• James Tam 谭炳昌

Thinking Inside The Box 創意與中庸


Calling ourselves Homo Sapiens — literally wise man — has to be either missed irony, or hyperbolic self-flattery. Even dummies know that the average human is far from wise. Quite the contrary, whenever life is good, most of our species take petulant pride in not thinking. Behind dainty expressions of ostentatious innocence and unworldliness is an unmentionable awareness that being really stupid without consequence is a modern privilege, a rich-folk thing, a secretly adored social status. Sure, during our negligibly short existence, the odd thinking specimens might have had delivered us from collective troubles, or led us to more favourable grounds for survival. But mass ignorance has since been reinforced, making such rare fortuitous events ever less likely in the future.

Time has evidently been rather good. Decades of affluence has made inanity not only affordable, but fashionable, resulting in a myriad of self-gratifying myths and chimeric aspirations. Creativity, an undefined but universally desired attribute, is one of them. Though not lethal like “freedom and democracy”, creativity, like all good things, is merely hot air unless understood and cultivated with perspective. Contrarian as it may seem to question an unquestionable virtue, creativity does have a negative side which warrants closer examination.

To start with, teaching someone to be a creative or alternative thinker is a logical fallacy. Whatever we teach automatically becomes a template, whether intended or not, unless the students are specifically “instructed not to follow instructions”, which would create a dilemma. Similarly, paid trainers calling upon all corporate animals large and small to “think out of the box” (usually without saying what the box is) are risking astounding chaos for a fee, if successful. And when everyone dutifully thinks out of the box, would it not take courage and originality to think back inside? Whatever’s inside has made the team successful enough to afford corporate training; it can’t be all bad can it?

Perhaps creativity should be compared to biological mutation — a chancy force of change which drives evolution and progress (or precipitates disaster). It cannot happen by design. If teachers focus on passing knowledge and fundamental skills (which have grown prodigiously in quantity, enough to keep them busy without dreaming up creative approaches), creativity will happen naturally through a small percentage of students, just as it had for millennia. Given space, these innovative minorities will prove their worth in ways we cannot imagine, or disappear without us ever knowing. Anyways, none of the super-creative individuals we know had ever received any formal training in alternative thinking.

Overstating the case for creativity can also backfire. It denies the statistical majority their rightful places in the norm. The average guy is made to feel inadequate, constantly searching for ways to be somehow different for the sake of appearing different. Look around and you’ll know what I mean. Pathetic isn’t it?

There’s nothing wrong with being average. Our existence as a species loses definition without average. If we all had a brain like Einstein, then his IQ would be just average. Expecting everyone to escape the average trap is mathematically and philosophically absurd, not progressive. Plus if we all think like Einstein, paint like van Gogh and compose like Mozart, our average ability would improve impressively only on our own appraisal scale which, in the big cosmic picture, remains infinitesimally insignificant.

Decades of creativity worshipping has done little to serve humanity unless one counts things like fancy weapons, smartphone zombies, and fancy-slogan politics. Maybe it’s time to do some rethinking inside the box, and give convention the respect and attention it deserves. Creativity maybe cute and adorable, even beneficial at times, but convention is the foundation of our simian community. Conventionality is the precondition for creativity, the basis for innovations. Without it, the word creativity wouldn’t even exist.

人類自稱「智人」,真的有點兒自誇,因為連傻瓜也知道,一般人的智慧很有限。而我們智慧不高,並非完全由於天分所限,很多人根本不喜歡也看不起思考。經濟環境許可的時候,無知是顯示家底的手段之一;一無所知,笨手笨腳,波鞋帶不會綁,荷包蛋不會煎,是富貴人家孩子的身分象徵,比穿名牌更體面。當然,在人類短短的歷史裡,曾經出現過異常聰明人士把我們集體帶出困境,或帶來思想突破。但這些真智人是極少數,毫不典型,當時也不一定得到大眾的認同。所以叫人類「好彩人」,可能比「智人」更貼切。但人類在地球史裡只不過是幾秒鐘前出現的物種而已,幸運能持續多久,有待觀察。

部分地區享受了幾十年的「安定繁榮」,愚蠢開始普及,成為時尚,製造了不少似是而非卻感覺良好的自我評價和無釐頭志向。其中比較流行的是「無限創意」。何謂創意?甚少人想過,反正努力與眾不同便是了,質疑創意可能被視為憤世嫉俗,萬萬不可!「創意」雖然破壞性遠遠比不上「民主自由」這類國際明星級口號,但不明就裡,閉眼狂推的話,還是弊多於利的。

例如老師們都有壓力教學生創意無限,另類思考,卻不一定意識到個中矛盾。老師的教導,某程度都是一種「樣板」。要真的做到「創意無限,另類思考」,可能要把老師的一切指引反其道而行,否則等於墮入了另一個思維窠臼而已。又例如大型企業流行的員工訓練,喜歡鼓勵大家「走出框框」,卻沒有對「框框」清楚定義。成功的話,會做成企業大混亂。一個團隊的凝聚力,很大程度上依賴了一個行之已久,經歲月磨煉成型的所謂框架。時間長了,框架難免變質變形,需要修補改良,與時並進。但一次過集體把腦袋脫離框架的話,做成的混亂可以想象。再者,當人人一窩蜂往框架外動腦筋的時候,有勇氣重回框內操作的人會否諷刺地成為新「另類」呢?

其實創意跟生物的基因突變很相似,都是可遇不可求的自然變異,刻意製造不了。況且不是所有異變都會帶來改良,很多異變都沒有價值,甚至有負面影響。假如老師們專心傳授越來越多越複雜的現有知識,一少部分學生自然會發生思維突變。配合天時地利的話,其中再一少少少部分甚至有可能搞出個突破。這現象幾千年來如是,未來也不會有大改變。社會只要對這些另類人士盡量容忍開放,給他們的「反叛思維」一個合理空間發芽,便已足夠。現代和歷史上的超高創意天才,都沒有跟師傅正式學過另類思考。

凡事都有正反兩面,但很少人會考慮過分強調創意的反效果。社會上過分推崇創意,會令「一般人」覺得自己因創意不足而有「缺陷」。有些家長為了培養孩子創意,週一學畫畫,週二芭蕾舞,週三學書法,狂草也臨帖,結果樣樣不三不四,孩子失去信心,心理扭曲傾斜,社會又添加一個滿肚子怨忿的三不像。

將「一般人」降級為貶義的人肯定數學很差。沒有「一般人」,「好彩人」這自大物種根本不成形。「一般」這平均值,是我們這群居動物的定義和描繪。假如大部分人都有愛因斯坦的腦筋的話,那麼愛因斯坦的智商只不過一般,毫不突出。要全部人超越平均,在數學上不可能,是荒謬臆想,不是什麼抱負。中國人的中庸之道,其實包含了深厚實在的哲理,反映了成熟的社會經驗。「一般人」是我們這物種的基礎和力量,不容忽視,更不應貶低。再者,就算我們都聰明甚於愛因斯坦,繪畫比美梵高,音樂勝過莫扎特,也不會改變人類在宇宙大圖像中微不足道的地位。搞哪麼多為啥呢?

「智人」 崇尚了 「創意」 幾十年,殺人武器花樣多了,埋頭刷手機屏的行屍滿街了,政棍的語言偽術花巧了。除此之外,人類有些什麼實際進步和得益呢?「創新」之餘,我們不應該忘記,更萬萬不能輕視,現成框架的貢獻和存在價值。沒有原來框框的基礎,沒有慣例和習俗的約束和支撐,創意會完全失去意義,甚至連觀念也不會出現!也許當全人類拼命往框外挖新意的時候,返回框架內思考古老的中庸之道是最有創意的建設性行為。

#儒释道 #文化 #Confucius

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