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Evolution of creativity: Capacity to see builds future

Before man could innovate, he had to see

In Summary

-Creativity evolution began 3 million years ago, when organisms developed vision sensitive to light and dark.

Melaninart, Staice Shitanda, 20, Nairobi
Melaninart, Staice Shitanda, 20, Nairobi
Image: MASK Prize

Creativity evolved with time. It started with organisms developing a simple visual system that culminated in complex cognitive activity of visual thinking. Evolution of creativity was paralleled by the evolution of toolmaking and proved by the variety and complexity of tools discovered by archaeologists.

Creativity evolution began 3 million years ago, when organisms developed vision sensitive to light and dark. This acted as a catalyst for the evolutionary development of the nervous system. Neurons began specialising in analysing visual information, allowing organisms to perform more efficiently.

The sensory cells clustered in the heads of simple animals. The visual system connected with other areas in the brain responsible for memory, emotions, planning and movement.

The brain evolved abilities to feedback information within itself. It became a command centre, developed new structures and functions and increased in size. Vision became crucial to animal survival. Animals needed to recognise colours, size and distance for feeding, form visual memory for mental mapping, and recognise ‘faces’ for distinguishing friends from foes. Advancing, the visual system could select the relevant information from the irrelevant data and integrate it to produce a coherent picture to solve problems.

At the next stage of evolution, 2 million years ago, of Lower Palaeolithic time period, the earlier hominin species Homo habilis came up with the first historic innovation, the chopping stones (Oldowan stones), which consisted of flakes, choppers and bone breakers.

The environments in which our early ancestors lived were changing rapidly, and the early hominins had to deal with novelty to survive the change. Novelty stimulated the brain cells to form new connections, which in turn improved response and increased survival.

Homo habilis discovered the benefits of toolmaking, began to do so, and survived to reproduce the more creative hominins like themselves. Creativity evolution exhibited the same features as the biological evolution of natural selection. The brain doubled in size compared to the brain of the ape predecessors and was approximately 700cm in volume.

Human species that followed, Homo erectus, about 1.5 million years ago of Lower Palaeolithic period, developed goals and made more complex tools. Their approaches had to be more creative. A rote sequence of trial-and-error way of solving problems was not enough. Visual system informed their goal-formation and their tools, stone axes, picks and cleavers, developed symmetrical cutting edges. The brain size increased to 900cm in volume.

Around 300,000 years ago of Middle Paleolithic period, Homo neandertalensis started to produce more advanced tools. Flakes were placed on the end of sticks and became spears and javelins. The brain volume increased to 1200-1400cm.

By 40,000 years ago of Upper Paleolithic period, our species of Homo sapiens, some 80,000 years ago after they first emerged, made sewing needles and harpoon points out of fish bones and antlers, as well as works of art in form of beads, cave paintings and carved figurines. Specialised intelligence developed, learning became faster, and more complex activities were performed. The brain size increased to about the size as it is today, 1200-1500cm in volume.

Evolution of creativity was directly connected to toolmaking. This connection is the human ability to think visually – the capacity to select visual information, organise it in a coherent image and project it on the future.

Our ancestors, at first, had no prior knowledge of a spear or javelin. Processing what they saw around them, the early humans imagined new tools. But vision took them even further. It made them to ‘see’ how the tools can be used in real life and devise mental blueprints to produce them. Before they could innovate, they had to see. The vision was key to creativity and its evolution.

 

Alla Tkachuk founded charity MASK that strengthens young Africans’ creativity and innovation. Young Kenyans can enter their creative artworks or ideas in MASK Prize creativity competition with prizes online free before 1 June on www.mobileartschoolinkenya.org/MASK-Prize