Structured Randomness

The human brain is a pattern recognition machine. Millions of years of evolution have trained us to process an overwhelming barrage of sensory stimuli and extract meaningful information. This is why we can identify familiar objects, faces, language, etc.

Randomness is a state of uncertainty in the mind of an observer. Sufficiently complex or unfamiliar patterns have the appearance of being random. When confronted with randomness, the mind attempts to impose structure, allowing the information to be more easily processed, interpreted, acted upon, and saved.

The urge to create has its roots in our attempts to impose order on a seemingly random environment. This natural tendency to generate patterns, even where none exist, can be used as a stimulus for creativity. By starting from a random, or pseudo-random set of initial conditions (e.g. colors or textures in art; sounds, rhythms, or note progressions in music) we establish a creative bed that lends itself to manipulation.

In the same way that Rorshach inkblot tests can reveal unconscious thoughts, the process of imposing structure on a random "canvas" reveals the natural creative impulses of the artist. The structures that are generated can only be the inherent, unique expressions of an individual, formed by a lifetime of perceptions and experience.

We can explore the creative process by experimenting with different types of initial conditions. The potential variations are endless, and each can lead to a new result. We can also vary the techniques for imposing structure. In this way, it is possible to gain new insights into our own creativity. The principles of structured randomness can be applied easily to art or music. It is an excellent way to overcome creative block or repetitiveness, by forcing the mind into new directions.
updated September 26, 2007