A 4E Approach to Creativity


  • Ekin Deniz Dere University of Vienna


The aim of this paper is to argue for the importance of incorporating the framework of the embodied, embedded, extended and enactive (4E) cognition approach into creativity research. Creativity is one of the most significant components of human intelligence and is of interest in any area of human activity, including business, philosophy, science, art, etc. Our creative faculty is a tool that enables us to understand, engage with, and even shape the ever-changing and complex world in which we live. Creativity is a complex phenomenon that can take different forms, can be defined differently according to the constraints we impose, and can be empirically studied using different methods. The classical approach to creativity defines it as a process by which something novel and useful is produced [1]. There are several problems associated with this definition: (1) Since it is as difficult to characterize novelty as it is to define creativity, the definition is circular and useful only in retrospect, since it refers to the product rather than the process. (2) Such a definition does not consider contextuality in judging something as useful.

This underscores the need for a broader definition of creativity that goes beyond the limits of the standard output-oriented approach. Most importantly, creativity should not be limited to the brain, but should be seen as a dynamic interaction between the actor and his or her environment since brain and body evolved together and are intrinsically coupled with one another. It is critical to note that “the wellsprings of creativity lie not inside people’s heads, but in their attending upon a world information” [2] (see embodied and embedded cognition). It is also crucial to see the creative process in light of the possibilities for action that the environment offers the agent, as well as to recognize that the process has components that spill over to the tools we use (see enactive and extended cognition). Within the framework of 4E, it is also important to ask how creativity evolved in the first place, can creativity be explained from its components if we were able to determine them, how is the emergence of novelty in complex systems relate to creativity, and what are the evolutionary benefits associated with creativity? Then one has to introduce the concepts of exaptation and emergence. Trying to understand creativity in line with those concepts mentioned above is expected to render a theoretical understanding of the process which is (1) more accurate and in line with how cognitive scientists go about to understand cognition, acknowledging that creativity is best understood as a dynamical interaction encompassing brain, body, and world; (2) more useful in that having a more accurate definition of creativity is expected to lead to better practices associated with fostering it.


[1] R. J. Sternberg, “What is the common thread of creativity? Its dialectical relation to intelligence and wisdom,” American Psychologist, vol. 56, no. 4, p. 360, 2001.

[2] T. Ingold, “The creativity of undergoing,” Pragmatics & Cognition, vol. 22, no. 1, pp. 124–139, 2014.