Armchair Philosopher on Definition of Creativity

Recently, I got into a debate with a friend of mine about whether AI art is.. art and whether is should be allowed in commercial projects. He is on the position that it is not as it can only mix and replicate existing works. Thus not art. While I'm on the team calming that it can be and we don't know yet due to the lack of understanding of the what even art exactly means. Also that when we advance enough to create a special kind of AI - a full brain simulation - it should be treated as an actual person and thus be allowed to create art.

That got me thinking deeply about the definition of creativity. As that seems to be the thing people are debating about. Can AI create? Also that's the thing asked in court. Is something created or replicated - is it original work? I want a piratical definition. Something I can base my decisions on in the future.

Suppose you, the reader, is a judge in a court room on the case of Ms. Miller vs Neckbeard the pirate (name stolen from Anticitizen X, now Philosophy: Engineered's video regarding the definition of free will. Very in-creative, I know.). Ms. Miller is suing Neckbeard the pirate in the criminal court for fraud. She commissioned Neckbeard the pirate for a piece of art. But Neckbeard the pirate sent her a painting with 3 squiggly line on it and claiming it's his creative work. "That's no art!" she says. "I can make the same painting in 10 seconds." She pulled out an iPad and managed to make a painting that is identical to the one she received. What are the tests we can do to decide if a work is creative or not? Under what circumstances can the painting be considered creative?

In fact a lot of what I'm going to present either stems from or is inspired by the video above. I highly recommend you to watch it. It's a very good video. I'm not going to go into the details and will reiterate points that is required to understand my position. But I subscribe to the same verificationism and compatibilism as AntiCitizen X. It may help you understand my point of view more.

Getting back to our court room. The tests you propose is effectively your definition of creativity. Some might argue that creativity is some metaphysical thing. Saying it's not a part of the physical world. Thus we cannot even hope to test it. Sure thing. But remember we are in a court room. At the end of the day, we muse decide if Neckbeard the pirate should be punished or not. What exactly are you gonna do if creativity is a metaphysical thing? Invent some metaphysical-creativity detector? Trust one party unconditionally? Throw a dice? Your gut feeling? - That won't work.

Today I want to explore what creativity is. Provide a working definition to guide us in the future. And hopefully by the definition we came up with, this post will be considered creative work. I hope I'm not so wrong that I'll regret wasting time on this long post. To be frank, the only qualification I have being finished philosophy 102 in collage years ago. And studied formal logic as a part of my computer science degree.

Properties of creativity and subjects related to creativity

Let's start from the very basics. These are some cases that is known, thus any definition of creativity shall not contradict them.

  • An original work is creative. (obvious)
  • A copy of an original work is not creative. (obvious)
  • Plain color is not creative.
  • The direct output of a Random Number Generator is not creative.
  • A combination of multiple original works is less creative then full on original work.
  • Twists on original works are less creative then full on original work.
  • What 2023's AI is doing (Diffusion, StyleGAN, etc) is not creative.
  • Any algorithm that convents pure randomness into nice-to-look pictures is not creative.
  • If we ever simulate an entire brain, it should be treated as a person and thus creative.

Some observations from the above statements:

  • There is a spectrum of creativity. It's not a binary thing.
  • We value original works.
  • We value new things. No matter if it is added to an existing work or not.
  • Yet high entropy is not a creative on it's own. Even though it's always something new.

Now let's dive into some situations that will pin down properties related to creativity.

Creativity is not an inherent property of an object

Suppose there's a tribe of monkeys. Quadrillions of them living for quadrillions of years on a planet size of quadrillions of earth. Where each monkey is paired with a typewriter. Typing is how they pass boringness. By meshing buttons randomly ever once in a while. And the God of that world periodically checks what the monkeys have typed. Eventually, one monkey types a Shakespeare play. The God is impressed and saves that work. On the other hand. There's Shakespeare himself. He wrote the play after his hard work, his experience of working in the theater, his knowledge of the language, his understanding of the human nature. It's a masterpiece. It's a creative work.

Now, I have both work on my hand. They look identical. In fact, each word and the positions of words on the paper is identical. Looking at both copies I held, you'd think they are carbon copies of each other. But they are not. One is a creative work. The other is something made randomly by monkey pressing buttons. Devise some method to determine which is which.

You can't. That's the point. There's insufficient information to determine if something is created from a creative process or not. How an object is created is required to decide.

Oracles make things complicated

In computer science, an oracle is an object that magically outputs the answer to any question. It's a black box. You can't see what's inside. You can't see how it works. You can't see how it outputs the answer. You can only ask it questions and it will output the answer. Suppose there's an identical twin. But one of them have creativity and one does not. Yet the one that does not have creativity held an oracle. An object that outputs step by step instruction for any request of making a creative work. The instructions is so easy to follow that even a toddler can follow.

As an example. Let's put the twins into a test chamber. And I will grant you any equipment as long as it's physically possible to create. What tests can we do to find the creative twin?

One idea quickly popping into mind to ask both twins to repeatedly draw the same cat a few times. The creative twin will likely draw a different cat out of shear boringness. While the oracle may output instructions to draw the same cat over and over. However, this quickly falls apart. The oracle may have a internal database of past requests. And act accordingly.

Maybe a time machine? The creative twin will likely draw a different cat each time we rewind time. Putting every atom and subatomic particles back to where it were. While the oracle due to being deterministic will always output the same instructions. Thus finding out who is the creative twin. Good idea but some problems. First of all, as far as we know, time travel is very likely impossible for many very good reasons. Secondly, the universe the largely deterministic. Resetting all synapses and messenger chemicals in the brain will most likely result in the same output. Thus both twins will draw the same cat as they drew before rewinding.

There is one thing that may help this case. quantum physics states the world is fundamentally random. Every free proton has a random lifetime. According to physics, any proton, even with the exact velocity, position and momentum will experience decay at a random time. Thus, if we rewind time and the human brain operates on quantum principles. It is possible that the creative twin will draw a different cat. However, we can easily replicate the behavior by adding some radioactive material and a Geiger counter. Connect that to the oracle. And get the oracle to vary the instructions based on the Geiger counter. Making no difference between the creative twin and the oracle.

I will get back to this case later on.

Being new is correlated with creativity, but not sufficient

cat /dev/urandom | base64 > my_creative_work.txt is hardly creative. Otherwise every SSH key would be a masterpiece. Yet, creative individuals are more likely to come up with new ideas and make something that has not been done before. Thus newness is correlated with creativity. But not sufficient.

Likewise, AI models like Stable Diffusion even though are able to generate new images based on user requests. It is not considered creative.

Compatibilist Free will

Let's side track a little bit. What exactly do we want to accomplish by defining creativity? We ought to decide if Neckbeard the pirate's squiggly lines are a work of creativity. But why? Because Ms. Miller wants to punish Neckbeard the pirate for his crime of fraud. And why is that? There's a reason we don't throw laptops into the jail because it made a copy of music. There's 5 reasons according to the entire western doctrine of criminal law.

  • Deterrence (punishment to prevent people breaking the law)
  • Incapacitation (deny cretin people the means or ability to commit crime)
  • Rehabilitation (make people modify their behavior after suffering punishment)
  • Restitution (punishment to "fix" or compensate for what was done)
  • Retribution (the satisfaction of society that the offender suffer)

There's one rule that is out of place. Retribution. Which is really institutionalized revenge. The rest of the principles have one single focus. To prevent crime from happening. If we also look into whom the criminal law exempts certain people from punishment. To be brief according to Taiwan's criminal law: the retarded, the really young, people acting according to other laws. The first two have one thing in common. They protect people whom are less able to modify their behavior based on information from needless cruelty. Mentally incapacitated people can't even comprehended what they are doing, let alone why it's wrong. Nor he/she is able to change their behavior after receiving punishment.

Here lies the compatibilism definition of free will: The ability to act in accordance with one's own desires and intentions. And criminal laws have gave us good way to test if someone has free will. Namely: can one be convinced to do otherwise.

This definition perfectly explains why we don't throw laptops into jail. No amount of argument will convince a laptop to not copy a file. Any why people are punished for breaking the law. To prevent them from doing it again.

The definition also implies a spectrum of free will. And there's no mention of being human in the definition of free will. This means that free will is not something that is exclusive to humans. Animals have some, just not as much as humans. While current AI systems have basically none (maybe besides AutoGPT, but even so it's very limited). No amount of punishment will convince Stable Diffusion to not generate a new image. It's not even capable of understanding punishments.

It also means that if, one day AIs become self aware and can be convinced by reward or punishment. By definition, they will have free will. And maybe have more free will than humans because the shear ability to do stuff.

Creativity under Compatibilism

We have a working definition of free will that seems to reflect the real world. Good! How does that help in our case of Ms. Miller vs Neckbeard the pirate? Let's assume a definition of creativity under compatibilism: The capacity to generate new and original ideas or works of art, based on our one's volition (free will) and in accordance with one's own desires and intentions.

Reexamining previous examples

Let's reexamine the previous examples.

  • An original work is creative. -> of course
  • A copy of an original work is not creative. -> the process of copy does not involve any volition or desires. Thus not creative.
  • Plain color is not creative. -> choosing a color is a volition. Thus creative. But not as much.
  • The direct output of a Random Number Generator is not creative. -> There's no volition involved anywhere.
  • A combination of multiple original works is less creative then full on original work. -> Combining two original works is a volition. Thus creative. But not as much as creating a new work.
  • Twists on original works are less creative then full on original work. -> Same. Adding a twist requires volition and desires. Thus creative.
  • What 2023's AI is doing (Diffusion, StyleGAN, etc) is not creative. -> The underlying AI have no free will. Thus not creative.
  • Any algorithm that converts pure randomness into nice-to-look pictures is not creative. -> Same. No free will. Not creative.
  • If we ever simulate an entire brain, it should be treated as a person and thus creative. -> There is volition and desires. Thus creative.

The case of the oracle could also be solved by the same definition of creativity. The twin with the oracle may be creative in the sense of being able ask creative questions to the oracle. But it has no influence over what the oracle generates. Thus it has less free will in the overall process. Thus less creative. Comparing to the creative twin whom has full control over the process.

Furthermore, this definition of creativity works well against our earlier observations that a) objects itself cannot be creative and b) creativity is correlated with newness yet newness is not sufficient for creativity.

This seemly simple definition of creativity is able to handle all cases we throw at it. i.e. It passes the requirment of being a good defination under verificationism. Nice.

When AI becomes creative

Should be obvious by now when AI is considered creative under this definition: When an AI have (compatibilism) free will and is able to create new work base on it's own intentions and be able to incorporate past learned experiences into it.


Creativity is defined as the capacity to generate new and original ideas or works of art, based on our one's volition and in accordance with one's own desires and intentions. AIs of 2023 does not fit this definition. But future AIs may and emulated human brains should be treated as creative.

Author's profile. Photo taken in VRChat by my friend Tast+
Martin Chang
Systems software, HPC, GPGPU and AI. I mostly write stupid C++ code. Sometimes does AI research. Chronic VRChat addict

I run TLGS, a major search engine on Gemini. Used by Buran by default.

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