Creative Thought as Blind Variation and Selective Retention: Why Creativity is Inversely Related to Sightedness
Dean Keith Simonton
Campbell (1960) proposed the theory that creativity required blind variation and selective retention (BVSR). More than a half century has transpired without any resolution of the controversy over the theory’s validity. This inability to reach consensus may reflect a fundamental failure on both sides to define the critical terms of the debate, namely, creativity and blindness. Hence, to help resolve the issue, the ideas making up a variant set are first described via three parameters: (a) the idea’s initial probability of generation, (b) its final utility, and (c) any prior knowledge of its utility value. These three subjective parameters are then used to derive a creativity index applicable to each idea in the set. The same parameters are also deployed to produce a sightedness metric that describes the sightedness of the variant set as well as each idea in that set. It is then logically demonstrated, first, that an idea’s creativity is inversely related to its sightedness, and, second, that an idea’s creativity is inversely related to the sightedness of the variant set that contains that idea. Furthermore, the same general conclusions hold when the third parameter is omitted from the two definitions or when the two definitions are not functions of identical parameters (e.g., novelty in one but originality in the other). Because blindness is just the inverse of sightedness, it automatically follows that creativity has an essential positive connection with blind variation. The article closes with a discussion of BVSR implications regarding the joint distribution of creativity and sightedness.