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On the Cosmic Implications of Being Creative


In a brief talk, Mark Strand speculated on the cosmic implications of creative work.

From any point of view, consciousness is an admirable phenomenon. And in terms of evolution it is not exclusive to humans, although it has developed a unique level of complexity in our species. In our case we are conscious of many things and in many ways: conscious of our existence, of our place in the world and even in the universe, and of our relationship with others, and much more.

With respect to this extraordinary fact, US poet Mark Strand spoke with psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who in the mid-1990s interviewed 91 people dedicated to intellectual pursuits to ask them about the creative process. For Strand, creativity is a form of consciousness, and not only human, but of the universe itself, a kind of channel of mutual recognition between human existence and cosmic existence. The poet says:

We’re only here for a short while. And I think it’s such a lucky accident, having been born, that we’re almost obliged to pay attention. In some ways, this is getting far afield. I mean, we are — as far as we know —the only part of the universe that’s self-conscious. We could even be the universe’s form of consciousness. We might have come along so that the universe could look at itself. I don’t know that, but we’re made of the same stuff that stars are made of, or that floats around in space. But we’re combined in such a way that we can describe what it’s like to be alive, to be witnesses. Most of our experience is that of being a witness. We see and hear and smell other things. I think being alive is responding.

Strand’s argument could appear overwhelming but, if considered, is notably inspiring. It is a little bit about ontological speculation that invites us to not only assume our place in the world but, above all, defend with dignity that “fortunate accident.” And how? By doing what we really want:

[When] you’re right in the work, you lose your sense of time, you’re completely enraptured, you’re completely caught up in what you’re doing, and you’re sort of swayed by the possibilities you see in this work. If that becomes too powerful, then you get up, because the excitement is too great. You can’t continue to work or continue to see the end of the work because you’re jumping ahead of yourself all the time. The idea is to be so… so saturated with it that there’s no future or past, it’s just an extended present in which you’re, uh, making meaning. And dismantling meaning, and remaking it. Without undue regard for the words you’re using. It’s meaning carried to a high order. It’s not just essential communication, daily communication; it’s a total communication. When you’re working on something and you’re working well, you have the feeling that there’s no other way of saying what you’re saying.

Strand proposes that we are the medium through which the universe expresses itself. Perhaps, by being aware of that, we will naturally act according to that responsibility.

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