To learn anything, we must first pay attention to the way things currently are rather than passively accepting established traditions. To do nothing different and follow convention is always the easiest course, in that it requires the least effort and encounters the least resistance.
However, to undertake exploration we require leisure. Those who are struggling to survive cannot spare the time and energy to try something new along with the risk that it may not work out. It is no coincidence that the “golden ages” of invention, the arts, and other intellectual activities have only been achieved in cultures where the basic survival needs have been well met.
Discovery also requires having knowledge of what is already done, to enable a person to arrive at a conclusion that is truly novel rather than putting in the effort to “invent” something that already exists or is known to be less effective than current methods. To arrive at this point, a person must know their craft – and ideally, he has learned it efficiently from other practitioners rather than having to discover it for himself.
The requirement of expertise is also a reason that creativity occurs in explosions, when there are many creative minds benefitting form the same information, than in isolated individuals in societies that are deprived of knowledge and hostile to information. The culture must not only condone, but also support, the development of knowledge.
As the amount of knowledge grows, it becomes necessary to specialize by subdividing the various domains of knowledge and innovate in a very well defined space. One can only be so good at “art” in every form, but can develop great expertise by specializing in sculpting marble.
Being a “Renaissance Man” was valued during the Renaissance, but today is merely a person who has very shallow knowledge of a myriad of fields and is highly unlikely to contribute anything meaningful to society. Where little knowledge exists it is possible to know it all – and this is no longer possible given the breadth to which human knowledge has grown. A person has to know “it all” within a very well defined area.
Granted, the trend to specialize has its drawbacks. As knowledge becomes fragmented and the intellectuals become isolated from one another, delving into specialties of ever narrower scope, intellectuals become as the workers on the tower of Babel. Each one is too focused on his own specific domain, does not understand other domains, and there is no common language that allows them to communicate or work together.
Another drawback to this specialization is that intellectuals become eccentric and withdrawn – the subjects of their interest are too far removed from the experience of the common person. This causes their work to be ignored or dismissed by the culture whose acceptance is necessary for discoveries to have an impact on traditions.
Ultimately, a distinction must be drawn between knowledge and creativity – creativity must culminate in creation and is not done for its own sake. The “aloof and sequestered” scientists who never present their ideas to culture for consumption are not producing a change in culture, and because of that cannot be considered creativity because all their work effects no change in culture until it is unearthed by someone else at a later time.