Human Functions, Languages and Creativity

A Short Note on the Basic Human Functions, with
Emphasis on the Human Intellectual Function

James Kowalick, President
Renaissance Leadership Institute
Post Office Box 659, 9907 Camper Lane
Oregon House, California 95962, USA
Voice (530) 692-1944 ~ Fax -1946

Introduction Perhaps one of the first words used by cave dwellers in communicating with each other was "Ugh." The level of communication was, no doubt, instinctive - in terms of both the manner of communicating and the purpose of the communication. A main purpose of the communication of cave dwellers was to fulfill the needs of their instinctive systems: find food, shelter and warmth - in a nutshell, survive. In the cave-dweller era, the "technologies" that served these basic human functions advanced at a snail’s pace.

As man’s intellectual function developed, so did technology, and a new language was born: the language of words. Words as a facilitator for problem solving continued to develop over many millennia and centuries, to the point where the human process called "logical thinking" emerged. Logical thinking then proceeded to move through its own development.

There are definite correlations among human functions, the associated languages or tools that are "behind" these functions, and the human ability to creatively solve problems. Before discussing problem-solving languages, it is helpful to consider types of human functions.

Four Basic Human Functions Four human functional capabilities that are rather independent of each other, but which are also capable of cooperating in a coordinated way (see Reference 1) are (1) Instinctive functions; (2) Moving functions; (3) Emotional functions; and (4) Intellectual functions. These are discussed, in order, below.

    1. "Instinctive" functions are connected with survival of the body itself. There are different sub-classes of instinctive functions.
    1. As discussed in Reference 1, one sub-class includes physiological functions like breathing, blood circulation, cell-building, and in general, functions connected with the digestive, assimilation, respiratory and elimination systems, as well as with various glands and organs.
    2. Another sub-class includes the capability to "sense" visible impressions, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, weight, temperature, relative humidity, etc.
    3. Still another sub-class relates to sensations that are pleasant or unpleasant - this includes all types of pain or unpleasant feelings, tastes, and smells, as well as pleasant sensations of these.
    4. A final sub-class of instinctive functions includes reflexes - even the most complicated like laughing and yawning. Also included are physical memories like the memory of tastes, smells, and pains (these are in reality inner reflexes).
    5. Fortunately, instinctive functions are inherent, and need not be learned in order to use them. If this were not the case, every few seconds we would have to remember to breathe, or to instruct our hearts to beat - and forgetting these would threaten our existence.
    6. The system behind instinctive functions - the human instinctive system - is a brilliant invention. It is one of two main functional categories that humans share with other members of the animal kingdom (cats, dogs, etc.).
    1. "Moving" functions are connected with learned movements. These include aspects of the "functions" of speaking, writing, running, eating, catching an object that is thrown by another person, etc. - as well as the memories of such functions.
    1. A chief difference between moving and instinctive functions is that instinctive functions are inherent, while moving functions need to be learned. For example, one needs to learn how to move one’s lips to speak; one needs to learn how to move one’s fingers, and hold the pen or pencil, to write; one needs to learn the coordinated actions involved in running (or, even for crawling like a baby); one needs to learn the intricate movements required to masticate food; one needs to learn how to "catch a ball."
    2. Moving functions are also possessed by other members of the animal kingdom (besides humans).
    1. The "emotional" function, connected with feelings and emotions. Widely looked down upon or discredited by certain members of the scientific community, this category of human functions is very important. - and necessary for the highest levels of creativity and problem-solving.
    1. This category of human functions includes joy, sorrow, fear, astonishment, ecstasy, enthusiasm, etc.
    2. It may be difficult to discriminate between intellectual and emotional-type functions. In part, this is because of psychological inertia - the very vocabulary we use mixes up these functions. For example, we may say "I think" when we are really "feeling."
    3. Other members of the animal kingdom do not have a full range of emotional functions (or any at all).

    1. The "intellectual" function, connected with thinking and associated human capabilities. It is this human function that the present paper is concerned with: the different levels of thinking and the "languages" that accompany these levels of thinking.

The Human Functional Matrix The four human functions are presented below in terms of a 4X3 matrix, with each human function represented as a column that is divided into three levels, according to the degree of attention required for the particular function to manifest. This matrix is rich with information on human functional capabilities, and serves as the basis for a wealth of information.

For example, there are different "speeds" of functions - the "thinking" function (marked with a "4" in the matrix) being the slowest. Have you noticed the thinking that occurs in a championship chess game? An observer can almost see the smoke coming out of the champion’s brain! True, high-level thinking does take considerable time. On the other hand, "Moving" type functions (marked with a "2" in the matrix) occur several orders of magnitude faster! What if the driver of a car had to "think" about what to do, when a critical road hazard occurs while driving? It would be too late! But the driver’s "Moving" functions take care of everything - rapidly - before the driver can even begin to think about anything. His arms know what to do with the steering wheel, and his feet know what to do with the brakes. It all happens very rapidly. Emotional functions (marked with a "3" in the matrix) occur at speeds that are orders of magnitude faster than are Moving functions.

The focus of the present article, however, is on the fourth column of the matrix: intellectual functions related to different levels of "thinking." Each matrix cell pertaining to the human "thinking" function has its own language and tools, and its own role in problem solving. Moving from the bottom (level 4.1) to the top (level 4.3) of the matrix, each cell represents a progressively higher level of thinking, with different functional tools available.

The Human System and Thinking It is easier, and far more practical, to examine "thinking" from a functional than from an anatomical point of view. For our purposes, very little can be practically realized by studying the anatomy of the brain itself. But by studying the brain’s functions, much can be realized. An examination of the structure of the intellect (as indicated in the matrix above) reveals information about human thinking functions - as well as about the different languages associated with these functions.

Level 4.1 - "Thinking" Under the Laws of Psychological Inertia. The lowest level of human "thinking" (cell 4.1) is not really thinking at all. No attention is required for this function to operate, because its operation is automatic. The intellectual functions at this level include A) information storage, that handles the registration of impressions, of memories and of associations; B) information retrieval; and C) word association, i.e., a relationship database. "Thinking" at this low level is really a relatively rapid, automatic response, based upon the storage of ready words and associations. Such responses pass for real thinking most of the time. Unfortunately the type of "thinking" available at this level is not capable of effectively solving problems that have any degree of newness or complexity or difficulty to them. This type of "thinking" can be observed when several people are sitting together socially (or even in a business situation). Their discussion - if it were really analysed in depth - would be found to be very "associative." Here is a sample of such a discussion:

Person 1: "What do you think about that new creative approach, TRIZ?"

Person 2: "I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that term. What is it?"

Person 1: "It’s a new approach to solving problems."

Person 3: "We’ve got plenty of problems. Today, all day, we’ve been struggling with that same old defective chip."

Person 2: "We have chip problems, too. Glad to hear we’re not alone. But sometimes, one has to take time off from problems, and just relax."

Person 3: "Isn’t that right! We’re heading to the hockey game tonight. The Flyers are going to smash everyone in the league!"

Person 1: "Not Seattle they won’t! Just watch Seattle! Do you want to put some hard money down to back up your rash statement?"

Person 3: "I’m not a betting man - at least I wasn’t until that Vegas trip last month. Let’s just say that Seattle doesn’t stand a chance at the Cup."

Person 2: "We were in Reno just last week. Lost a small fortune. But then, the shows were great."

Etc., etc., etc. When associative thinking attempts to replace real thinking, the results are based on the words and word associations that have been previously programmed in the mind’s storage unit. Such is the nature of "psychological inertia." This lower part of the intellectual system, with its several important information storage, search, retrieval and association functions, is critical to the overall functioning of the intellect. But when this same lower part attempts to replace the intellect itself, trouble begins. This part is incapable of thinking! It really was not designed to think.

Some of the people who are "stuck" in this part of the intellect have an "encyclopedic" knowledge, with no, or only a little, capability for deep thinking. People who routinely "live" in this functional part of the human intellectual system are prone to respond to problems and design challenges in a very ordinary and traditional way - or they respond to questions with ready phrases or clichés. When they are operating in this "gear" of the instinctive function, they don’t have to "think" - everything is automatic, operating from a previously programmed intellectual database. It is difficult for a person under the sole influence of this function to adapt to a change in circumstances, so he continues to operate in the way that he always has been operating, or in the way that he started out.

This part of the intellect works best when it serves, and contributes to, and is controlled by, the "whole" of the human intellectual system. It is meant to store registered input, and to produce the proper stored information (and sometimes, its association with other information) on an "on call as requested" basis. Operating with no such control or discrimination, this function is "out of control."

It would be wrong or improper (i.e., a harmful function) for the lower part of the intellectual function (i.e., level 4.1 in the matrix) to reply to questions that are really addressed to the whole intellectual function of a person. This lower function is incapable of effectively solving complex, difficult or previously untried problems because, like a computer, it can never be equivalent to the highest functions of a human being (in spite of the so-called "success" of Big Blue at chess!). It is quite incapable of "deciding" anything at all, but it is always ready to "make decisions" based upon its current program, and it replies to questions in a narrow and limited way, with canned phrases, colloquial expressions, and "politically correct" slogans. These reactions are inappropriately accomplished because they are automatic. Welcome to the "seat" of psychological inertia, which has its residence in cell 4.1 of the matrix.

It has been said by the Russian author and journalist P.D. Ouspensky (Reference 2) that the great majority of mankind live all their lives here, never touching other (higher) parts of the intellectual function. This part of the intellectual system is sufficient for the lowest level of "living." It is through this part, working by itself, that the human intellectual function divides everything into two sides: "them and us;" "Republicans and Democrats;" democracy and communism; the rich and the poor. This part of the intellectual system is behind almost all, if not all, popular theories.

There are several different types of psychological inertia. Some of these types are discussed in a 1993 Russian article (Reference 3) entitled "Developing a Creative Imagination. These "harmful functions" belong to level 4.1.

The "language" associated with this level of "thinking" is a relationship-based language of words. These words are associated with each other in various ways. The use of this language produces results that are not unlike the results of a search, using one of the search engines available on the world wide web. These "results" do not represent the final design or the final solution to a problem. They are merely a step on the way to a solution, or to a conceptual design. This associative language works rapidly - unlike true thinking, which takes considerable time. This "lower" language is incapable of producing results that are creative - except by chance or accident.

Level 4.2 - Maintaining Intellectual Activity Unlike the intellectual activities of level 4.1, which require no attention at all to operate, and which are automatic, the intellectual activities at the next higher level - level 4.2 in the matrix - do require attention to operate. But in the case of this level of the intellectual system, the attention is drawn or "attracted" by the object of attention, so no effort is required on the part of the person. This function is "in gear" when a human being is "interested" in a subject, or "drawn to" a certain subject matter (in other words, he is "emotional" about the subject matter). This function has a certain "emotional" flavor, because the interest of the person under its influence is maintained on the subject matter. Besides "interest," we could also apply the words "passion" or "devotion" or "enthusiasm" or "dedication" to this function.

The intellectual function at level 4.2 is connected with the desire to know, the desire to understand, the satisfaction of knowing or understanding, the thrill and pleasure of discovery, and the "love of knowledge." This function, just like the functions previously discussed (for cell 4.1), is meant to serve the overall intellectual system by maintaining interest in, and attention to, the subject matter at hand. In that capacity, it is a useful function. Operating by itself (i.e., uncontrolled), however, this function will periodically find different subject matters or topics to be interested in, and will have inadequate attention for the subject or topic that represents the main objective. Uncontrolled, it is like a little child, left alone in an "intellectual" toy store - wandering around from toy to toy (i.e., from topic to topic). Unguided in this way, the function becomes a "harmful function." It is possible to observe this function operating in people who enter a bookstore, and get "lost" in it for hours at a time.

The matrix cell for this function (function 4.2) describes it as requiring attention in order to operate. However, this attention is drawn by the subject matter of interest (i.e., the person’s attention is captured by, or "attached to" the subject matter).

If there is a "language" associated with this level of the intellectual function, it is a "language of attention" that has one scale of measurement: the degree of attention that is attracting the person to a subject of interest. In a certain sense, this is like the part of a software program that keeps the necessary files open so that the user has access to them, and can perform useful work.

Level 4.3 - Intentionally Controlling Intellectual Activity The highest level of the human intellectual function includes "creating," "constructing," "inventing," and "discovery." It is the seat of the "logical mind." It will not work without attention, and that attention must be intentionally controlled and held, by the continued effort and will-power of a human being. It is this part of the human intellectual function that provides the leadership (i.e., the control and will-power) required for high-level, focused, intellectual activities. This is a slow function, relative to the other functions of the human body, but it is very important. It is responsible for logically conceiving, building and structuring concepts, and it is able to use the lower intellectual functions (levels 4.1 and 4.2) to advantage. This cell is where true thinking occurs.

The primary language associated with this high intellectual function is logic (i.e., dialectics). It is a language of words that are used in a "scientific" way - a way that deals with the principles, and criteria of validity, of inference and demonstration. It involves the formal principles of reasoning. The use of "comparison" is also a part of this function - the comparative thinking process is called "analogous thinking."

This higher part of the intellectual function is capable of operating with "higher parts" of other functions, and of using additional languages to solve problems. For example, when functions 4.3 and 2.3 (intellectual and moving functions) operate together, the common language used is much faster - and more effective - than words. It is a graphical language of charts and curves and relationships. When the functions 4.3 and 3.3 (intellectual and emotional functions) operate together, we have what is called "abstract thinking," which involves moving from the specific to the general, or from the general to the specific. This combination is also behind "metaphorical thinking," which is "poetic" expression, and which is characteristic of persons with great vision and broad genius. The corresponding language is the language of metaphors.

Beyond Human Thinking Is it possible to go beyond the (ordinary) capability of human beings, using higher forms of languages to solve problems and create solution designs? Let us first list some of the problem-solving languages we have already discussed:

    1. Ordinary words gathered together in a database.
    2. Ordinary words associated in a database.
    3. Words used to compare and contrast concepts (analogous thinking)
    4. The language of logic, using words alone.
    5. The combined language of words and the language of graphs, charts, plots, diagrams and drawings.
    6. The metaphorical language used in metaphorical thinking (or abstract thinking).

A still higher language is the "Language of symbols." For example, chemistry and physics make broad use of symbols to represent actions, relationships, reactions, etc. But the Symbolic Language has within itself various levels. For example, the language of Substance-Fields (or "S-Fields") used by TRIZniks is a symbolic language that is effectively employed to solve problems. It is used in conjunction with abstract thinking. There is also the language of "Triads" that has been developed for problem-solving by the Renaissance Leadership Institute; this language is even higher and more effective than S-Fields (Reference 4), although the language of Triads includes the use of S-Fields. And there are still higher symbolic languages such as those recorded in certain ancient philosophical, psychological, and religious texts that have yet to be fully deciphered by science. Due to psychological inertia, some scientists outrightly discount the value of these higher symbols. This does not detract from their true value. Just as there are very few human beings who routinely function at level 4.3 in the matrix shown above, there are even far fewer still, who are practiced in the use of higher functions.

Attempting to address higher languages than the language of symbols is speculative, so the author will refrain from such speculation. However, if there are one or two readers out there who seriously want to pursue this . . . . .

Summary Human functions can be conveniently categorized from the standpoint of (1) type of function, and (2) level of attention required for sub-functions within each type of function. Regarding problem-solving and creativity, the higher levels of human functions are far more effective and productive in rapidly achieving the best solutions. Corresponding with the use of higher functions, are various problem-solving languages. There are various levels of languages that are progressively more effective at solving problems, and there are still higher human functions and corresponding languages that are even more effective and productive in problem-solving. The history of science reveals that newer, more effective, languages and functional capabilities are initially held in suspicion by most members of the scientific community, until their practice begins to be broadly adopted. Such is also the case in the problem-solving community. The chief inhibitor to progress, psychological inertia, is alive and well among TRIZniks themselves. Psychological inertia is responsible for the relatively infrequent appearance of breakthroughs in problem-solving capability. When breakthroughs do occur, they are most often unacceptable to the "old guard" - the guardians of the status quo.


  1. M. Nicoll (a student of Jung), Psychological Commentaries, published by Robinson & Watkins, 1973 (out of print).
  2. P.D. Ouspensky, (in Russian): Translated Russian Title: "In Search of the Miraculous," 1994, ISBN 5-8555-029-X.
  3. B. Zlotin, Developing a Creative Imagination - Summary of Lectures from February, 1993.
  4. J. Kowalick, Advanced Developments in TRIZ: Triads, Polysystem Design Approach, & Function Decomposition, ASI, Annual Taguchi Symposium, 1996

Short Note about Renaissance Leadership Institute

The Renaissance Leadership offers public and in-company training in basic and advanced TRIZ, and in other problem-solving approaches like Triads. Dr. Kowalick, TRIZ-master, serves as the instructor. RLI also offers Certification Programs in TRIZ at four levels: Basic; Practitioner: Expert: and Masters. All RLI TRIZ in-house training in "experiential." Participants in the three-day training sessions bring real problems and design challenges to the training, and leave with solutions. Training sessions include the use of invention software. Phone: 530-692-1944; Fax: 530-692-1946; E-Mail: