David: In the book you said, ‘Darwin replaced God with randomness…’
GC: That’s right.
David: ‘…but randomness is lovely.’ Would you tell us that, because that…
GC: Well, that was one of the reasons that people initially rejected Darwin’s theory. One of the things they didn’t like is randomness. The idea that we’re sort of a random product – that there’s no purpose – makes everything meaningless. Now, randomness and atheism have become the new religion.
Ard: Do you think randomness is…? Do you think they’ve misinterpreted randomness?
GC: Yeah. Randomness does not mean everything is meaningless. Randomness is, sort of… You’re looking at creativity in its primordial state.
You see one of the characteristics of randomness is unpredictability. Now, something is unpredictable if you couldn’t predict it in advance: that’s creativity. So, in other words, randomness and creativity are practically different names for the same thing. Something that isn’t random is something you can predict, which means that it’s not creative. You’re sticking within your current system of concepts.
David: In my mind, some randomness is just, ‘Well, we can’t figure it out now,’ and some randomness is, ‘You will never…’ What do you mean?
GC: Yeah, I’m on the, ‘You’ll never’. It’s something that can’t be compressed. The technical definition is that a string of zeros and ones, a finite sequence of zeros and ones, is random if there’s no compact theory for it. If there’s no way to compress it into a program that’s much smaller in bits that generates it. There’s no theory… no concise theory for it.
Ard: Is that like saying, very crudely, if I put it on my computer and tried to compress it, I can’t compress it?
Ard: It’s random.
GC: Yeah, but it means no computer could compress it. It’s not just one computer. Another way to put it is that there is no concise theory: it has to be comprehended or apprehended as a thing in itself, to use Kantian terminology. There is no theory for it: the only theory is to write it out bit by bit. There is no more compressed, compact way to give it structure than just to write it out bit by bit. There is no simple theory for it. It would be experimental data for which there is no simple theory. The only thing you can say is, ‘It was zero, then it was one, then it was zero…’
David: Right, so randomness, when you talk about it, is…
GC: Lack of law, lack of structure, lack of…
David: It’s genuine randomness. It’s not something that we will figure out, we will be able to predict later. This is… You just won’t.
GC: That’s correct.
David: Well, can you tell me about that, because if I’ve understood you right, then you’re saying that this is where creativity comes from.
GC: The question of creativity… The problem of creativity is, can you have a mathematical theory of creativity? Well it can’t be a theory that will give you a mechanical procedure for being creative because then it’s not creative. So a mathematical theory of creativity has to be indirect. Creativity is by definition uncomputable. If we knew how to do it, it wouldn’t be creative.
When you have maximum creativity, it looks random because it’s totally unpredictable from what you knew before.
GC: That means that you’re really being creative. So randomness is the extreme of creativity, really. They’re…
Ard: They’re connected together.
GC: And if you can calculate… if you can calculate something, then it’s not creative because you’re working within your existing system. So there’s this paradoxical aspect. A mathematical theory of creativity is a more abstract kind of mathematics where you can prove theorems about creativity – you can describe it – maybe you can show it’s highly probable, but it won’t give you a way to mechanically produce creativity, which is the kind of thing that instrumental mathematics normally does.
Ard: You can also say what creativity is not.
GC: Yes, that’s very important too. So the more we can say what it’s not, we begin to see the complement to what it is.
Ard: It’s interesting, there’s a very famous tradition in theology which says that you can’t speak about God, you can only say about what God is not. And so there’s something interesting there with creativity. You can’t nail down creativity, but you can say what it isn’t.
GC: Well, isn’t God pure creativity?
Ard: Apophatic theology is what it’s called. You have an apophatic theory of creativity. You’re speaking about it in an indirect way, but you can never grasp it. If you could grasp it, then you wouldn’t have it. That’s what you’re saying.
GC: That’s right.
Ard: You’re saying, if you could nail it down, then it wouldn’t be creativity.
GC: It wouldn’t be creative by definition.
Ard: And in the same way a theologian would say if you could nail down God, then that’s by definition not God.
GC: That wouldn’t be God, that would be a limited being.
Ard: Yeah, exactly.
David: And it’s lovely that you’re doing it in mathematics, because most people think mathematics is doing the opposite. It’s…
GC: It trivialises things. It makes them like arithmetic – boring, uninteresting, meaningless. So this is a different kind of mathematics: the mathematics of creativity. Math as an open system, not a closed system.
I’m trying to get to the concentrated essence of the mystery: the mystery is creativity, and I think that’s deeply meaningful. I mean, in Brooksonian terms the universe wants to create us. The universe wants to create mind. The universe maybe wants to get closer to God, or maybe the universe is God and it’s trying to increase its level of perception, its level of understanding.
Albrecht von Müller, he goes to an extreme that I like, which is the idea that the whole universe is actually creative: that perhaps the ontology is not fixed in static. Perhaps it’s actually plastic, even at the fundamental level. That would be much more fun. I don't know if this universe has that property, but that might be an interesting universe that is fundamentally creative.
So I’m in favour of creativity. I’m in favour of rocking the boat. I’m in favour of new ideas. And new ideas will always be fought.