Phenomenology and the Creative Process

by Steven L. Bindeman (Author)
©2024 Monographs XXIV, 290 Pages


Phenomenology and the Creative Process explores the subject of creativity from a vast range of perspectives. While the emphasis is placed on fundamental ideas taken from phenomenological philosophy and its precursors, the book also engages with related issues from the fields of psychology, physics, narrative studies, art, literature, cognitive science and neuroscience.
Author Steven L. Bindeman’s objective is to employ an analysis of creativity from the dual perspectives of "identity" and "difference," in order to develop a pluralistic and open-ended understanding of the creative process. His central position is that while creativity can and should be studied as a physical, measurable phenomenon, we need to integrate quantitative studies with a phenomenological perspective that enables us to appreciate the distinctive experiential features of creative activities in order to fully appreciate the complex nature of the creative process.
Bindeman’s approach is important in that it recognizes the value of phenomenological studies without being afraid to draw insights from other fields of inquiry.This book thus offers unique analysis of creative individuals and works, applying insights from phenomenological philosophers to enrich our understanding of the creative processes of great artists, philosophers, and scientists.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Turning the Self into a Work of Art
  • Summary of Part I
  • The Centrality of Conscious Life
  • Bergson and the Experience of Duration
  • Husserl and the Crisis of European Sciences
  • Summary of Part II
  • The Search for Meaning
  • Tymieniecka on Phenomenology and Creativity
  • Heidegger on the Origins of Art
  • Sartre on Becoming Authentic
  • Merleau-Ponty’s Embodied Approach to Creative Experience
  • Klee’s Modernist Creativity
  • Summary of Part III
  • Literary Ontology and Narrative Studies
  • Literary Ontology
  • Vico, Ingarden, Bakhtin
  • Narrative Construction
  • Ricoeur, Bruner, McIntyre
  • How Narratives Differ from Reality
  • Flanagan, Roemer, White
  • Summary of Part IV
  • Metaphor and Meaning
  • Aristotle’s and Nietzsche’s Contrasting Views on Metaphor
  • Heidegger on Metaphor
  • Derrida and Ricoeur on Metaphor
  • Summary of Part V
  • Thinking Otherwise
  • Bachelard’s Creative Approach to Knowing and Imagining
  • Derrida’s Notions of Difference and Différance
  • Deleuze’s Philosophy of Creative Becoming
  • Summary of Part VI
  • A New Model for Thinking
  • Gendlin’s Focus on Felt Meaning
  • Kleinberg-Levin and the Four Stages of the Listening Self
  • Rosen’s Notion on the Creative Challenge of Apeiron
  • Summary of Part VII
  • Creative Brains
  • Becoming Immortal—Like a Machine
  • Thinking with a Machine
  • Altered States
  • Transformed Consciousness: Issues in Science Fiction
  • Summary of Part VIII
  • The Creative Process
  • The Creative Process and Modern Physics
  • Rovelli, Kuhn, Bohm, Rosen
  • The Creative Process and the Human Sciences
  • The Creative Process and the Social Sciences
  • Rank, Arnheim, Gardner
  • The Creative Process and the Arts
  • Poetry: Mallarmé and Rothenberg
  • Literature: Beckett and Borges
  • Sculpture: Brancusi and Hanson
  • Painting: Picasso and Klee
  • Music: Cage and Riley
  • Summary of Part IX
  • Concluding Remarks
  • Bibliography
  • Index


Art Images

Paul Klee Necroplis (WikiArt). Public Domain. Added: 14 Jul, 2012 by yigruzeltil

Pablo Picasso Three Musicians (WikiArt). Public Domain last edit: 2 Jun, 2017 by xenne

Constantin Brancusi Bird in Space, Public Domain www.lacma.org

Duane Hanson Old Couple on a Bench, Public Domain

Installation photograph of the exhibition “Duane Hanson/Gregory Crewdson: Uncanny Realities” at Museum Frieder Burda with Duane Hanson “Old Couple on a Bench” (1994) in the foreground and Gregory Crewdson “Untitled (Worthington Street)” (2006) in the background. http://artblart.com/tag/gregory-crewdson-untitled-birth


At the heart of the creative impulse lies the desire to make something vital out of lifeless matter. We could also say that creativity consists in the effort to construct order out of chaos. Whether the materials worked with consist of abstract things like words or musical notes on a page or colors and shapes on a canvas, or involve concrete things like wood, metal, or stone, without the spark of creativity nothing much happens. With the application of this transformative force, however, the possibility exists of our participating in the birth of something meaningful and beautiful.

Not all forms of creativity are good in themselves, though. Take for example the German classical music composer Stockhausen’s infamous remark after 9/11 that the bombing of the World Trade Center had been a great work of art. At the time many people were outraged at Stockhausen, believing that he had characterized this terrorist act in a positive way—but he had not, he had merely recognized its creative aspect, rightly predicting that it would drastically change how the world was viewed for years to come. Other examples of such negative creativity would include instances when dominant cultures instigate damaging myths about groups they want to marginalize.

If it’s true, as Deleuze and Guattari informed us, that “Philosophy is the discipline of creating concepts,”1 then we need to learn how to use philosophy to relate to our world in effectively creative ways. “Phenomenology,” they said, is the answer, since it is uniquely able “to renew our concepts by giving us perceptions and affections that would awaken us to the world.”2 In their view, though, phenomenology needs access to art in order to accomplish this, and this appropriation moves us out of the clarity of conceptualization and back to the murkiness of subjective experience. For phenomenology to fulfill itself, however, it needs access not only to art but to science as well, and not just empirical science but a more radical conception of how scientists actually operate.

I find it somewhat surprising that a phenomenological investigation into the creative process has yet to appear. Certainly there have been phenomenological approaches to aesthetics, including Mikel Dufrenne’s The Phenomenology of Aesthetic Experience, in which he attempted to discover the essential features of the aesthetic object; and Roman Ingarden’s The Literary Work of Art and his The Cognition of the Literary Work of Art, in which he investigated how readers engage with words on a page in order to extract different kinds of meaning. Each of these philosophers, however, was constructing phenomenological frameworks for studies in aesthetics or works of literature, rather than exploring the creative process itself. In this work I do consider Ingarden’s phenomenological approach to the literary work, though, because it provides a useful link from Merleau-Ponty’s remarks on art to those by the Russian Formalists.

I bring together in this work the contrasting orientations of identity (as it applies to science) and difference (as it applies to art) to the subject of creativity in order to bring out the realization that creativity is not a simple subject accessible to a single methodology, but a complex phenomenon requiring imagination and patience in order to be understood. I support this thesis by demonstrating repeatedly that while they appear to be in opposition to one another, identity and difference ultimately merge together into two sides of the same coin. Even though “subjective” phenomenology and “objective” empirical science are often seen as contrary views concerning the nature of knowledge, phenomenology is actually a broad enough methodology to incorporate both perspectives within its purview. This means that as long as empirical science’s claim to absolute truth is put aside (a procedure necessitated by the phenomenological principle of the epoché, whereby a suspension of judgment is applied to all claims to truth made during any investigation into the nature of things), then empirical science can be included within the scope of phenomenological investigation. This is a somewhat unusual perspective because the existentialist and experiential aspects of phenomenological investigation are usually emphasized over its other aspects.

Another key theme of this work is my investigation into how the creative process plays a central role in both art and science. Artists and scientists alike enter into the creative process through various stages. For an artist, the creative process begins when they identify a problem or challenge that they feel the need to solve. In the next, preparatory stage the artist will gather together the necessary tools they need in order to address the problem. In a third, incubation stage the artist will allow time for their ideas to come together at a subconscious level; during this time they may recognize the need to gather more information or try something different in order to turn their vision into a reality. Then, in a final stage, the artist will attempt to test and verify their production through internal and external criticism, and make changes if needed.3 I also demonstrate how the scientific method is a creative process for scientists that is similar to what artists commonly follow. I describe this process through the following steps: first the scientist defines their problem in such a way that it’s observable and measurable; then they conduct research by gathering relevant data; then they look for a pattern in the data and formulate a hypothesis concerning this pattern; then they test the hypothesis through appropriate experimentation; then they analyze the data and draw a conclusion; then they communicate the results in a peer-reviewed forum in order to receive feedback, which in turn may necessitate the revision of their hypothesis and necessitate their working through the entire procedure once again.

For an example of the scientific method in action, I refer here to the example of Dimitri Mendeleev’s discovery of the Periodic Table. His discovery brought order to a large amount of information which hitherto had seemed chaotic, with trends between similar chemical compounds often being very difficult to visualize. These trends, in turn, needed to be clarified in order to predict the changes in chemical properties of these new compounds, such as how the various chemical elements react to each other, what elements they will react with, how big the relevant atoms are, and how electrons are organized around the different atoms. Mendeleev hypothesized that the elements could be grouped according to how many bonds an element formed with hydrogen. He soon discovered that while this provided a general organization within the groups of elements, it did not provide a way to order the groups themselves. He intuited that there had to be another property connecting all the chemical elements together in a systematic way, so he wondered what would happen if the elements could be grouped according to their atomic weight. Creating groups and sub-groups based upon atomic weight and other elemental properties, he intentionally left blank spaces in his table where he thought a new element should be located, even though at this point in time there were no known elements to fit into most of these places. Mendeleev then published his results along with his predictions, and subsequently made the necessary revisions when his initial idea about all elements bonding with hydrogen proved unsuccessful. Later discoveries of new elements for which he had left blanks in his chart would in fact confirm the viability of his structure. This example also shows how science can benefit from the ability to effectively organize information.4

For an example of the creative process in art, I turn to the example of the Stanislavsky system of method acting for theatrical performance, since it follows a procedure very similar to Mendeleev’s use of the scientific method in science. (One noteworthy similarity is that both methods begin with the effort to create order out of a chaotic situation.) Stanislavsky thus believed that actors, in order to enter into their character’s complete world, learn to ask certain questions about their character’s identity, including their inner motivations and their relationship with the other characters in the play. The actors then research the historical background of the play in terms of its time period, location, and cultural context. Only then are they ready to play their roles successfully. Even after the play appears on stage, the actors continue to explore the motives behind their character’s actions, so that no two performances will ever be entirely the same. Just as Mendeelev’s scientific discovery of the Periodic Table requires multiple revisions and inventive thinking, the Stanislavsky method in the theater arts compels actors to continually make adjustments.5

The way I’ve gone about the process of writing this book is also relevant to my understanding of the creative process. I did not proceed in a straight line but organically, letting my exploration into my subject be my guide. I began with the idea that I’d focus exclusively on creativity as a process, best approached through the lens of phenomenology. I had published a paper in the Creative Research Journal twenty years earlier that was still being referenced, and I believed that its subject merited further examination since it was still under-explored. I also initially believed that the creative work of geniuses was the proper focus for my work and that the creativity of ordinary people was of comparatively little importance. I then became interested in the work of Bergson, for whom the creative process was of central importance to other aspects of human experience as well. In consequence I felt obliged to broaden my scope. I was now aware of the importance of creativity in everyday life, but even then I mistakenly believed that its relevance was limited to psychology. At this time I also stood firm in my belief that creativity needed to be examined exclusively as a process. This belief was taken at least in part because I didn’t want to align myself with the empirical model of doing philosophy which defined creativity primarily in terms of biochemical brain states, especially since I’d already written extensively and sympathetically from the humanistic approach to the subject. However, I began to realize that when we approach the phenomenon of creativity mechanistically, a new set of valuable questions and possibilities arises. These concerns include the ongoing relationship between artificial intelligence and human intelligence, as well as issues relating to the possibility of life after death, machine consciousness, the neurobiology of brain states, and different levels of consciousness. I knew that a number of science fiction writers had already begun to examine the ethical ramifications of these phenomena (sometimes even years before they had become viable scientifically), so I decided to examine certain science fiction stories in accordance with this theme. It seemed logical to turn next to the narrative dimension itself for my next section. Telling stories, I discovered, has been a central part of the human creative experience for thousands of years, and narratology proves to be an enlightening perspective for the study of the role of creativity in mythology and history, and for approaching relevant issues in psychology, religion, literature, art, film and media as well. In fact, I learned that to a surprisingly large extent, our narratives tell us who we are. I also discovered that a mediating role between difference and identity is played by narratology, since this perspective is uniquely limited neither to the interiority of a substantiating subject nor to the artificial reality of empirical science. By extending its agency to the creation of mythological stories which have the power to bind isolated individuals into communal cultures, the study of narratology transcends the gap between subjective and objective approaches to creativity since who we are as individuals is also deeply influenced by the stories we hear within our culture. Finally, I discovered that the related literary device of metaphor is also of fundamental importance to any investigation into the nature of creativity, since it is through its application that we extend the reach of language by drawing likenesses between otherwise unlike things. For example, in Robert Burns’s famous poem, the one that starts with “O my Luve’s like a red, red rose, That’s newly sprung in June,” we come to realize that while Burns was referring directly to a love that is new, fresh and young, he was also indirectly through metaphor finding a likeness of these attributes between two otherwise unlike things, namely love and roses.

When I looked at the phenomenon of creativity more closely, I realized that it is entangled with both our memory and our thinking, and therefore resonates on a personal level in addition to its having philosophical and psychological relevance. I recalled Nietzsche’s famous dictum, “‘I have done that,’ says my memory. ‘I cannot have done that,’ says my pride, and remains inexorable. Eventually—memory yields.”6 This insight suggests that there is an element of creativity in our memory which we cannot afford to ignore, and because of this element our claim for objectivity in our thinking can never reach absolute certainty. There are, of course, many kinds of memories, ranging from good to bad and from clear to cloudy. There are also memories that we can almost remember or can’t quite forget. Our memories can even serve to locate us in a specific place and time if we let them. For example, we can easily remember the various things we did yesterday, including where we were and when and why we did what we did. We can, albeit with more difficulty, remember events that happened to us weeks, months or even years ago, especially if these events were of some personal significance. Since our memories are made up of what we saw and heard and felt at any given time, taken together they can shape the contents and meanings of our entire lives. This shaping, however, is a creative act, because what we actually experience in the lived moment is inevitably different from what we remember later—whether consciously or not. This is how we become, indeed how we create, who we are.

But our memories also have a physical dimension as well, and this too must be taken into account. While physically speaking the memory is nothing more than a combination of firing neurons, it also acts as a filter between ourselves and the world. We may think we live in the present moment but we don’t, since by the time we know that we’re experiencing something it’s already in the past, it’s already a memory. For the brain to interpret even a simple stimulus is, after all, an amazing feat. Because visual and auditory information arrive at the eyes and ears at different speeds, the brain has to process this information at different speeds too. The brain has to wait for the slowest bit of stimulus to be processed, then it reorders the neural inputs correctly, and finally it allows us to experience all this information together, as a single event, about half a second after the event actually happened. We may think that we perceive the world directly, but everything we experience is really just a carefully edited reconstruction. There’s also the related issue of what we believe to be the present moment. But it isn’t a moment at all; it’s actually an arbitrary stretch of time, usually lasting only two to three seconds. (William James discovered that the perception of temporal duration could extend from as little as a half second to as long as 12 seconds or more depending on the circumstances.7) Sometimes, though, in extremely vivid moments like when a load of adrenaline gets into the system or when one has taken a psychotropic drug, time can seem to slow down or speed up, or even stop completely.

I demonstrate throughout this text how the theme of the temporality of consciousness is of fundamental importance for my analysis of the creative process. l consequently emphasize how it is key to the unlocking of inwardness in Plato’s presentation of Socratic dialectical thinking and to Kierkegaard and Nietzsche’s struggle against nihilism, and I also discuss how temporality is the cornerstone for our new understanding of creativity once it is viewed through the lens of the phenomenological reduction. I also discuss the delaying strategies initiated by Derrida and Deleuze against the various poses of objective certainty, and the related decentralizing focus on language in the narratology and metaphor studies of Cassirer and Ricoeur among others.

I then turn to thinking, which I distinguish from remembering because thinking is more purpose-driven. We think about something in order to form an idea or opinion about it. We also think in order to understand, to make judgments, and to solve problems. Yet thinking without a purpose is also possible; in fact it’s not only possible, it’s believed to be one of the highest forms of thinking available to us, as in the example of meditation. Somewhat confusingly, though, the goal of meditation is often referred to as reaching the state of “no mind,” and at other times it’s referred to as achieving mindfulness. The confusion is resolved once we recognize how the two orientations fit together. First there is the belief that meditation means putting the conscious mind aside so that it no longer interferes with our access to reality, enabling us to see and hear things as they are. We direct our attention in such a way as to allow ourselves to be connected to the flow of consciousness. Second, we realize that by practicing the discipline of meditation we learn how to pay attention within the present moment. We learn how to stay focused in an ongoing and actively engaged way. Thinking in this focused way emerges as a form of cognitive discipline, one that can also serve as a suitable existential foundation for the study of creativity. This insight suggests that creativity requires, or at least benefits from, a person being in a receptive state of mind beforehand. I also make note of how remembering and thinking need each other, and how our ongoing correlation of these two activities can help us learn how to reach beyond our current assumptions in order to acquire new ideas and new ways of thinking.

In the course of my research I have come to realize how the field of creativity research has been dominated in recent years by psychological investigations into cognitive states and personality types, and by philosophical investigations into the physical natures of consciousness, intelligence, and the imagination. Most of this research centers around the assumption that creativity is a measurable and identifiable thing, whether it’s in the brain or in the mind. This assumption includes the belief that creativity is a kind of skill that can be taught and improved, or a brain state that can be enhanced, either through drugs or surgery. This way of framing creativity turns it into a commodity that can be packaged and sold. Its profitability ends up being a major force in establishing its centrality and authority. Deleuze and Guattari called this kind of commodification of concepts “state philosophy” (see below) and maintained that we need to escape from its reach if we want to become free and self-determining.


XXIV, 290
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2023 (November)
phenomenology creative process modernism naarrative studies identity/difference self-creation inwardness felt meaning Steven L. Bindeman
New York, Berlin, Bruxelles, Chennai, Lausanne, Oxford, 2024. XXIV, 290 pp., 4 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Steven L. Bindeman (Author)

Steven L. Bindeman was Professor of Philosophy and Department Chairperson at Strayer University until his retirement in 2010. He earned his Ph.D. from Duquesne University in 1980. His teaching experience reflects not only his interest in philosophy and psychology, but in film and media studies, science fiction, world music, and comparative religion. He has published articles on Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Levinas, the creative process, and silence. He is the author of three books: Heidegger and Wittgenstein: The Poetics of Silence (1981), The Antiphilosophers (Peter Lang, 2015), and Silence in Philosophy, Literature, and Art (2017).


Title: Phenomenology and the Creative Process