Creativity Means Letting Go of Certainties

Creative desk with camera and

“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.” – Erich Fromm

Imagine for a moment that we lived in a world where the concept of gravity didn’t exist. In such a world, apples don’t fall but instead float. We would walk not on the ground, but through thin air. Such a drastic reimagining of physics would require a fundamental rethinking of our entire understanding, wouldn’t it? It’s in this realm of the unknown and the daringly different that creativity finds its true form. Just as German philosopher and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm once argued, creative thinking necessitates the audacity to abandon our firmest beliefs, our so-called ‘certainties.’

As referred to here, ‘certainties’ encompass our ingrained assumptions, preconceived notions, and established facts about the world around us. Within the comfort of these certainties, many of us are content. It doesn’t matter if these accepted truths might be fundamentally flawed or just one of many truths. This predilection for the ‘known’ is perhaps why truly original ideas have often faced fierce resistance over the years.

History has many poignant examples of people unwilling to overcome what they consider to be certainties, sometimes even backed up by a conservative theocracy. One infamous example is none other than Galileo, who dared to propose a heliocentric model of our solar system. This directly challenged the then widely accepted geocentric worldview. This bold idea wasn’t just a mere difference of opinion; it was a tectonic shift in understanding that was deemed dangerous. Yet, it’s these so-called ‘dangerous’ ideas that have catalyzed some of the most significant leaps in human progress.

Being creative is no small feat. It requires a spirit of adventure and the willingness to be a maverick. You also must accept that there will be significant resistance, even life-threatening if your idea is paradigm shifting. Every novel idea and every breakthrough is likely to face resistance, precisely because it unsettles established beliefs and norms. 

While some new ideas are embraced more readily than others, the acceptance of an idea is not an accurate measure of its worth. The true value of an idea often lies in its ability to challenge our understanding, to make us question the status quo. Those ideas that become accepted more quickly tend to be understood because they share similarities with the familiar. The ideas that promise fame, fortune, or something less tangible but positive are the ones embraced the quickest. Those ideas that threaten to reshape our entire world order though, like cheap and readily available AI tools, invoke fury and even violent counteraction. 

Still, you can’t fear ignorance, misinformation, or sheer stupidity. Go ahead, embrace the uncertainty. To be truly creative, you have to be prepared to overcome your own personal assumptions about things. Be ready to admit that certain things you accepted as certain truths are likely to be wrong without the proper evidence of their veracity. Don’t be content with assuming certainty about anything you hold dear. Otherwise, you won’t be able to emotionally handle the possibility that any of them are actually untrue. 

Unfortunately, while plenty of others around you, including family and friends, may not support you, they can’t be allowed to serve as obstacles. You must dismiss the naysayers who insist, “That can’t possibly work” or “You’re wrong, and we’re right.” In the uncertainty and in the questioning lies the most fertile ground for your creativity, which is the wilderness of your imagination. Only by daring to venture into this realm can we hope to achieve true innovation.

Because transformative creativity pushes the boundaries of our own understanding of the world around us so hard, resistance is completely understandable. So many works of creative genius have been challenged throughout history, sometimes with threats of bodily harm or even death. But this resistance is actually a good thing. By challenging so-called certainties, people are being forced to reckon with their status quo being disrupted.

Without disruption, however, there is no progress, even if the process in getting there can get ugly. While it’s unfortunate that violence is sometimes inevitable, it’s a part of the chaos of our universe, and sometimes simply can’t be avoided. You must simply accept that harm may come to you, and there is nothing you can do about it.

Yes, being uncommonly creative can be a dangerous task. But, we only live once. So, it actually benefits us to be dangerous, and let go of what you and others around you think is certain. Don’t let anyone tell you to let things be. No one gets anywhere through being complacent. Keep challenging not only your own assumptions, but everyone else’s, as well. This is the only way to gain true knowledge. Since this is the only world we may ever know, we may as well make the best of it while we can.

~ Amelia <3

Related: Creativity Comes From Within | Piercing the Mundane to Find the Marvelous | What I Have Learned From George Lucas About Creativity

Amelia Desertsong is a former content marketing specialist turned essayist and creative nonfiction author. She writes articles on many niche hobbies and obscure curiosities, pretty much whatever tickles her fancy.
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