It has been estimated that at least two-thirds of all human communication is both non-conscious, and non-verbal.
Non-Verbal Communication is often thought of simply in terms of body language, but in fact, we now know that the subliminal plays a major role in all forms of human communication… particularly in areas such as the visual arts, cinema, theatre, music and dance.
Research also suggests that the unconscious mind processes information far more quickly and efficiently than the conscious. Indeed, it has been shown that the conscious mind is equivalent to a small bandwidth data processor, which can only process around 40 bits of information per second; whilst the unconscious mind is, effectively, a massive bandwidth data processor which is capable of processing over 13 million bits of information per second.
And since it processes over 13 million bits of information per second, our unconscious mind experiences much that is beyond the comprehension of the conscious mind.
Creative ideas come in all shapes and sizes, and we often refer to those ideas that have the greatest cultural impact as being ‘Big Ideas’. All creative ideas are processed in the unconscious before they surface in the conscious mind, but ‘big ideas’ tend to require a proportionally larger amount of unconscious processing.
When evaluating creative ideas, I believe, therefore, that it is useful to place them on a spectrum with Low bandwidth ideas at one end of the scale and High-Bandwidth ideas at the other… depending on how much non-conscious processing power has been brought to bear on the problem.
An extremely Low-Bandwidth idea is one that has been quickly produced by the 40 bits per second conscious mind whilst, at the other end of the scale, an extremely High-Bandwidth idea is one produced over time by the 13 million bits per second non-conscious mind.
For some people the creative process may simply represent the investment of the odd hour here or there, for others it may represent weeks, or even months of work, whilst, for certain truly exceptional individuals, the realisation of a creative idea might represent the work of a lifetime.
So, for example, the kind of creativity that does not need large-scale investment in unconscious processing – such as creativity within a pre-determined template, like a ‘Painting by Numbers’ kit for example, or making a mash-up video on YouTube – can be characterized as ‘Low-Bandwidth Creativity’.
Whereas the kind of creativity that emerges out of the depths of the unconscious – such as a novel, a screenplay, a great painting, or a symphony for example – can all be characterized as ‘High-Bandwidth Creativity’.
Thus when we experience High-Bandwidth Creativity in the form of, say, a movie or a piece of music, it is largely the subliminal elements, the ones that speak to us ‘below the radar’ of consciousness that decide how we actually experience the work.
One of the most important ways that this happens is through the medium of metaphor.
Metaphors seem to be a fundamental part of human cognition and communication; they are how we translate meaning from one thing to another.
Human languages are composed for the most part of old metaphors, even though we are largely unconscious of them. And metaphorical thinking—our instinct for comprehending one thing in terms of another… shapes our view of the world, and is fundamental to how we communicate, learn, discover, and invent.
In this way, ‘Big Ideas’ are not just the result of a significant amount of this unconscious processing, they also communicate with the unconscious mind of the audience on a much broader bandwidth, and therefore have a greater cultural impact.
At its best, ‘High Bandwidth Creativity’ represents the sum total of a human being’s consciousness. It represents not just the tip of the iceberg that is the conscious mind, but also the vast submerged part that is the unconscious mind.
The results of ‘High Bandwidth Creativity’ might be thrilling, life altering, hilariously funny or, indeed, profoundly moving, but whatever the effect, it is only through this type of creativity that we can use the whole of our being, and truly feel what it is to be fully human.