Random Thoughts

Quantum Creativity

There are three pieces of media that have been calling out to me recently, in what I interpret as an inner battle being waged between my soul and my ego1. It’s an eclectic crew, but inspiration strikes in uncertain places when you’re open to its messaging. So today, I’m here to talk to you about my idea of quantum creativity, and its origins in Outer Wilds, Big Magic, and Frozen 2. Mild spoilers ahead.

Buckle up, friends!

Each of these three pieces of media are different. Outer Wilds is a video game that I’ve technically never played myself, but I was “invisible player two” and found myself enthralled by the premise. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, is a book written by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love. And Frozen 2 is… well, it’s Frozen 2.

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Yet, despite their differences in audience, form, function, and mechanics, each of these three stories relate back to the same core concepts and speak to a single part of the human condition: the act of discovery for the sake of one’s self.

Of the three, I technically watched Frozen 2 first, back when it came out, but the first time I watched it, I didn’t pay close attention to the message and I was actually somewhat disappointed in the movie. Imagine my surprise when – two years later – I inexplicably began to have the song Into the Unknown stuck in my head. It was right around that time – summer of 2020 – that I also got to experience Outer Wilds, and it made a lot of sense why these two things called to me so much. We were experiencing a universal social trauma, and much of what I had thought to be true about the world was shifting rapidly.

An alien looks through a telescope on an alien planet.
“Don’t you know there’s part of me that longs to go into the unknown?”

Obviously, there’s a connection to not being able to leave the house and wishing for adventure. But these messages weren’t fully formed (or at least, fully heard) until this past week – and it’s not an outward adventure that I’m looking for – it’s an inner search for a peace that I haven’t had in a long time. Look too closely for it, and it’s harder and harder to see.

Big Magic is a book about learning how to embrace creativity. Gilbert talks at length about her relationship to creativity as being a dance; something joyous and loving and reciprocal. Creativity, Gilbert says, only comes and stays with those who are able to bring certain ideas into existence. She talks about how living a creative life means accepting that your creativity is best amplified when you nurture and care for it, rather than fight with it.

But, our society today teaches us that conflict is expected and normal. Western culture structures our lives in a very particular way: we begin spending 8+ hours on work as students beginning at just 4 or 5 years old, we are tasked with making difficult decisions about finances and our future when we graduate high school, and we are told that if we follow the rules, we’ll be able to retire at 65 years old. If we don’t participate in this system a certain way, we struggle to survive, because we don’t have adequate social support structures in place. Of course we experience conflict with such a system (and that’s not even to mention all of the systemic ways that our system is riddled with bias and inequality based on race, gender, ethnicity, citizenship).

That conflict isn’t only externalized. Studies estimate that 12-33% of Millennials have been diagnosed with mental health disorders, while reports indicate that the number of people in Generation Z reporting poor mental health could be as high as 55%. When we can’t even find solace in our own minds, it becomes quite clear why we might be drawn to stories of finding inner power and contentment through the act of living.

Frozen 2 and Outer Wilds both tell stories of protagonists that are seeking answers and information. In Frozen 2, Elsa seeks answers about the past to understand how to quell a growing sense of discomfort that where she is – surrounded by loved ones in a role with a lot of responsibility – isn’t the place where her heart and soul will feel most comforted and at their true purpose. Outer Wilds – as a video game – leaves more of the motivation to the main character to the player, but the themes overlap: there is more out there than we are taught, and it is only through our own journeying and explorations, guided by the help of those around us and those who came before, that we are able to see the full picture and derive a meaningful experience from our lives.

For me, creativity – the act of creating – is an important way that I derive meaning from my life. I struggle, though, with the idea that I need to suffer to create. After all, suffering is a byproduct of conflict, and a lot of last year included learning about the various ways that acts of violence are embedded into the systems that make up our society.

So, I’m trying a new tactic. What if I view my creativity not simply as something that is brought to me by demons, or a perfectly ambivalent force waiting patiently for me to accept its love, but something that is less binary? What if we think about creativity as being a quantum force?

In Outer Wilds, a game about space exploration, there is a ‘Quantum Moon’, a moon that changes form based on the planet that it is currently orbiting and moves locations when it is out of sight. ‘Quantum’ as a qualifier generally means that something is existing in multiple states or phases at any given moment, and what we observe is not the complete picture. What would quantum creativity look like?

To me, quantum creativity is the idea that our creative forces are always there, but that they’re constantly twisting and changing shape. What we see of our inner creativity is only a snapshot of all of the states that it could exist in, but we are viewing it from a single position. Creativity seems far away and distant when we are stressed and tired from work, but the force is still there in all its states. We, not it, are the ones that are viewing it from different moments of space and time.

Over the past couple of weeks, I listened to ‘Into the Unknown’ over – and over – and over again, joking that there was a reason I was stuck on the song about wanting to find inner peace, rather than the song about actually finding it. But as a believer in the idea of constructed emotion, there is no reason that I couldn’t reverse that logic: perhaps I needed to listen to the song about finding faith, meaning, and purpose in trusting myself4 to help that belief along. What if that’s the type of creativity that is calling me from deep within myself?

I’m not totally there yet, but I’m taking steps in a good direction.

Edit: It turns out there’s a whole book about the concept of Quantum Creativity, which I will definitely have to explore further! Especially given that it’s written by someone who understands physics (I, quite honestly, do not).

While perhaps a bit melodramatic, like a battle it does indeed feel. Recently, my conscious mind has been running the show and pushing me into increasingly challenging, yet rewarding situations at the expense of lightness and joy. I know this place well, but like with Ahtohallan, I cannot go too deep.

This is my way of describing the times I experience a video game by way of sitting on the couch watching my fiance play.3

“Disorder” is a commonly used term to categorize the challenges that people face with different patterns of thinking or behaviors in their brain. They are challenges, but my issue with the term “disorder” is that it is putting the stigma of the challenge on the individual, rather than looking at the overarching system. And yet, far too rarely do we see mental health solutions approached from a systemic lens.

I’ve now been listening to ‘Show Yourself’ on repeat and re-watched Frozen 2 over the weekend. I can’t listen to the song without crying and I really love that Disney even made Elsa cry during the song too. I’ve been wanting a Disney princess like Elsa my whole life.