At the same time, meaningful collaboration and connection with thought-stimulating others has also been touted as exceedingly important in the creative process. Discourse allows for the exchange of ideas. Exposure to others' ideas increases our own conceptual knowledge. With that, the chance of our arriving at unusual combinations of ideas increases. It is little wonder then that the vital role of social spaces in facilitating discourse has been strongly advocated by several experts (e.g., Steven Johnson's "Where Good Ideas Come From"). This is in fact one of the grounds that have been put forward to explain greater levels of innovation and productivity in big cities (Bettencourt et al., 2007; 2011).
I think the following quotes by Rainer Maria Rilke capture some aspects of these two sides well.
- “The only journey is the one within.”
- “I want to be with those who know secret things or else alone.”
- “Make your ego porous. Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything."
Most of the discussion of what we "gain" in communication with others is on the increase of our knowledge by virtue of exposure to others' ideas (that resonate with us or fundamentally inform us in some way). We are mere RECIPIENTS in this constellation.
Here is what's missing from this picture though.
What rarely, if ever, gets a mention much less a discussion is the fact that one also arrives self-knowledge as the AGENT of communication. This is exemplified in letters between artists and people close to them. Indeed, Rilke's outpourings of introspective wisdom (and inestimable generosity) were captured beautifully in his countless letters, the most well-known of which are the collection titled 'Letters to Young Poet'. Here are four further examples of powerful statements made by other profoundly reflective thinkers that speak to this idea.
1. (A quote by Michel de Montaigne)
“The most fruitful and natural exercise for our minds is, in my opinion, conversation.”
2. (An excerpt from the 2014 Paris Review Interview of Adam Phillips by Paul Holdengraber)
"... a Welshman called Ernest Jones, had an idea that, interestingly, sort of disappeared. He believed that everybody’s deepest fear was loss of desire, what he called aphanisis. For him that’s the thing we’re most acutely anxious about, having no desire. People now might call it depression, but it wouldn’t be the right word for it, because he’s talking about a very powerful anxiety of living in a world in which there’s nothing and nobody one wants. But it can be extremely difficult to know what you want, especially if you live in a consumer, capitalist culture which is phobic of frustration—where the moment you feel a glimmer of frustration, there’s something available to meet it. Now, shopping and eating and sex may not be what you’re wanting, but in order to find that out you have to have a conversation with somebody. You can’t sit in a room by yourself like Rodin’s Thinker.
Because in your mind, you’re mad. But in conversation you have the chance of not being. Your mind by itself is full of unmediated anxieties and conflicts. In conversation things can be metabolized and digested through somebody else—I say something to you and you can give it back to me in different forms—whereas you’ll notice that your own mind is very often extremely repetitive. It is very difficult to surprise oneself in one’s own mind."
3. (An Interview with Martin Shaw, mythologist & storyteller.
Watch from the start. The moment arrives around the 1st minute.)
4. (An excerpt from Kahlil Gibran's 'Self-Knowledge')
And a man said, Speak to us of Self-Knowledge.
And he answered saying:
Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights.
But your ears thirst for the sound of your heart’s knowledge.
You would know in words that which you have always known in thought.
You would touch with your fingers the naked body of your dreams.
And it is well you should.
The hidden well-spring of your soul must needs rise and run murmuring to the sea;
And the treasure of your infinite depths would be revealed to your eyes.
But let there be no scales to weigh your unknown treasure;
And seek not the depths of your knowledge with staff or sounding line.
For self is a sea boundless and measureless ...