought - a sight that gave vision to many on the four stages of creativity on two basis, of his own observations and accounts of famous inventors and polymaths. He was an English social psychologist and the co-founder of the London School of Economics. The book is no longer in print and a few copies are found in certain public libraries and costs a fortune. However, the ideas and the gist of Wallas’s ideas are preserved in a chapter of the 1976 book The Creativity Question put together by compiled by psychiatrist Albert Rothenberg and philosopher Carl R. Hausman.
 
Preparation, Incubation, Illumination, and Verification are the four stages of creativity as per Wallas’s book.
 
1) PREPARATION
 
This is the first stage and the process of understanding and learning the problem takes place in this stage. It is investigated in different angles to analyze it carefully. Proper research, proper planning, careful attention and the right frame if mind is very much required. Wallas writes:
 
"The educated man has, again, learnt, and can, in the Preparation stage, voluntarily or habitually follow out, rules as to the order in which he shall direct his attention to successive elements".
 
2) INCUBATION
 
If we have a problem, we try and solve it, like literally. However, this stage is such that there is no physical action taking place to solve a problem. There are a lot if involuntary and unconscious strategies analyzed inorder to solve a situation. There are two ways of looking at it - a) Positive - There is an involuntary and unconscious mental actions taking place... b) Negative - No one is actually "doing" anything about the problem!  He writes:
 
"Voluntary abstention from conscious thought on any problem may, itself, take two forms: the period of abstention may be spent either in conscious mental work on other problems, or in a relaxation from all conscious mental work. The first kind of Incubation economizes time, and is therefore often the better".
 
He also says:
 
"We can often get more result in the same way by beginning several problems in succession, and voluntarily leaving them unfinished while we turn to others, than by finishing our work on each problem at one sitting".
 
There are other great minds who later came up with referrals of the same stage; like,
 
T. S. Eliot, the role of idea-incubation in the creative process,
 
Alexander Graham Bell, the power of “unconscious cerebration” and
 
Lewis Carroll, the importance of mental “mastication.”
 
3) ILLUMINATION
 
Based on French polymath Henri Poincaré’s concept of “sudden illumination” — is the ILLUMINATION stage. Ideas have to initially flow from within and pass through the two stages of Preparation and Incubation and take its form. Wallas also initiates that this stage cannot be forced:
 
"If we so define the Illumination stage as to restrict it to this instantaneous “flash,” it is obvious that we cannot influence it by a direct effort of will; because we can only bring our will to bear upon psychological events which last for an appreciable time. On the other hand, the final “flash,” or “click” … is the culmination of a successful train of association, which may have lasted for an appreciable time, and which has probably been preceded by a series of tentative and unsuccessful trains. The series of unsuccessful trains of association may last for periods varying from a few seconds to several hours".
 
Later the great science communicator and MacArthur “genius” Stephen Jay Gould concurred that these trains of association - are the secret of genius - are the connections between the seemingly unconnected! 
 
4) VERIFICATION
 
This stage is different from the second and the third stages. It tests the validity of an idea and reduces the idea to an accurate form. Wallas again cites the polymath:
 
"In the daily stream of thought these four different stages constantly overlap each other as we explore different problems. An economist reading a Blue Book, a physiologist watching an experiment, or a business man going through his morning’s letters, may at the same time be “incubating” on a problem which he proposed to himself a few days ago, be accumulating knowledge in “preparation” for a second problem, and be “verifying” his conclusions on a third problem. Even in exploring the same problem, the mind may be unconsciously incubating on one aspect of it, while it is consciously employed in preparing for or verifying another aspect. 
 
And it must always be remembered that much very important thinking, done for instance by a poet exploring his own memories, or by a man trying to see clearly his emotional relation to his country or his party, resembles musical composition in that the stages leading to success are not very easily fitted into a “problem and solution” scheme. Yet, even when success in thought means the creation of something felt to be beautiful and true rather than the solution of a prescribed problem, the four stages of Preparation, Incubation, Illumination, and the Verification of the final result can generally be distinguished from each other".

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