In Terry Pratchett’s series of Discworld books, one of the characters, Hwel, a dwarf, is a playwright, and writes plays which are obvious references to Shakespeare’s plays. Indeed some of the books themselves have themes based around Shakespeare’s plays.
Hwel is tormented by inspiration. He is a dwarf, and therefore by heredity a dour reclusive and unimaginative entity, but because of his mind is full of myriads of ideas, he is compelled to travel among humans and write his plays.
These ideas sleet through the Discworld universe impinging on and inflaming his dwarf brain. Hwel is also tormented by vivid dreams, which he then struggles to put down on paper. He is always dissatisfied with the result and is constantly revising and rewriting his plays.
Hwel is an excellent example of an inspired individual. His character is obviously a reference to Shakespeare, and many of his traits, such as his dissatisfaction with his inability to capture his ideas and concepts on paper, are traits found in many inspired individuals.
Pratchett leaves the question of the source inspiration open. As above, they sleet through the Discworld universe impinging on the brains of all, especially those like Hwel, like neutrinos sleet through the material universe, only rarely interacting with other matter.
Everyone has ideas. Inspiration is a sort of high grade idea that has the wow factor and it is likely that simple ideas and inspiration have the same source. It is also obvious that ideas and inspiration actually spring from inside us, from inside our minds.
There is probably not a particular part of the brain where ideas arise and inspiration is found, though some brain injuries result in people being unable to act voluntarily, these people however responding to instruction. (Caveat emptor: I’ve not been able to find an example of this on Google)
Inspiration seems to happen more frequently when a person is forced or required to look at a problem or issue from a different point of view, or when novel ideas are considered in conjunction with one another.
As I sit here, wondering what I should type next, I am looking for inspiration to come to me. In my mind I consider a number of possibilities, which run through my mind one after another, quite quickly. Some seem to be more attractive than others and the rejects seem to fade or drop back into the background.
So, it turns out that I decided to write about what goes on in my head when I get an idea. I can only assume that similar happens to others when the undertake a similar activity like writing a blog, or a novel, or even a letter to a friend.
Often, I find, one idea leads clearly and obviously to another. I write one sentence and soon find I’ve written a paragraph or two, and then I pause for thought and the process repeats. Eventually I end up with the full completed letter or blog post or whatever.
Inspiration is thinking outside the box. Terry Pratchett once said “I’ll be more enthusiastic about encouraging thinking outside the box when there’s evidence of any thinking going on inside it”. That’s true indeed, but the point of the “thinking outside the box” idea is to encourage people to discard conventional thinking and think in an unconventional manner. That’s easier said than done.
One way is to take conventional thinking and analyse it into facets or factors, and discard or reverse one of them. In a scientific but probabilistic setting, such as that of Schroedinger’s cat thought experiment, conventional thinking is that the cat must be either alive or dead. Thinking outside the box leads many people to consider that the cat is both alive and dead.
Some people seem to have success in deriving inspiration from a mind map or even a list of words. Some people have been known to use drugs or meditation to aid inspiration. It seems that the human mind is conservative and conventional in the most part, and that inspiration, when it doesn’t come freely, can be aided by persuading it to be more adventurous.
Meditation and mind maps or whatever tool is used to free the mind for inspirational thinking may be necessary in some cases, but in many others inspiration comes without the need for such things. Some people, like the dwarf Hwel above can’t help being inspired and this, as in Hwel’s case, is not necessarily a comfortable feeling.
Inspiration come in small chunks, such as the decision to drop all plans and do something different from usual or huge blocks, such as Hwel’s and Shakespeare’s plays. As I said above, it does some to vary from person to person, and possibly from time to time. For instance, if I’ve done the same thing 20 to 30 times recently, I may be inspired to do something different, for a change.
If you search on Google for “inspirational” you will find that many of the search results are for “inspirational quotes”. Most of these are in fact trite homilies, intended to list the spirits of those who need it, exhortations to remember and to treat friends and families well, and similar.
They are not inspirational in the sense that I have been using the word above. Nevertheless, the sheer number of such quotes appears to indicate that some people feel the need to post them in the hope that they will help others. Whether or not they actually help others is something that it would be hard to gauge. I sometimes wonder if only the people creating and posting these posts get any benefit from them.
Some people are inspirational in that they persuade people to do things that they would otherwise not do. This could be good (Mahatma Gandhi) or bad (Adolf Hitler). A truly inspirational leader can change the world.
Inspirational leaders can be bad because their rhetoric and behaviours can override the sensibilities and consciences of their followers, which is particularly true of Hitler. Even the followers of good leaders can do evil at times, instituting pograms and wars against followers of other religions.