Our ability to create is what distinguishes and defines us as humans, and what we can achieve when we pool this resource is infinite. Unfortunately, some of humanity’s more damaging endeavours can lead us to doubt our ability to effect change. In her new book, Augustin Fuentes goes on an exploration of human creativity and how to harness the spark that continues to fuel our development.
Humans have incredible creative potential. Our knack for creating megacities, double-decker airplanes, cures for hundreds of diseases, symphonies, and virtual reality games, among other remarkable inventions, attests to our capacity to imagine possibilities and make them real. We identified this human potential long ago, when we named our own species “sapiens,” which means “wise.”
And yet it’s a moniker we don’t always live up to. On the contrary, it’s tempting to take a much bleaker view of humanity. Today, human-created climate change threatens most life forms on Earth; violent conflicts over nationalism, religion, and power rage on nearly every continent; and daily acts of economic and political injustice occur in rich and poor countries alike. We have wars, create and maintain inequality, cause injustice, and inflict needless suffering. Sometimes, it seems as if humanity’s defining characteristic is not exactly ingenuity, but rather our capacity to use our creative instincts for cruelty.
I grappled with this when writing my new book, The Creative Spark: How Imagination Made Humans Exceptional. In my research, I reviewed hundreds of studies from anthropology, neurobiology, and psychology, as well as archaeological and fossil records, to explore the prominent role of creativity in the evolution of our lineage. In the end, I came to believe this: Overall, human imagination adds more good outcomes than bad to the world. Indeed, our talent for creativity is what makes humans exceptional. (We are neither the nicest nor the nastiest species, but we are the most creative.)