Art and philosophy are similar in their creative aspect. One thing artists and musicians can do is to extend what we can perceive and experience, in the realm of the visual and auditory experiences as well as that of other senses. In a comparable way, one job of the philosopher may be to extend the expressive power of thought, making thinkable what was up to then unthinkable. In a similar way, the poet or writer can extend the expressive power of language with respect to the expression of our experiences and life. Poets might be viewed as an intermediary between the sensual artists and the theoretical philosopher. In this view, artists, poets, authors and philosophers may be thought of as occupying different places on the same spectrum, a spectrum that continues beyond the theoretical thought of the philosopher into areas of formal thought, like formal logic, mathematics and computer science.
We are using certain methods and concepts that our forerunners in these occupations have developed, but we may criticize and change them, adapt them and add new ones suited to new circumstances and situations. In none of these different activities is it possible to produce a formal theory or fixed algorithm that describes them completely. I think this is so in principle. Every description of how our cognitive processes work, from the sensual to the formaly theoretical, is incomplete. New ways of thinking and experiencing can be added. We might think of ourselves as “programmable” in the sense that we can extend ourselves.
Where a body of methods and knowledge allows a set of problems to be solved in a methodic way, arts turn into crafts and philosophy turns into science. The creative components, while normally still present to some extent, retreat into the background. But the resulting “disciplines” never cover all of reality, all experience and perception possible and all possible thought.
In art and poetry, the incompleteness of all knowledge and the necessity to invent new things is rather obvious. For logic, mathematics and computer science, the incompleteness of all methods and theories can even be formally proven. Here, in the most formal activities, it is possible to demonstrate that creativity is required and even to give an exact definition of what creativity is, a definition that, I think, is also applicable in philosophy and art and that, I think, is a basic, even a defining, property of humans and of human societies: creativity can be defined as the ability of a system to extend itself beyond the scope of any given fixed description of it. And although they apply it in very different ways, it is creativity in this sense that the mathematician, the philosopher and the artist share.
(The picture, a painting by Olivier van Deuren (1666-1714) titles “Young Astronomer”, is from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_Young_Astronomer.jpg. It captures a moment in the history of ideas when philosophy, science and art where still more closely connected.)