Creativity Explorer

Defining Creativity #1: Acient Greeks & Plato

Of course the Acient Greeks had an opinion about creativity. Though the word itself did not exist yet, acient philosophers did discuss ‘ideas’ and ‘accomplishments of great acts’. Appearantly one should read Homer and yes, the Bible.

The Bicameral Mind

Back in these days, it was believed that the mind existed of two chambers, the Bicameral Mind. The term was coined by psychologist Julian Jaynes. One should not confused this division with the two hemispheres of the brain. (Dacey, 2011, pp. 608-609).
In the first chamber ideas are formed, inspired by the Gods. In the second chamber, the more down-to-earth one, the inspiration is translated into product.

Divine stuff…

Inspiration is Latin for ‘to breath into’, refering to  how God ‘breathed life into men’. The creative process was an act of ‘divine insipriation’.
Plato was credited for explicifying divine inspiration.
According to Plato ‘divine inspiration’ comes from the Muses. The Muses were the nine he nine daughters of Zeus and were the ones giving the the creative impuls to humans.
Very much related to ‘divine inspiration’ is ‘divine madness’:
“In Phaedrus[…]: The creative poet needs divine madness:
the madness of those who are possessed by the Muses: which taking hold of a delicate and virgin soul, and there inspiring frenzy, awakens lyrical and all other numbers; with these adorning the myriad actions of acient heroes for the instructions of posterity. But he whyo, having no touch of the Muses’ madness in his soul, comes to the door and thinks that he will get into the temple by the help of art –  he, I say, and his poetry are not admitted; the sane man disappears and is nowhere when he enters into rivalry with the madman.” (Blackburn, 2014, in: Paul and Kaufman, 2014, p.147).
And/or in Ion:
“The poet is a ligt and winged and holy thing, and there is no invention in him until he has been inspired and is out of his senses, and the mind is no longer in him: when he has not attained to this state, he is powerless and unable to utter his oracles.” (Blackburn, 2014, in: Paul and Kaufman, 2014, p.147).


From madness to insanity

The idea that there is a relation between creativity and insanity was founded by the Acient Greeks. To be ‘out of his senses’ as quoted in Ion,  or to be to be ‘possessed’. History explains how madness became insanity. It all started in the Romantic Age, as soon as we written that article we will put the hyperlink here.

Creativity is for poets

As you might have noticed the quotations above, Plato is only refering to poets when speaking of divine inspiration. According to Plato all other forms of Arts (what we see as Arts) were only imitations of nature. And since Plato believed that nature was already an imitation of the idea of nature, art was an imitiation of an imitation. Poetry was the highest form of Art. (Sawyer 2012, p.19).
But there is no credit for the person, the poet, himself in the creative process. If you came to an ‘act of creation’, you were simply lucky because the gods chose you. The fact that you had to translate the inspiration into a poem or so, was seen as less important.



Philosophers use reasoning, deduction and intuïtion as research method. When it comes to ‘scientific emperical evidence’, thruth is difficult. That does not mean there is no truth in the philosophy! There is no evidence of the bicameral mind of course. 

We might laugh at the idea of the two chambers and the Muses, but the idea of inspiration in relation to creativity is very much alive. The idea that creativity and insanity are related is researched centuries later, and that idea also finds origin in this description of the creative process.

You may ask yourself:

  • (How) do you use the role of inspiration in a creative process?
  • (How) do you credit the maker of the creative product?
  • How do you define a creative product?


  • Blackburn, S. (2014). “Creativity Not-So-Dumb Luck”, in: The Philosophy of Creativity, eds. Paul, E. S. and Kaufman S. B. New York, USA: Oxford University Press, 2014, pp. 147-156.
  • Dacey, J. (2011). “Historical Conceptions of Creativity”, in Encyclopedia of Creativity: Second Edition, eds. Runco, M. A. and Pritzker S.R., London, UK: Academic Press, 2011, Vol 1. pp. 608-616.
  • Eysenck, H. J. (1995). Genius: The natural history of creativity. New York: Cambridge University Press. Digital print 2003.
  • Sawyer, R. K. (2012). Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Weisberg, R. W. (2006). Creativity: Understanding Innovation in Problem Solving, Science, Invention, and the Arts. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons Inc.
March 12, 2019Article by: Willemijn Brouwer



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